Lausanne : the city
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The nightwatch

Lausanne suffered from many devastating medieval fires, and is the last city in Europe to keep alive the tradition of the nightwatch (le guet). If you install yourself on the cathedral terrace, every night between 10pm and 2am, after the bells have struck the hour, you’ll hear – and possibly spot – a sonorous-voiced civil servant calling out from all sides of the cathedral tower “C’est le guet; il a sonné l’heure” (“This is the nightwatch; the hour has struck”), assuring the lovers and assorted drunks sprawled under the trees that all is well. Having fulfilled his civic duty, he then retreats to a comfortable little room within the tower for the next 59 minutes. For some years past, this post has been filled by a cartoonist on Lausanne’s weekly L’Hebdo, who is reported as appreciating the four hours of peace and quiet this nice little earner brings him each night to concentrate on drawing his strips. As yet, though, he’s had no fires to report.

Lausanne’s city centre spans several hilltops, linked by bridges spanning deep, riverless gorges. Place St-François dominates the hilltop district known as the Bourg, formerly the wealthiest part of the city and still known for its upmarket shops and boutiques. To the north, the hill of the Old Town, crowned by the Cathedral, dominates the city, while expansion during the nineteenth century roped in more heights to the west and east. The whole of Lausanne’s explorable centre lies north of and above the train station, with Place St-François at the edge of a pedestrian-only zone covering virtually the entire Old Town. Walking is the best, and often the only, way to explore.

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