Last updated
Bern, view of the Barengraben and the Old Town, around 1880.jpg
The Bärengraben around 1880
Date opened1857
Location Bern, Switzerland
Coordinates 46°56′52.87″N7°27′34.66″E / 46.9480194°N 7.4596278°E / 46.9480194; 7.4596278 Coordinates: 46°56′52.87″N7°27′34.66″E / 46.9480194°N 7.4596278°E / 46.9480194; 7.4596278
Website www.baerenpark-bern.ch
Partial view of Barengraben in modern times Bern Barengraben.jpg
Partial view of Bärengraben in modern times
The BarenPark; the Barengraben is at the upper level to the left of this image Baerenpark Bern 01 09.jpg
The BärenPark; the Bärengraben is at the upper level to the left of this image

The Bärengraben, or Bear Pit, is a tourist attraction in the Swiss capital city of Bern. It is a bear pit, or enclosure housing bears, situated at the eastern edge of the old city of Bern, next to the Nydeggbrücke and the River Aar. Although still in use, the Bärengraben has been supplemented since 2009 by the adjacent BärenPark, a larger and more natural enclosure alongside the River Aar. [1]


The Bärengraben and BärenPark are administered as a geographically discrete part of the city's Dählhölzli Zoo. The Bärengraben is a Swiss heritage site of national significance, and is of particular significance in Bern because the bear is a symbol of both the city and surrounding canton, and is featured in their coat of arms. [1] [2]


The bear has long served as symbol of Bern. Legend has it that, in 1191, Duke Berthold V of Zähringen vowed to choose as namesake the first animal his hunt met in the wood that was to be chopped down for his new city. As Konrad Justingers chronicle puts it:

Then they caught a bear first, which is why the city was called Bern; and so the citizens had their coat and shield, which was a black bear in a white shield, going upright. [3]

The first records of bears being kept in the city come from 1513, when the chronicler Valerius Anshelm described how the Bernese returned home victorious from the Battle of Novara, carrying both the captured standards and a living bear as spoils of war. [1]

The first bear pit was at what is still called the Bärenplatz (Bear Plaza). The current pit is the fourth such enclosure, following on from pits at various locations around the city, and was first opened in 1857. [1] In 1925, a smaller adjacent pit was added to raise the young bear cubs.[ citation needed ]

Between 1994 and 1996, the Bärengraben was completely renovated to improve conditions for the bears. Despite this, the keeping of bears in what still remained a bear pit led to many complaints. This, as well as new legal requirements, prompted a rethink of how the bears should be kept. [1]

As a result, the BärenPark was opened in 2009, on the steeply sloping land between the Bärengraben and the bank of the River Aar. The original bear pit and the BärenPark were linked by a tunnel, allowing the bears to make use of both spaces. The smaller pit was no longer used by the bears, but was used instead to give access to the Bärengraben's shop and to provide a performance space. [1]

In culture

The Mary Plain series of fourteen children's books are partly set at the Bärengraben, with the story's main character, Mary Plain (who is a young bear) and her family living in the pits.

The Bärengraben can be briefly seen in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service , as Bond, Tracy Bond and Marc-Ange Draco drive through Bern.

Related Research Articles

Aare river in Switzerland and tributary of the Rhine

The Aare or Aar is a tributary of the High Rhine and the longest river that both rises and ends entirely within Switzerland.

Bern Capital of Switzerland

Bern or Berne is the de facto capital of Switzerland, referred to by the Swiss as their "federal city", in German Bundesstadt, French ville fédérale, and Italian città federale. With a population of about 140,000, Bern is the fifth-most populous city in Switzerland. The Bern agglomeration, which includes 36 municipalities, had a population of 406,900 in 2014. The metropolitan area had a population of 660,000 in 2000. Bern is also the capital of the canton of Bern, the second-most populous of Switzerland's cantons.

Coat of arms unique heraldic design on a shield or escutcheon

A coat of arms is a heraldic visual design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which in its whole consists of: shield, supporters, crest, and motto. A coat of arms is traditionally unique to an individual person, family, state, organization or corporation.

Flags and arms of cantons of Switzerland Wikimedia list article

Each of the 26 modern cantons of Switzerland has an official flag and a coat of arms. The history of development of these designs spans the 13th to the 20th centuries.

