The history of the city of Montreux and Canton of Vaud

From the origins to the modern times

The origins

Montreux lies on the North East shore of Lake Geneva at the fork in the Roman road from Italy over the Simplon Pass, where the roads to the Roman capital of Aventicum and the road into Gaul through Besançon separated. This made it an important settlement in the Roman era

The Medieval Times

In the 12th century, viticulture was introduced to the region, and the sunny slopes of the lake from Lavaux to Montreux became an important wine-growing region. Montreux was first mentioned in 1215 as Mustruel. In 1295, the Bishop of Sion sold the parish of Montreux to Girard of Oron. In 1317, it was split between the Lords of Oron (Le Châtelard) and the Counts of Savoy (Les Planches).

The Burgundian wars

After the Burgundian Wars in the 15th century, the Swiss in Bern occupied the region without resistance.

The Bernese occupation

Under Bernese rule (1536–1798), Montreux belonged to the Bailiwick of Chillon (renamed in 1735 as the Bailiwick of Vevey).

The Reformation made the region around Montreux and Vevey an attractive haven for Huguenots from Italy, who brought their artisanal skills and set up workshops and businesses.

Major Davel

Davel felt himself to be called by God to liberate his country from the power of Berne. On 31 March 1723, he entered Lausanne in the company of 500 to 600 unarmed men at a moment when the Bernese bailiffs were absent. But the council immediately reported the incident to Bern, and Davel was arrested on 1 April. He maintained, even under torture that his undertaking was suggested directly by God and that he had no accomplices. He was condemned by the court of citizens (Lausanne) to death and was beheaded on 24 April at Vidy.

24 January 1798 - Revolution !

The Helvetic Republic was born as a sister republic of France that existed between 1798 and 1803, during the French Revolutionary Wars. It was created following the French invasion and the consequent dissolution of the Old Swiss Confederacy, marking the end of the ancien régime in Switzerland. Throughout its existence, the republic incorporated most of the territory of modern Switzerland, excluding the cantons of Geneva and Neuchâtel and the old Prince-Bishopric of Basel.

Act of Mediation

After the withdrawal of French troops in July 1802, the Republic collapsed (in the Stecklikrieg civil war). The Act of Mediation was Napoleon’s attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime and a republic. This intermediate stage of Swiss history lasted until the Restoration of 1815.

Berezina - the last sacrifice of a Swiss troop

After a night in -30 degrees without fire and without food, the Swiss engaged in battle. Running out of ammunition, they charged with bayonets against Russian units and defended the bridgehead on the right bank, whatever the cost. At the end of the clash, only 300 Swiss answered the call, of whom 100 were injured. In all, barely five percent of Swiss soldiers escaped this terrible year 1812. Despite the battle being a tactical victory for Napoléon, succeding in crossing the river and saving his army, it turned out to be a strategic disaster, fatally weakening the French army. Since that time, the name “Bérézina” has become a byword for catastrophe in the French language.

1815 - Vienna Congress

The Vienna Congress, which took place from September 1814 to June 1815, had as its aim the settlement of the borders of Europe to establish a stabilised order in a continent deeply shocked by the Napoleonic wars. Switzerland gained its neutrality, due to the help of the Tsar Alexander Ist, who had a Swiss tutor, Frédéric-César de la Harpe.

1823 - the first steamboat sailed on the Léman

The Guillaume Tell (William Tell, probably legendary figure, this character would have lived in the canton of Uri at the beginning of the fourteenth century) was built on the initiative of the United States Consul in France, Edward Church. He was a businessman and a diplomat passionate about the invention of his compatriot and friend Robert Fulton: the steamboat.

The beginning of Tourism

The Hotel Byron was the first luxury hotel in the Montreux region. Inaugurated in 1839, it welcomed a predominantly English-speaking population, who came to find the traces of the poet Lord Byron, who appreciated the region so much in 1816.

Montreux railway station

Montreux railway station was opened in 1861, when the then Jura–Simplon Railway (JS) opened the LausanneVilleneuve section of its standard gauge Simplon railway line to Sion. This line is now owned and operated by SBB-CFF-FFS (state company).

The expansion of tourism - 1860-1875

It was only from the 1860s that we can speak of a first golden age of hotel development in the region. We could even speak of a meteoric expansion in hotel construction. During a period of fifteen years, from 1860 to 1875, some fifty boarding houses and hotels were opened.

1883 Territet - Glion

The line was opened in 1883, making it one of the oldest funiculars in Switzerland (the Giessbachbahn, opened in 1879, is the oldest). 600m long for a 300m vertical drop, it connects Glion to the village of Territet.

1888 The Tramway

The Vevey–Montreux–Chillon tramway was opened in 1888, and was the first electric tramway in Switzerland. It used an early electrification method, with twin overhead copper tubes carrying both polarities. The current was collected by a trolley running on these tubes, and pulled by the tramcar. The cars were double-deck, with an open upper deck.

1890 - 1914 (second expansion)

A second, even more important phase of development took place between l890 and 1914. While the hotel sector reached its limits in Geneva, Lausanne and Vevey, Montreux experienced and benefited from an extraordinary boom in construction, with many new hotel projects. In fifteen years, fifty new hotels and boarding houses opened. In addition, forty establishments were transformed, enlarged or completely refurbished. The pace of construction and transformation was frenetic.

Grand Hôtel Bellevue - Belvédère

1912-1913 Construction of the extension to the hôtel Belvédère, the Grand Hôtel Bellevue. Described  in a leaflet as: “Fine, spacious dining-room. Restaurant with terraces overlooking the lake. Assembly-room, reading-room, card-room. Billards. Lawn-tennis. Shady garden. Covered-in verandah. Lift. Dark-room. Orchestra.”

1962 - Institut International de Glion

The Institut International de Glion was founded in 1962 with the initial class consisting of 15 students from five different countries, studying courses delivered in French.

1967 - Montreux Jazz Festival

Raymond Jaussi and Claude Nobs first organized the Montreux Golden Rose competition in 1961, followed three years later by the International Choral Meeting. The first Jazz Festival was so successful (1500 visitors in three days) that they immediately decided to repeat it a year later.
In 1967, the festival lasted for three days and featured almost exclusively jazz artists. The highlights of this era were Charles LloydMiles DavisKeith JarrettJack DeJohnetteBill EvansSoft MachineWeather ReportThe Fourth WayNina SimoneJan Garbarek, and Ella Fitzgerald.