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Franz Ludwig Pfyffer

Detail of Pfyffer's relief (in new window)

Detail of Pfyffer's relief© geod.ethz.ch

Franz Ludwig Pfyffer (1716 - 1802), is remembered for the 3-dimensional model of the area around Lake Lucerne which he constructed - the oldest relief map still in existence anywhere. It was completed in 1786, after 24 years of labour. Using measurements he had taken himself, he constructed his map on a scale of about 1: 11,500, representing an area measuring about 76 by 44 km. (47 by 27 miles).

Pfyffer, the son of a noble Lucerne family, had been an officer in the French king's Swiss Guard, and he was inspired to make the map by seeing 3-dimensional models of French fortresses.

He used the most varied materials for his model, including plaster, charcoal, sand, beeswax, wire, pins, bits of brick and pottery, scraps of cloth - and probably anything else he could find lying around. He made it in 136 individual pieces, so that it could be easily dismantled, transported and reassembled. It caused a sensation when it was first presented to the public.

The relief has recently been restored, and when measured using the latest computer technology was found to be astonishingly accurate.

It can be seen at the Glacier Garden in Lucerne where it has been on show for more than a century.

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