Switzerland’s Famous Fountain of Justice

The fountain was built in 1543 by Hans Gieng. It features an octagonal main basin with two smaller basins for spillover. The main basin was created from limestone plates that are held together with an iron ring. It features the date of one of the restorations as well. The center of the main basin has bronze tubes which emerge from the pedestal. Over this, there is a narrow festooned stone pillar that is decorated by acanthus fresco.

The most iconic part of the statue is the life sized statue of Lady Justice that tops the fountain. She is sculpted standing in a graceful counterpoise, carrying the traditional attributes  of the sword of justice in her right hand, the balance in her left hand, and a blindfold over her eyes. The dress of the Lady Justice is antique in manner, featuring sandaled feet, a decorative suit of golden armor and arabesque relief on her blue robes. There are four smaller busts that are located at the feet of the main statue. These include a Pope (theocracy), an emperor (monarchy), a sultan (autocracy), and a Schultheiss (republic). Each figure features closed eyes, in submission to the Lady Justice. These figures represent the four earthly powers or the forms of government in Renaissance humanism.

The fountain represents a symbolic representation of the supremacy of Justice over the earthly authorities. Basically showing virtue as defeating vice. During the reformation era of Bern, the idea of divine Justice was a frequent element in political discourse. The idea was that justice was according to the will of God, and this needed to supersede any earthly authority. The adornments, the sword and scale, are typical features of Justice; however the blindfold was a novelty. It was not common to the personification of justice until much later, becoming symbolic og equality before the law. It portrays that justice should not consider rank or standing, but that justice needs to be delivered based on introspection. This fountain became the symbol for the Bernese Republics authority through law.

The fountain was created as a complement to an older well at the Nydegg. There were renovation to it done in 1548, 1589, 1668, and 1687. In 1798, the sword and scale disappeared for a long time when the French invaded. These figures have been replaced numerous times over the years. The statue faced terrible vandalism after standing for 443 years in 1986. The statue was brought down by a rope and tackle, and was largely destroyed from the fall. The original statue continues to be repaired by the cities historical museum, while the original one was replaced in 1988 with a copy. It was never discovered who destroyed the fountain, but it was thought to be the Groupe Belier, a militant youth organization.

The statue was significant as it was copied throughout Switzerland. Currently there are eleven “Justice Fountains” left. The symbolism of the fountain remains a factor in the lives of the people today, as well as the statue being a very popular tourist site!