Jose Rizal's Travels: What Did the National Hero Do in Switzerland?

Jose Rizal’s travels in Europe are well-documented. Our national hero left the Philippines in 1882 to study medicine in Spain. He also visited France to learn more about how medicine was practiced there. And of course, it was in Germany where he published his seminal novel Noli Me Tangere

During his five-year stay in Europe, Rizal also traveled to many different places in the continent, including Prague, Vienna, Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome. He also traveled to a few places in Switzerland.

According to Jose Fadul’s Rizal in Switzerland, Rizal had heard about Switzerland’s beauty as a young child growing up in the Philippines. So when the opportunity to visit the country came, he made sure not to pass it up.


In Switzerland, Rizal first arrived in the town of Schaffhausen. He was accompanied by his good friend Maximo Viola, who had generously loaned Rizal money in order to get Noli Me Tangere published.

Rizal and Viola arrived in Schaffhausen by train on June 2, 1887. They stayed at Hotel Muller on Bahnhofstrasse 28. While it’s easy to guess why Rizal would want to go to bigger, arguably more important cities in Europe like Paris, Madrid or Berlin, it’s unclear why he wanted to stop in this tiny Swiss town.

But Schaffhausen is near the Rhine Falls (Rheinfall), said to be Europe’s most powerful waterfalls. Measuring 140 meters wide and 23 meters high, the falls must have piqued Rizal’s interest enough for him to want to go there. And according to Fadul, Rizal and Viola did visit the falls.

Photo by Paul John Cana.

In December 1961, to commemorate Rizal’s 100th birth anniversary, a memorial plaque was installed on the façade of the Hotel Muller by the Philippine ambassador to Switzerland at the time, Tomas Castro. The plaque reads: “Jose Rizal (1861-1896) National Hero of the Philippines. Rizal, with Dr. Maximo Viola stopped at Hotel Muller, 2-3 June, 1887.” 


After Schaffhausen, Rizal and Viola traveled by train to Basel. The duo toured the city and drank beer at Bayrische Bierhalle in the center of town. 

According to Fadul, Rizal wrote a letter to his frend Ferdinand Blumentritt while they were in Basel to tell him that they had arrived in the city.


Rizal and Viola only stayed one night in Basel. Their next destination was Bern, which was the federal capital of Switzerland. The pair stayed at the Hotel Scweizerhof near the Hauptbahnhof, or the main train station.

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Fadul says Rizal may have found a copy of the story of Wilhelm Tell (William Tell) in the lobby of the hotel. The tale would have a profound impact on Rizal, and his translation of William Tell is thought to be an expression of his politcal thinking. The original manuscript of Rizal’s translation is now kept in storage at the National Library in Manila. 

Just like in Schaffhausen, a brass marker was also installed at the Hotel Schweizerhof in December 2011 by then ambassadoor to Switzerland Leslie Baja.

Lausanne and Geneva

After one night’s stay in Bern, Rizal and Viola journeyed on to Lausanne. They did sightseeing in the town that was right on the banks of Lake Geneva before continuing to the city of Geneva itself.

On June 6, the duo finally arrived in Geneva. They chose to stay at Pension Bel-Air on Rue du Rhone 3. Rizal spent about two weeks in the city, and it was here where he celebrated his 26th birthday. Fadul says Rizal took Viola out for a meal to celebrate the occasion.

Geneva turned out to be Rizal’s last stop in Switzerland. It was also here where he parted with Viola. Rizal caught a train for Turin, Italy on June 21, while Viola boarded one bound for Barcelona, Spain.

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On May 25, 2010, a memorial was installed at the former pension house on Rue De Rhone 3 in Geneva to commemorate Rizal’s visit to the city.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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