Zurich's guilds: of mighty men and merrymaking

more than a year ago
Sechseläuten Zurich - Spring Festival 2015

The summer season in Zurich starts with a flash and a bang – every year. In April the city's guilds celebrate the end of winter with the Sechseläuten festivities, which culminate in the burning of a snowman-like figure on a huge bonfire. The snowman is filled with fireworks which loudly announce the end of winter. In the grand procession beforehand, over 3000 guild members march through Zurich in their traditional attire, many with marching bands and some on horseback, often accompanied by members of the Swiss government as guests of honour.

The guilds – or Zünfte in German – not only organise Zurich's most characteristic holiday, they are also a major feature of the city's history. They date back to the 14th century, and one of their functions was to lay down rules for the different crafts and trades, so that competition between craftsmen stayed fair. Each Zunft organised particular crafts. The Zunft zur Safran was home to merchants of textiles and spices, the members of the Zunft zum Widder were cattle merchants and butchers and the Zunft zur Schmiden accepted blacksmiths, goldsmiths, clockmakers and doctors. A combination which might make you think twice about calling for medical care in the age of the guilds..

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