The heart of the old town, a meeting place and the site where important matters were discussed, the lime tree was planted between 1730 an 1742. It was replaced by a new tree in 2004.
Under the Ancien Régime, the lime tree was the symbolic heart of the community; in most towns, a lime tree was planted near the market square and the town hall. Guilds and fraternities were accustomed to meeting “under the lime tree”. There is evidence of such activities in Bulle, Rue, Romont, Fribourg, and Estavayer. The tree was also a public notice board: news of the insurgent Pierre-Nicolas Chenaux was posted there in 1781. In Bulle there is a second lime tree, near the entrance to the Church, which may have served the same purpose.
According to an engraving by David Herrliberger dated 1758, the lime tree located near the Town Hall was at the time surrounded by four other trees which provided shade for benches placed on the square. When French troops invaded Switzerland in 1798 and established the regime of the Swiss Republic, the lime tree in Bulle became the canton’s first “tree of freedom”, a symbol of revolutionary ideals.
The tree survived the fire of 1805. Around 1850, the lawyer, politician and writer Nicolas Glasson wrote a long poem of 17 stanzas in its honour, entitled “Stanzas for the Lime Tree of Bulle”. Extract:
Que de mots dits sous ton feuillage
Joyeusetés, propos grivois
Récits de Nestors de village
Et sentences de vieux Bullois
Sous ta verte et splendide arcade
Tu gardes aussi tes regrets
De Chenaux tu vis la croisade
Et tu pleuras sur ses cyprès
Tu vis la flamme désastreuse
Briller dans Bulle épouvanté
Monter, bondir victorieuse
Puis s’éteindre avec la cité
(So many words spoken under your leaves
Happy thoughts and bawdy accounts
Tales of village Nestors
And sayings of old townsfolk of Bulle
Under your verdant and splendid canopy
You also harbour regrets
With Chenaux you witnessed the crusade
And cried for the cypress tree
You saw the disastrous flame
Burn in stricken Bulle
Climb and leap victorious
Then die with the town)
“Les Poètes de la Gruyère”, La Gruyère Illustrée, Fascicule VI, 1898.
Six pillars and a stone surround were added to the base of the lime tree around 1850. To one of the pillars an object was attached which today can be found in the Musée gruérien: a half-ell, a unit of measurement for baled straw, which was a popular economic activity between 1830 and 1890.
At the end of the 19th century the tree retained its central place. It was also a popular walking destination: in front of the castle wooden booths were erected for use by local shopkeepers. These “market stalls” were replaced by other buildings at the beginning of the 20th century.
Five of the six stone pillars were removed in 2000. The lime tree, sick and fragile, was cut down for safety reasons in 2003. Dendrochronological research carried out at the time produced an estimate of its age as approximately 273 years. A new lime tree was planted in the spring of 2004. Paving dating from the Middle Ages discovered when the old trunk was removed can be seen through an opening dug in the ground.
© Musée gruérien, La Gruyère newspaper and Cultural Heritage Department of the canton of Fribourg
Bulle, Place du Tilleul, circa 1910.
© Charles Morel Musée gruérien