Coat of arms of Bern

The coat of arms of Bern, along with the associated flag and heraldic colours, are used both by the Swiss city of Bern and by the canton of the same name. They were also used by the former district of Bern until its abolition in 2009.

Bear pit

A bear pit was historically used to display bears, typically for entertainment and especially bear-baiting. The pit area was normally surrounded by a high fence, above which the spectators would look down on the bears.

The national symbols of Lithuania are used in Lithuania and abroad to represent the country and its people, history, culture, and nature. These symbols are seen in official capacities, such as flags, coats of arms, postage stamps, and currency, and in URLs. They appear less formally as recurring themes in literature, art and folk art, heraldry, monuments, clothing, personal decoration, and as the names of parks, bridges, streets, and clubs. The less formal manifestations may be classified as national emblems.


The Nydeggbrücke is a bridge in Bern, Switzerland which connects the eastern part of the old city to the new part. It crosses over the Aare and is located very close to the Bärengraben. It was built in parallel to the Untertorbrücke in 1840, which until then had been the only bridge crossing the Aare. The Nydeggbrücke is in total 190 meters long and took three years to build. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.

Coat of arms of Berlin coat of arms of capital and city-state of Germany

The coat of arms of Berlin is used by the German city state as well as the city itself. Introduced in 1954 for West Berlin, it shows a black bear on a white shield. On top of the shield is a special crown, created by the amalgamation of the mural crown of a city with the so-called people's crown (Volkskrone), used in Germany to denote a republic. Berlin's various boroughs use their own emblems.

Old City (Bern) old town of Bern, Switzerland

The Old City is the medieval city center of Bern, Switzerland. Built on a narrow hill surrounded on three sides by the river Aare, its compact layout has remained essentially unchanged since its construction during the twelfth to the fifteenth century. Despite a major fire in 1405, after which much of the city was rebuilt in sandstone, and substantial construction efforts in the eighteenth century, Bern's old city has retained its medieval character.

Bear in heraldry heraldic animal

The bear as heraldic charge is not as widely used as the lion, boar or other beasts.

Junkerngasse alley in the old town of Bern, Switzerland

The Junkerngasse is a street in the Old City of Bern, the medieval city center of Bern, Switzerland. It connects the tip of the Aar peninsula to the Münster.

Toffen Castle château

Toffen Castle is a Baroque country estate in Toffen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.

Tierpark Dählhölzli Public zoo in Bern, Switzerland

The Tierpark Dählhölzli, or Dählhölzli Zoo, is a public zoo in Bern, Switzerland.

Bärenplatz square in Bern, Switzerland.

The Bärenplatz is a plaza in the Old City of Bern, the medieval city center of Bern, Switzerland. It is part of the Innere Neustadt which was built during the second expansion from 1255 to 1260. It is located north of Bundesplatz, west of Käfigturm and south of Waisenhausplatz. It is part of the UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site that encompasses the Old City.

Reichenbach Castle château

Reichenbach castle is located in Zollikofen, about 5 kilometres north of Bern. The castle was founded as a medieval fort, probably built on the site of an earlier Roman fort, on the river Aar. The medieval castle was later rebuilt in the Baroque style. It is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.

Bear pit, or Bear Pit, may refer to:

Interlaken ship canal canal in the Swiss canton of Bern, connecting Lake Thun with Interlaken

The Interlaken ship canal is a 2.75-kilometre (1.71 mi) long canal in the Swiss canton of Bern. It connects Lake Thun with a quay in the town of Interlaken adjacent to Interlaken West railway station, thus allowing shipping services on the lake to serve the town and connect with railway services. It is still in regular use by the Lake Thun passenger ships of the BLS AG.

The following is a timeline of the history of the municipality of Bern, Switzerland.

Bärenpark Board game

Bärenpark is a multiplayer board game designed by game designer Phil Walker-Harding and was first published in 2017 by Lookout Games. Each player collects and places layers of tiles to plan the map for their individual bear park, a type of zoo common in certain parts of the world, such as the Bärengraben in Bern.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "BärenPark Bern". Tierparks Dählhölzli. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
  2. "Swiss inventory of cultural property of national and regional significance" (PDF). bevoelkerungsschutz.admin.ch. Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection. 2009. p. 102. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 11, 2012. Retrieved June 21, 2012.
  3. Quoted from Vinzenz Bartlome / Urs M. Zahnd, Gründung und Sage, in: Schwinges, op.cit., p. 23.