St. Gallen is the capital of the canton of the same name, in north eastern Switzerland. It lies in a valley between two ranges of hills, and has been nicknamed "the city of a thousand steps" because of the many steps built up both hills.
The city is the economic centre of eastern Switzerland. Its own linen-based textile industry goes back to the 15th century. It became known not only for the production of linen, but also for its embroidery. In order to keep its leading position, it took a pioneering role in the mechanisation of the industry. It has overcome several crises in the industry and even today both its textile products and its embroidery machinery enjoy an international reputation.
The city is a railway hub for eastern Switzerland. It has a through service to Zurich airport, Zurich, Bern, Geneva and Geneva airport. It is also linked by rail with the Rhine valley, Lake Constance and Central Switzerland. The small airport of St Gallen-Altenrhein on the border with Austria flies mainly to Vienna, and is also used by private traffic.
However, the overwhelming majority of the city's enterprises are now in the service industry. The most important non-service industries are engineering, paper and printing, and textiles.
The city's university, founded in 1898 as a "trade academy" (Handelsakademie) specialises in business, economics, law and social sciences. It is regarded as one of Europe's leading universities for economics.
A thousand years before the creation of the university, St Gallen was already a cultural and educational centre, thanks to the library and school attached to its abbey. The library remains a cultural treasure even today, both for its 18th century building and for its mediaeval manuscripts (some dating back to the 9th century.) It has been inscribed on the UNESCO list of world heritage.
It received the Wakker prize in 1992. The prize is awarded annually by the Swiss Heritage Society (Schweizer Heimatschutz) to a commune which has harmonised its historic heritage with the need for modern development.
The city is named after the Irish monk, St Gallus, who founded a hermitage on the spot at the beginning of the 7th century. This later developed into one of the largest Benedictine abbeys in Europe. For several centuries the abbot was the ruler not only of the monastery but also of the city and much of the surrounding area. However, the town gained its independence from him in 1415.
Both the abbey and the city became "associated places" of the Swiss Confederation in the middle of the 15th century. The canton of St Gallen joined the Confederation as an equal member in 1803.