In 1191, the year in which the city of Bern was founded, Count Berchtold V of Zähringen commanded nobleman Cuno von Bubenberg to build a city on a peninsula covered by an oak forest. Von Bubenberg felled the forest and used the resulting timber to erect houses. The Clock Tower formed the city gate.
The bear featured on the present city coat of arms first appeared in 1224. According to legend, the city was named after the first animal killed by the Count whilst hunting during the construction of the city.
In the 13th century, Bern expanded towards the west, and the Prison Tower formed the new main gate. In the 14th century, the third and final expansion phase of the city took place up to the present main railway station. In 1353 Bern became the eighth member of the "Confederation" and was regarded in the late Middle Ages as the biggest and most powerful city-state north of the Alps.
In 1405 Bern suffered a heavy loss when most of the city was burnt to the ground. Reconstruction in sandstone began immediately, and by the 16th and 17th centuries most houses had already been rebuilt in the new material. This is why the original medieval cityscape has remained largely intact up to the present day. In 1528 followers of Zwingli introduced the reformation to Bern. In 1798 French troops marched in and triggered the decline of the old city. Bern became a university city in 1834, and in 1848 it was chosen to be the Federal Capital of Switzerland by the 1st National Swiss Parliament. Bern is both the capital of the Canton of Bern and the seat of Swiss government.