The city of Zurich has organized a series of exhibitions around town (Haus zum Rech (Neumarkt 4), on Lindenhof) to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Zurich’s independence. But it is something of an exaggeration to speak of the year 1218 as the date of the town’s independence. But it makes for a nice story, anyhow. At the time, Zurich and its surroundings were part of the territories belonging to the Dukes of Zähringen, a family with plenty of ambitions who also owned huge tracts of land in what is now southern Germany along the Rhine river and in western Switzerland. They were very engaged town-founders – Bern founded 1191, Fribourg (f. 1157), Freiburg im Breisgau (f. 1090s) – and promoted the settlement of their territories by ensuring central administration and giving their towns a generous amount of freedom in their charters.
Zähringer lands in green
Von Marco Zanoli (sidonius 15:58, 10 February 2007 (UTC)) - nach Putzger, Historischer Weltatlas, Schweizer Ausgabe, Berlin 2004 und Hektor Ammann / Karl Schib (Hg.), Historischer Atlas der Schweiz, Aarau 1958 und anderen Quellen., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1659421
In 1218, however, Berchtold V of Zähringen died without a son. Property in those days came in two kinds: a fief granted by an overlord in exchange for feudal services and taxes; and allods which was land owned outright. When Berchtold died many of his fiefs reverted to the emperor of the day, Frederick II, who assumed direct control of places such as Zurich. So, independence is not quite the word that describes what happened to the town. Zurich became, along with others, an imperial town, by ruled directly by the emperor, a very busy man, and administered by the local elite. It thus acquired a great deal of autonomy to run itself. Certainly, as long as nothing too egregious came out of Zurich, the emperor would have been content to leave things as they were.