Art and History Museum Fribourg


A museum within the ramparts

Only a small number of the buildings that today house the Art and History Museum were built for that purpose. In fact, just the two temporary exhibition rooms (1964) fall under that category. As for the rest, the institution occupies three buildings, which initially had quite different uses: the small Renaissance palace known as Hôtel Ratzé, a nineteenth-century slaughterhouse (abattoir) and an arsenal. All three are grouped together on the site of an old city gate, called the «Mauvaise Tour» (Evil Tower), which was destroyed in 1848.

The so-called Hôtel Ratzé was once considered as the most beautiful house in Fribourg. Unique throughout French-speaking Switzerland, it was built between 1581 and 1584 by Jean Fumal, a master builder from Lyons, for the cloth trader Jean Ratzé, who lived in Lyons where he also held command of a Swiss Guard unit. The detached main body rises up as a massive cube flanked by two pavilions on the front, where the entrance stood initially. Facing the garden, a small tower accommodates a staircase which is connected to the latrine tower by a double-storey gallery of high arcades, a typical element of Lyons architecture. In 1628, a few decades after Jean Ratzé’s death, his successors sold the prestigious residence to two brothers, Franz Peter and Albrecht Nikolaus König, who had prospered as mercenaries in the Emperor’s service during the Thirty Years’ War. The property then passed by marriage to the de Buman family and finally to the mayor François-Romain de Werro, who converted it partially in the rococo style. The Canton of Fribourg purchased Hôtel Ratzé in 1830 to house firstly the local government offices and finally the cantonal museum in the 1920’s. Today this historically-charged place features paintings and sculptures from the medieval and baroque periods and several themes from our cultural history.

The former abattoir facing Hôtel Ratzé on Rue de Morat was built in 1834–1836 along the old city rampart on Varis. In order to replace the medieval slaughterhouse, a new abattoir had already been built in 1778 in the Bourg district but this building prevented the construction of the big suspension bridge in the early 1830’s and was pulled down. It is believed that a lot of its elements were re-employed on Rue de Morat following the advice given by the famous organ maker, Aloys Mooser. The arcades on the ground floor were first used as small shops by the butchers. In the nineteenth century, the building was not only used for butchering meat but also as a library! Abandoned after the construction of the new slaughterhouse in 1972 on the outskirts, the building gradually fell into disrepair until a fire consumed it in 1975. The architects Pierre Zoelly and Michel Waeber gave the building its present shape, completely reinterpreted the interior in order to allow the museum’s extension in 1981. It is used to display stone sculpture, archaeological finds, the goldsmith’s art, and works by the sculptor Marcello as well as 19th- and 20th-century artists from Fribourg.

Founded in 1858–1860 by the city architect, Ulrich Lendi, the arsenal runs along Rue de Morat as far as Hôtel Ratzé. During the second half of the nineteenth century it also housed the War Office. The building was raised by one storey when used as a music conservatorium in 1903. Currently it accommodates the museum administration.


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