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Schaffhausen’s beautiful riverside Old Town is crammed full of well-preserved architecture, which lend the narrow, cobbled streets a charm to rival any town centre in Switzerland. A good place to begin is the central Fronwagplatz, the town’s marketplace during the Middle Ages. Dominating the long square is the Fronwagturm, within which originally hung the market’s massive scales; the clock and astronomical device on the top dates from 1564. Beside it is the late-Baroque Herrenstube, one of the town’s most distinguished townhouses, although the facade of the Zum Steinbock house, 100m west at Oberstadt 16, is even more impressive, covered in stucco Rococo curlicues.
If you stroll north on Fronwagplatz, past the square’s two medieval fountains – the Metzgerbrunnen (1524), topped by a statue of a Swiss mercenary, and the Mohrenbrunnen (1535), with a Moorish king – you’ll come to the Zum Ochsen house, one of the most grandiose in the city, at Vorstadt 17. The late-Gothic facade of this former inn was remodelled in 1608 and decorated with striking Renaissance frescoes of classical heroes. The oriel window is especially graceful: it shows, in five panels, a woman embodying each of the five senses – holding a mirror (sight), a glove (touch), a flower (smell), a stringed instrument (hearing) and a cake (taste). These oriels were often tacked on to existing buildings during renovation work in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, both to demonstrate the houseowner’s wealth and good taste, and also to give people inside a clear view up and down the street. Goethe visited Schaffhausen three times – in 1775, 1779 and 1797 – and apocryphally remarked that the locals must be very curious folk, not least because as well as 170-odd proper oriels dotted around the Old Town, there are dozens of half-oriels, often with spyholes in the floor to allow people within to look directly down on the heads of callers. Suitably enough, one of Schaffhausen’s many nicknames is Erkerstadt, or the City of Oriel Windows.
North of the Zum Ochsen, a short detour past the frescoes of the Zum Grossen Käfig house at Vorstadt 43, showing the triumphal parade of the medieval Mongol king Tamerlane, brings you to the northern gate of the city, the Schwabentor. The tower itself dates from 1370, but on the outer face, just above the arch, is a small panel added during renovations in 1933, which shows a boy with a pig under his arm dodging the traffic. The dialect inscription Lappi tue d’Augen uf translates as “Silly people should keep their eyes open” – a reference to the increasingly heavy motorized traffic of the 1930s.
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