Dr. Andreas Spillmann: Insights into the history of the Swiss Confederation

The Swiss National Museum in Zurich was inaugurated in 1898. This project by Gustav Gull, a young architect from Zurich, had asserted itself in a contest for the location of a national museum. The build­ing is characterized by the fu­­sion of various historical style elements into a new entity which reflects the spirit of the age of historicism. In only a few years, the museum grew through several new acquisitions.

Other museums were added to the Zu­­rich location as well. In 1912 the Wil­degg Castle in the canton of Aargau was donated. In 1998 the western seat of the National Museum was opened to the public: the Château de Prangins.


In 1975 the castle was acquired by the cantons of Geneva and Vaud and donated to the Confederation. The Forum of Swiss History in Schwyz, in­­augurated in 1995, is both a museum and an attraction. Its permanent exhibition gives multiple in­­sights into the living conditions of the early Swiss Con­federation.

Objects that are not on display at an exhibition are gathered under one roof in the 10,000-­­­­­square-­­metre Col­lec­­tions Centre, inaugurated in 2006, at Af­­foltern in the Albis chain of hills.
In addition to an im­­pres­sive depot for some 820,000 objects comprising the collec­­tion holdings, the Col­­lec­tions Centre also houses laboratories, workshops and studios for the valuable work of the conservators and restorers.


Since 2007, the National Museum has again been selecting, negotiating and setting up. The aim is the realization of a new permanent exhibition on the history of Switzerland. As of the summer of 2009, the Swiss National Museum is presenting two new permanent exhibitions in the extensively renovated Hall of Fame, the architectural heart of the museum, and in adjoining exhibition rooms. They are entitled “History of Switzerland” and “Col­lections Gallery.”

In the more than 100-year-old history of the museum, this is only the fourth new permanent exhibition.
After intensive studies and dis­­cussions and with their eyes on present-day Switzer­­land, the organizers of the “His­tory of Switzerland” ex­­hi­bition have focused on four questions: How did immigration and emigration interact on the Swiss territory in the past? Why do members of the Re­­formed and Catholic Church­­es live so close together in Switzerland? What promoted the development of democracy and the Concordance system? And to whom does Switzerland owe its current prosperity? The ex­­hibition does not intend to present a complete picture, but rather to focus on the themes raised in those questions.


This thematizes the history of Switzerland from its prehistory and ancient history to its present. For the first time, defining aspects of the modern age are being portrayed, such as the Swiss economic history and the path to direct democracy. Histories of settlement and migration as well as Swiss myths are also being told. In parallel with this vast portrayal of the history of Switzerland, the museum is also showing a new exhibition with the title “Collections Gallery”, which pre­sents collections with a focus on Swiss craftwork. By means of a selection of twenty visual collections, the exhibition offers a representative overview of the many and diverse holdings. Craft products such as sculptures, goldwork pieces, shoes and clothes are being displayed. The time span stretches between the Middle Ages and the twentieth cen­tury. Amidst the varied Swiss landscape of museums, the Swiss National Mu­­seum stands out as an important showcase for the location of Switzerland as well as its cultural and political characteristics and individualities.

Porträt-Spillmann_2-KopieThe author (born 1959) studied drama and economics. In addition to a variety of other occupa­tions, he has worked as an actor in Munich, a research assistant in Basel and Zurich, economic adviser, cultural representative of the canton of Basel-City, and director of the Zurich theatre. Since 2006, he has been the director of the Swiss Na­tional Museum.