View of Interlaken, 1821
Until 1891, Interlaken was known as Aarmühle. The convent of the Augustinian Canons was built around 1133 when it was mentioned as inter lacus Madon and lasted until 1528. The mill on the left bank of the Aare was first mentioned in 1365 as Amuli, while the town on the right bank was mentioned in 1239 as villa Inderlappen.
While some scattered Neolithic flint objects, early Bronze Age swords and Roman era coins have been found near Interlaken, there is no evidence for a settlement in the area before the Middle Ages. Interlaken Monastery was built around 1133 on imperial land on the left side of the Aare. The monastery controlled a bridge over the river and generated an income from tolls. A village grew up around the monastery, along with a mill (which gave the municipality its name until 1891). On the right bank of the river, Interlaken village developed. In 1279/80 the village of Unterseen developed near Interlaken village. Also near the village were the imperial castle of Weissenau and the market town of Widen. The castle and market town became the possessions of the monastery, but fell into disrepair in the Late Middle Ages.
The New Castle was built in 1746–50 on the site of the monastery's west wing
The Interlaken Monastery was first mentioned in 1133 when Lothair III, Holy Roman Emperor took it under his protection. By 1247, there were also women at the monastery. During the 13th century the monastery's influence spread throughout the neighboring area and into the Aare and Gürbe valleys. They eventually had authority over two dozen churches along with a number of villages and farms and became the largest religious landholder in the region.
During the 13th and the beginning of the 14th century the monastery grew and prospered. However, in 1350 a period of crises and conflicts led to a decline in the number of monks and nuns and increasing debt. A document from 1310, indicates that there were 30 priests, 20 lay brothers and 350 women at the monastery. In contrast, in 1472 there were only the provost, the prior, nine ordinary canons, seven novices and 27 nuns. At this time, the monastery also had problems with its tenants and neighbors. In 1348, the people of Grindelwald and Wilderswil joined a mutual defense league with Unterwalden. Bern responded with a military expedition to the Bernese Oberland, which ended in defeat for Unterwalden and its allies. In 1445 the Evil League (Böser Bund) rose up in the Oberland near Interlaken and fought against Bernese military service and taxes following the Old Zürich War.
During the 14th century the canons and nuns stopped following most of the monastic rules. In 1472 a violent dispute between the men and the women's convents resulted in two visitation by the Bishop of Lausanne who noted serious deficiencies. The provost was arrested and some of the canons were replaced by canons from other convents. Despite the reform measures the nun's convent was closed in 1484 and its property transferred to the newly founded monastery of St. Vincent in Berne.
During the Protestant Reformation, the monastery was secularized in 1528. The canons received a financial settlement and the properties were now managed by a Bernese bailiff. The tenants of the monastery who had expected the abolition of all owed interest, responded by rioting, which was suppressed by Berne.
After the Reformation, Berne created the Interlaken bailiwick from the monastery lands. Part of the monastery building was used as the headquarters of the district administration, while the rest was used as an indigent hospital. In 1562-63 Berne converted the monastery church's choir into a granary and a wine cellar. In 1746-50 the west wing was demolished and Governor Samuel Tillier built the so-called New Castle. It has remained the center of administration for the Interlaken District since that time.
Höhenweg der Aarmühle nach Interlaken painting of Aarmühle by Jules-Louis-Frédéric Villeneuve from 1823
Aarmühle was named for the mill on the Aare which was built there in or before 1365. Starting in 1365, the monastery held weekly and yearly markets at Aarmühle. It had its own bäuert (agricultural cooperative) but was politically part of the municipality of Matten.
In the 16th century the bäuert of Aarmühle and the surrounding bäuerten began quarreling over the use of common fields and woods. Attempts at arbitration in 1533, 1586 and 1618 were unsuccessful. Partly as a result of the quarreling, in 1633, Wilderswil separated from Matten and became an independent municipality. However, the dispute continued between Aarmühle and Matten and in 1761, the governor of the Interlaken district attempted, unsuccessfully, to mediate. Finally, in 1810 the two villages divided their common property, though it took until 1838 for Aarmühle to become an independent political municipality.
Around the time of the separation, the number of tenant farmers (farmers that did not own the land that they worked) was very different in Aarmühle and Matten. In 1831, 37% of the population in Aarmühle were tenants, while only 12% were in Matten. This meant that the population of Matten were closely tied to the land and remained farmers, while in Aarmühle they began to support the growing tourism trade.
Aarmühle becomes Interlaken
On the right bank of the Aare, Unterseen became the only municipality and absorbed the village of Interlaken. In 1838, on the left bank, the villages became the two municipalities of Matten and Aarmühle. However, Aarmühle used the name Interlaken for its post office and train station, leading to that name becoming more well known. Officially the name changed to Interlaken in 1891.
Rise of tourism
Photograph of Interlaken and the Jungfrau from the late 19th century
Interlaken's reputation as international resort started around 1800 due to the landscapes of Franz Niklaus König and other Swiss landscape artists. The success of the Unspunnenfest, a festival of Swiss culture, in 1805 and 1808 brought many tourists to Interlaken. Starting in 1820, they came for mountain air and spa treatment and the large Kursaal opened in 1859 to provide an elegant spa. The many hotels combined with good transportation links made it easy for these early tourists to visit. In 1835 a steam ship route opened along Lake Thun from Thun, followed in 1839 by another along Lake Brienz from Brienz.
In 1872, the Bödelibahn railway opened from Därligen, on Lake Thun, to Interlaken. Two years later it was extended to Bönigen, on Lake Brienz. Initially this line was unconnected to the rest of the Swiss railway system, and served as a link between the steamships on both lakes. However, in 1893, the Lake Thun railway line opened alongside Lake Thun providing a direct rail connection to Thun, with onward connections to Bern and beyond. In 1888, the Brünig railway opened between Alpnachstad, on Lake Lucerne, and Brienz, on Lake Brienz, thus providing a through steamer and rail connection from Interlaken to Lucerne. By 1916, the Brünig railway had reached Interlaken from Brienz, and, together with an earlier extension at its eastern end, provided a direct rail route to Lucerne. In 1890, the Berner Oberland railway connected Interlaken to the tourist destinations of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald.
With the opening up of transport links, hotels developed along the route to the Jungfrau. In 1860–75 and 1890–1914 several luxury hotels were built with views of the Jungfrau and surrounding mountains. The current Kursaal was built in 1898-99 and remodeled in 1909–10.
Despite the emphasis on tourism a parquet factory operated from 1850 until 1935 and a wool weaving factory opened in 1921. In the late 20th century a woolen thread and a metal products factory opened in Interlaken. Since 1988, Interlaken has been connected to the A8 motorway.
The frantic growth of the tourism industry abruptly ended in 1914 when World War I started, though it resumed somewhat after the war. World War II brought another dramatic slow down. Interlaken started to recover from the effects of the war in 1955 as Interlaken re-branded itself as a convention and conference center. Today, the two nuclei villages (Aarmühle and the village around the Bailiff's Castle) have been joined by new construction between them. The municipalities of Matten and Unterseen are also connected by new construction to Interlaken and share a common infrastructure. A referendum to merge the three political municipalities into one was voted down in 1914 and again in 1927.