Saturday, 13 May 2017

La Chaux-de Fonds

La Chaux-de Fonds is a town of about fourty thousand people in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It is located in the Jura mountains at an altitude of 1000 meters. The surrounding lands are not suited for farming and in the mountains getting a job is not easy. So to make their living, people in the region have specialised since centuries in a very special craft - watchmaking. The level of this specialisation was so high, that after a devastating fire in late eighteenth century, the whole town was re-designed to meet the needs of the watchmaking industry. The universal value of the watchmaking urbanism have been recognised by UNESCO who has inscribed La Chaux-de-Fonds into its World Heritage Sites list.

In this orange building you can watch some movies about the history of the town and its urbanism. But I guess you would prefer to see it with your own eyes? Let's go to the city center. At first sight, nothing interesting. Some streets with quite modern buildings ...

... some meteorological instruments here ...

... a fountain there. Nice, but by no means special.

But to fully acknowledge the amazing design of La Chaux-de -Fonds we need to see it from bird's eye view. Let's go up to the top floor of the building in which the Tourist Information is located. Here, you will realise that all the streets are ideally parallel, will large spaces between them. The main idea was that the buildings would not be shadowing those behind them. Because watchmakers need light. Lots of light. At the best natural sun light. You can see it on the left ...

... and you can see it on the  right. All the houses include both workshops (on upper floor, with most sunlight) and residential areas.

If you are curious to find out more about the watchmaking industry in the region, I invite you to check on my next post! Because the watchmakers are still in La Chaux-de Fonds and they continue to work at their benches, carrying on their remarkable ancestral skills.

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