Duke Berthold V of Zahringen could not find a suitable name for his small town of honest citizens until one fateful day…

Numerous legends have been told about the naming of the city of Bern, and the bear is always the central figure around which the legends, myths and stories of the city’s foundations revolve. The most famous story dates back to the year 1191, when the city was founded by Duke Berthold V of Zähringen.

The new settlement was built on a strategic peninsula surrounded by the river Aare. As soon as the fortifications were complete, the Duke sought a suitable name for it. Despite his refined political skills, his imagination was not his strongest attribute and so he decided to organize a great feast in his castle Nydeck, where he invited all the regional nobles to collect ideas and find a suitable name for the city. Although the feast was full of merriment and lasted for three days, the name of the city was still not decided. Suddenly, one of the guests had the clever idea to send a hunting party into the surrounding oak forest and to give the city the name of the first animal killed.

This proposal was welcomed by everyone, and on the following day they set off early in the morning with horses and hounds, splitting into several small groups. Barely an hour later, a mighty cry of victory was heard from the forest, and when the hunters convened, it was found that one of the Duke’s archers had killed a deer. Berthold seemed to be very disappointed by this, since he did not want to give the name of such a delicate creature to his strong fortress town. The shot was declared invalid, and the hunters went on to find another, more appropriate animal. Imagine their great enthusiasm, when later that day they finally came upon a huge bear, with sharp claws and glistening fangs. It reared up upon its hind legs and let out a fierce roar as the Duke himself charged the beast and slew it with his sword. Henceforth, the young city was named Bern and the bear became the heraldic animal for both the city and the canton of Bern.


The bear became so beloved that since 1513, the city has even had a “Bärengraben”, or “bear-moat” which, with its fierce four-legged inhabitants, has become one of the most famous landmarks of Bern.

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