The town of Solothurn was founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago and is home to 11 churches, 11 chapels, 11 fountains, 11 towers, 11 museums, and a town clock whose dial only shows 11 hours. This collective ranges from the 15th century to today, and the town is built in a beautiful baroque architectural style.
However, the landmark of Solothurn is St. Ursus Cathedral. This was built by Italian architect Gaetano Matteo Pisoni from Ascona who was so fascinated by the ubiquitous number in 1762 that he designed the church entirely in line with it. The bell tower houses 11 bells, while the cathedral has 11 altars. Its kneelers are arranged in rows of eleven and the monumental outer staircase comprises three sets of 11 steps, while the number of pipes in the great organ is divisible by 11. Moreover, the cathedral took 11 years to build, from 1762 to 1773. Also, there are two classical fountains flanking the staircase – one of Gideon and one of a devil-horned Moses – each having 11 taps that pour water into the basins below.
There are different stories regarding why the town is obsessed with the number 11. A folk legend says that 11 means “elf” in German, and is meant to give tribute to magical elves that came from nearby Weissenstein mountain to hearten the town’s inhabitants who worked hard but never prospered.
Another story says the number has biblical connotations, considering 11 to be a holy number and prophetic. In numerology, 11 is considered the most intuitive of all numbers, commonly associated with faith and physics, but the beliefs held by the faithful at the Cathedral of St Ursus are equally compelling. It “represents the dream of trying to attain something better”, and it symbolizes the “never-ending pursuit of perfection – it is a cipher for hope.”
The number 11 is also connected to Solothurn’s history, in 1481 it became the 11th canton of the Swiss Confederation, and later in the 16th century it had been divided into 11 protectorates. While back in 1252, the first time the number is mentioned, the guilds that first voted for the town’s council elected 11 members. For more than 500 years, Solothurn has embedded the number 11 into the fabric of the town and its citizens, and no doubt, it will continue to do so.