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The town of Fribourg (Freiburg) was founded in 1157 by Berthold IV, Duke of Zähringen. Its name is derived from German frei (free) and Burg (fort). Its most ancient part is conveniently located on a former peninsula of the river Sarine, protected on three sides by steep cliffs. The easily defended city helped the Dukes of Zähringen to strengthen and extend their power in the Swiss plateau in the area between the Aare and La Sarine. Beginning at the time of its inception, Fribourg built a city-state; initially, the land it controlled lay some distance away. When the dukes of Zähringen died out in 1218, the city was transferred to the related Kyburg family. They granted the city its former privileges and wrote the municipal laws in the so-called Handfeste in 1249, in which the legal, institutional and economic organizations were established. Several treaties with neighbouring city-states, including Avenches (1239), Berne (1243), and Morat (Murten) (1245), were signed at this time.
The city was sold to the Habsburgs in 1277. Trade and industry began as early as the mid-13th century. In the early period, Fribourg consisted of four distinct inner city districts: Burg, Au, La Neuveville, and Spital. The city developed rapidly, which led to its first expansion: the Burg district expanded to the west in 1224, a town was established across the river in 1254, and in 1280 development began near Place Python. These expansions reflect the economic boom in Fribourg. The 14th century was dominated by trade, and cloth and leather production, which brought the city renown in Central Europe by 1370. In 1339, Fribourg participated alongside the Habsburgs and the County of Burgundy in the Battle of Laupen against Bern and its Swiss Confederacy allies. Fribourg.
The treaty with Bern was renewed in 1403. The leaders of the city began a territorial acquisition, in which they gradually brought more nearby land under their control. This laid the ground-work for the Canton of Fribourg. By 1442 the city had control of all the land within about 20 kilometres (12 mi), on both sides of the Saane. It was therefore directly controlled by the city leaders, not by any intermediate administration.
The mid-15th century was shaped by various military conflicts. First, considerable losses in a war against Savoy had to be made good. The Savoyard influence on the city grew, and the Habsburgs ceded it to them in 1452. It remained under the control of Savoy until the Burgundian Wars in 1477. As an ally of Bern, Fribourg participated in the war against Charles I of Burgundy, thereby bringing more land under its control.
After the city was released from the sphere of influence of Savoy, it attained the status of Free Imperial City in 1478. The city and its canton joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481, and has long influenced Swiss and European Catholicism. In the 16th century, Fribourg continued to grow, first following the invasion of Waadtland (Pays de Vaud) in 1536 with the help of Bern, and then in 1554 through the annexation of land formerly controlled by the Count of Greyerz (Gruyère).
The canton of Fribourg joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481. The area is made up of lands acquired by the capital Fribourg. The present extent was reached in 1803 when Murten (Morat) was acquired. The canton of Fribourg joined the separatist league of Catholic cantons in 1846 (Sonderbund). The following year, its troops surrendered to the federal army.