Numerous lake-side settlements from the Neolithic and Bronze age have been found, such as those in the Zürich Pressehaus and Zürich Mozartstrasse. The settlements were found in the 1800s, submerged in Zürichsee (Lake Zürich). In 2004, traces of a pre-Roman Celtic settlement were discovered. In Roman times, Turicum was a tax-collecting point for goods entering the imperial province of Raetia by river. The earliest record of the town's name is preserved on a tombstone found in the eighteenth century on Lindenhof, referring to the Roman castle as STA(tio) TUR(i)CEN(sis).
A Carolingian castle, built on the site of the Roman castle by the grandson of Charlemagne, Louis the German, is mentioned in 835 ("in castro Turicino iuxta fluvium Lindemaci"). Louis also founded the Fraumünster abbey in 853 for his daughter Hildegard. He endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zürich, Uri, and the Albis forest, and granted the convent immunity, placing it under his direct authority.
In 1045, King Henry III granted the convent the right to hold markets, collect tolls, and mint coins, and thus effectively made the abbess the ruler of the city.
General view showing Grossmünster church.Zürich became reichsunmittelbar in 1218 with the extinction of the main line of the Zähringer family. A city wall was built during the 1230s, enclosing 38 hectares. The Bahnhofstrasse marks the course of the western moat. The earliest citizens' stone houses at the Rennweg date to this period, using the delapidated Carolingian castle as a quarry.
Emperor Frederick II promoted the abbess of the Fraumünster to the rank of a duchess in 1234. The abbess assigned the mayor, and she frequently delegated the minting of coins to citizens of the city. However, the political power of the convent slowly waned in the fourteenth century, beginning with the establishment of the Zunftordnung (guild laws) in 1336 by Rudolf Brun, who also became the first independent mayor, i.e. not assigned by the abbess.
The Codex Manesse, a major source of medieval German poetry, was written and illustrated in the early 14th century in Zürich.
Zürich joined the Swiss confederation (which at that point was a loose confederation of de facto independent states) as the fifth member in 1351. Zürich was expelled from the confederation in 1440 due to a war with the other member states over the territory of Toggenburg (the Old Zürich War). Zürich was defeated in 1446, and re-admitted to the confederation in 1450.
Zwingli started the Swiss reformation at the time when he was the main preacher in Zürich. He lived there from 1484 until his death in 1531.
The Murerplan of 1576
Plan of Zürich in 1705 (Henricus Vogelius), showing the extent of the rampartsA second ring of impressive city ramparts was built during the Thirty Years' War.
In 1839, the city had to yield to the demands of its rural subjects, following the Züriputsch of 6 September. Most of the ramparts built in the 17th centuries were torn down, without ever having been sieged, to allay rural concerns over the city's hegemony.
The Limmatquai was built in several stages between 1823 and 1859 along the right side of the Limmat.
From 1847, the Spanisch-Brötli-Bahn, the first railway on Swiss territory, connected Zürich with Baden, putting the Zürich Main Station at the origin of the Swiss rail network. The present building of the Hauptbahnhof (chief railway station) dates to 1871.
The Ötenbach monastery, founded 1285, fell victim to the increasingly grand city planning in 1902, with the entire hill it was built on removed to make way for the new Uraniastrasse and administration buildings. It had been serving as a prison, and the inmates were moved to the newly completed cantonal prison in Regensdorf.