16,874 (Dec 31, 2008)
Martin Wey CVP/PDC
(as of February 2014)
Olten is a town in the canton of Solothurn in Switzerland and capital of the district of the same name.
Oltens railway station is within 30 minutes of Zurich, Bern, Basel, and Lucerne by train, and is a rail hub of Switzerland.
Significant amounts of artefacts of the Magdalenian (c. 16000 to 14000 years ago) have been excavated near Olten. There are also finds dated to the Mesolithic and Neolithic, but there is no trace of a settlement, and no ceramic finds; finds dating to the Bronze and Iron Ages are also rather limited. There was a vicus at the site during the Roman era. The name of the settlement is not known, but it seems to have been of a certain importance, presumably reflecting the presence of a bridge across the Aar River. The Roman settlement was probably destroyed in the later 3rd century. At the end of the 3rd century, a fortification was built at the bridge-head, on the south-eastern corner of the earlier vicus. This fortress was abandoned in the 4th century, and later replaced by a larger castle, comparable to late Roman fortresses protecting crossings of the Aar at Solothurn and Brugg.
The medieval settlement was built on the foundations of the Roman castle. It is first mentioned in 1201, as Oltun (conjectured as continuing an *Olodunum, with the Gaulish suffix dunum "fort", and a prefix olo-, possibly from a hydronym, thus "river-fort"). It was in possession of the counts of Frohburg in the 13th century, passing to Kyburg in 1377 and to Habsburg in 1384. Olten passed under the administration of Basel in 1407, which invested in infrastructure, which was however destroyed in fires in 1411 and 1422. Basel lost interest in rebuilding the town again after the 1422 fire, and sold the settlement to Solothurn in 1426.
Throughout the medieval period, Olten was little more than a fortified bridge-head with some services (blacksmiths, taverns); its total population is estimated to about 500 people for the year 1600. Olten lost its city rights in 1653 as punishment for its support of the rebels in the Swiss Peasant War. This resulted in a lasting tradition of resistance against authority in Olten, and the town welcomed as liberators the French troops in the 1798 invasion. In 1814, Solothurn suppressed another rebellion of Olten patriots against the Swiss Restauration.
Olten first reached a population of 1,000 in the later 18th century. More rapid growth set in after the introduction of the railway in 1856, and the town became an industrial and infrastructural center, reaching 7,000 by 1900. By the 1880s, Olten had developed into a second urban center in the canton, and attracted more infrastructure such as the cantonal hospital (1880), a business school (1912), a cantonal gymnasium (1938). Population tripled again during the 20th century, reaching 21,000 in 1970, but has slightly decreased since.
Olten has an area, as of 2009, of 11.49 square kilometres (4.44 sq mi). Of this area, 1.46 square kilometres (0.56 sq mi) or 12.7% is used for agricultural purposes, while 4.81 square kilometres (1.86 sq mi) or 41.9% is forested. Of the rest of the land, 4.65 km2 (1.80 sq mi) or 40.5% is settled (buildings or roads), 0.53 km2 (0.20 sq mi) or 4.6% is either rivers or lakes and 0.06 km2 (14.83 acres) or 0.5% is unproductive land.
Of the built up area, industrial buildings made up 6.0% of the total area while housing and buildings made up 15.6% and transportation infrastructure made up 11.6%. Power and water infrastructure as well as other special developed areas made up 4.2% of the area while parks, green belts and sports fields made up 3.1%. Out of the forested land, 40.7% of the total land area is heavily forested and 1.1% is covered with orchards or small clusters of trees. Of the agricultural land, 6.2% is used for growing crops and 5.9% is pastures. All the water in the municipality is flowing water.
The old city of the capital of the Olten district is located in a bend of the river between the Aare and Dunnern rivers. In the 19th Century housing estates were built in the valley on both sides of the Aare river between slopes of the Jura Mountains to the north and the Born, Sali und Engelberg mountains to the south.
Every year, on August 1, a large firework show occurs from boats floating down the river. It is also home to a wooden foot bridge, one of the towns landmarks. In Oltens railway station restaurant, the Gruppe Olten (Olten Group), a group of writers that included Max Frisch and Friedrich Durrenmatt, was founded, as was the Swiss Alpine Club in 1863.