Three beautiful small(ish) Zurich landmarks

Posted on May 2, 2010


Zurich is a visual city, its older part an ode to order and classicism, its newer industrial fringe a kind of modern art instalment still being set up, a work in progress. With so many aesthetic delights, I always find myself wandering its streets with camera in hand, looking for something shot-worthy. Then, when at home, I spend ages browsing the internet, looking for hints of what I had captured, searching for the story behind a detail, a landmark. As with everything in Zurich, this is usually far from easy.  Today, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learnt about my 3 (for now) favourite small(ish) Zurich landmarks and why I find them beautiful.

The ‘Nana’ Angel Sculpture

Walking into the hall of the Zurich main station, it is hard not to notice the giant stylised angel sculpture suspended gracefully metres off the ground. Added to the station in 1997, it’s the work of the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle, and one of a series of sculptures entitled ‘Nana’, a project which the artist undertook to document the changing roles of women. Inspired by the pregnancy of a fellow artist’s wife, her sculptures therefore often depict voluptuous women.

I love the angel in the main station so much because, despite its impressive bulk, it seems to float, rather than just hang there. While her body is curvaceous and large, her head is several sizes too small and without any features. Her golden wings are filled with holes as if they were two slices of Emmental cheese, and in a city often far too prim and proper, her colours are terribly refreshing;  over smooth dark blue skin, she wears a 1920s bathing suit with vertical pink, green, orange and yellow stripes with a colourful flower and heart on either breast. The artist meant the sculpture to represent a guardian angel protecting travellers on their train journeys, but I’ve often found myself wondering how an angel with hollowed wings and no eyes could do much protecting. Just a thought. 


The Fountain at Zentralhof (Central courtyard)

The city of Zurich has something like 1,500 fountains of varying shapes and sizes, and I have by no means come anywhere close to seeing them all, but I particularly love this one because of the circumstances in which I came across it, glimpsing it quickly at the centre of an intimate courtyard through an archway. The courtyard is surrounded by buildings on all sides, leaving just four arched entrances as both access points to the space and frames to the fountain.

The fountain was put in place only in 1986. Before that, the place where it now stands was first a watering hole for horses and then the location of a cast iron well. The building flanking the courtyard was a post office. In summer, the courtyard is silent (because protected by the thick walls of the buildings around it) except for the gentle trickle of fountain water and the happy chit-chat drifting from the nearby cafe. In winter, when it’s especially cold, the water freezes in thick curved icicles over it, making it look like a snippet from some Russian wintery fairytale.


The Lion on the Lake

As I’ve said before, it’s often difficult to find the history behind little things in Zurich, so unfortunately, for this beautiful stone statue of a lion on the Western bank of the Zurich Lake I have no anecdotes to relate. All I know is that the symbol of Zurich is the lion, and this one, perched as it is on the water’s edge, seems to be looking after the travellers on the lake in the same way that the Nana angel does with those at the train station.

There is something very particular about the way that the Swiss treat their cultural heritage. Parts of the city of Zurich date back from  medieval times and are beautifully preserved and excellently taken care of, but then the same pride is not shown when it comes to making their history known. After I recently put forward this opinion, a Sicilian friend of mine and historian told me, ‘Swiss are great mathematicians, engineers and bankers, but they are terrible at history. They don’t even learn it properly at school. And when there is information, no one bothers to translate it. It’s almost always in German.’ A real pity, I thought. And the lion gazes on, as yet without voice.


– Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @

Posted in: Switzerland