National Geographic : 1969 Jul
Famed Zytgloggeturm, or Clock Tower, has been giving Bernese the time of day-plus hourly displays of moving stat ues-for more than 400 years. On either side of the Old Town's arcade-lined Kramgasse,region al flags of Switzerland add a festive and patriotic air. In 1353 Bern became the eighth canton to link its destiny to the Swiss Confederation. It was desig nated the federal city by the Constitution of 1848. KODACHROMES BYTHOMASJ. ABERCROMBIE © N.G.S . Before a fitting backdrop depicting historic Ruitli meadow, the 200-member Nationalrat-Swiss counter part of the United States House of Representatives convenes for last year's opening session in Bern. In 1291 the founders of the Swiss nation met at Riutli, on the shore of the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons. Here they signed an "eternal pact" of independence and mutual assist ance. The three original districts-Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden-formed the nucleus of modern Switzer land. Lucerne, the fourth of the forest cantons, became a member in 1332. Other cantons gradually joined the confederation-the last three, Valais, Neuchatel, and Geneva, in 1815. The spirit of Ruitli pervades today's political system. Constitutional safeguards prevent any one man, group, or canton from becoming too powerful. Laws passed by the federal government can be forced to a popular refer endum at the insistence of only 30,000 voters. The Swiss president serves a one-year term and may not imme diately succeed himself. Such restrictions assure that sovereignty remains at all times in the people's hands.