"Are you going to stop in St. Gallen to see the library?" the hotel receptionist asked. Our blank looks confirmed that our guide book had missed this potential opportunity. Fortunately with the amazing railway system in Switzerland, an on-the-fly change to the itinerary was easy to accomplish.
St. Gallen is the capital of the canton of St. Gallen, and it evolved from the hermitage of Saint Gall, founded in the 7th century. The main tourist attraction is the Abbey of Saint Gall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to one of the most fantastic libraries housing books from as far back as the 9th Century.
The town of St. Gallen grew up around the Abbey of St. Gall, founded in the 8th century. The abbey is said to have been built at the site of the hermitage of Irish missionary Gallus, who according to legend had established himself by the river Steinach in AD 612. The monastery and library were founded by Saint Othmar in 720.
The abbey prospered in the 9th century and became a site of pilgrimage and a center of trade, with associated guest houses, stables and other facilities, a hospital, one of the first monastery schools north of the Alps. By the tenth century, a settlement had grown up around the abbey.
The abbey library collection is the oldest in Switzerland, and one of the earliest and most important monastic libraries in the world. In addition to older printed books, the collection includes 1650 incunabula (books printed before 1500), and 2100 manuscripts dating back to the 8th through 15th centuries; among the most notable of the latter are items of Irish, Carolingian, and Ottonian production.
The library hall, designed by the architect Peter Thumb in a Rococo style, was constructed between 1758 and 1767.
Since 1904, a monumental statue of Joachim von Watt (1484-1551), known as Vadian, has stood on the location of the former City Hall that was demolished in 1877. This St.Gallen reformer, mayor, doctor and historian is the only person in St. Gallen honored with a statue that is larger than life. In St. Gall, he was appointed city physician in 1519 and succeeded his father Leonhard as a member of the city council in 1521. When he was elected mayor of the city in 1526, he led the conversion of St. Gallen to Protestantism, and managed to maintain that new state even after the victory of the Catholic cantons in the Second war of Kappel.
The Waaghaus was built to serve as a location to weigh, declare and store goods. The upper floor served as an actual department store for the sale of goods. The building served as a weighing and warehouse until the 19th century. After the construction of the train station and the new bonded warehouse near it, it became superfluous and briefly housed the police station. In 1876, a post office was opened in the Waaghaus, which remained there until the renovation in 1958. In a referendum in 1958, the population voted for the preservation and renovation of the weighing house.
The first public lounge in Switzerland spreads out in the St. Galler Bleichi district in the open air and transforms the district into an urban oasis accessible 24/7 for playing, relaxing or conducting business. This unusual project to create a public “Citylounge” was the brain child of architect Carlos Martinez and multimedia artist Pipilotti Rist. A spongy red carpet covers the entire public space to create a giant lounge. Overhead are floating lights that set the scene for different, discreetly changing lighting moods.
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