The Lion of Lucerne can be found in the very heart of Switzerland, and it is steeped in history. The tragic lion, sprawled over a shield and in its final, agonising moments of life, is a heart-wrenching ode to those soldiers of the Swiss Guard who gave their lives during the 1792 French Revolution. During this time, 760 Swiss guardsmen were killed in a butchery while defending King Louis XVI, their employer.
Throughout history, despite Switzerland being a neutral country, the Swiss Guard were deployed as mercenaries and served several different monarchs across Europe. They were known to be dependable and unflinchingly loyal.
Designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Danish artist, and sculpted by Lukas Ahorn, a German stonemason, the monument is carved into the cliff face of a former quarry. It was designed in 1819, and Ahorn completed it in 1821.
It was Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, a soldier who was on home leave from the Swiss Guard at the time of the massacre, who commissioned the artists to create the monument and memorialise his fallen friends. The dedication etched into the stone face reads Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti, or ‘to the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss.’ Below the lion are the names of the fallen.
In 1882, the Lion of Lucerne was opened to the public, and since then, it has been one of the city’s must-see attractions.
Mark Twain described it as ‘the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.’ When you stand before it and take in every minute detail of the lion’s agony, you will definitely understand why.