The German name for Switzerland is die Schweiz (dee shvites). On this page you can learn more about this Alpine nation of 7.7 million lying in the heart of Europe.
- Switzerland: Country Information - History, facts and figures (See below.)
- Switzerland - Part 1: Related pages and links
- Hotels in German-speaking countries - Accommodations A, CH, DE
- Travel Info - Traveling to, from, or within Europe
Switzerland: Background and History
The European nation known as Switzerland in English has several different names in the country’s four official languages: die Schweiz (German), Suisse (French), Svizzera (Italian), and Svizra (Romansch). Switzerland’s official name is Swiss Confederation, or Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft in German. About 64 percent of Swiss citizens speak Swiss German. About 20 percent (in western Switzerland) speak French, while Italian represents about six percent (mostly in the southern canton of Ticino). Only a small minority (less than one percent) of the Swiss speak Romansch.
Switzerland is one of the oldest nations in Europe. The country takes its name from Schwyz, one its original provinces (called cantons). In 1291 three cantons, Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, joined together to create the Ewiger Bund (Eternal League). The new nation grew slowly by adding more cantons over the years. Known today as a peaceful, neutral nation, Switzerland has a turbulent past of religious and political strife, just one example being the Swiss victory over the Austrian Hapsburgs in the Battle of Sempach in 1386.
By 1353, the tiny Swiss nation had grown to eight cantons and city-states. But in 1515 the Swiss were defeated in the Battle of Marignano and during the 1500s conflict grew between Catholic and Protestant cantons following Zwingli’s (Protestant) Reformation. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia granted Switzerland its independence from the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and recognized Swiss neutrality for the first time. However, as the Peasant War of 1653 demonstrates, that did not mean Switzerland had ended its internal political and religious disputes.
In 1798 French forces conquered Switzerland and imposed a new centralized government and constitution, but by 1803 Napoleon restored Swiss independence and a country made up of 19 cantons (26 today). Since the 1815 Congress of Vienna, Switzerland has enjoyed neutrality within Europe and has kept the same national borders it has today — although its own internal strife was not over. A civil and religious war in 1839 (the Sonderbundskrieg) eventually led the Swiss to realize that they needed a stronger form of national government. In 1848 a federal constitution was adopted that introduced referenda (popular votes) to settle issues and gave the cantons self-rule. The Swiss constitution was amended in 1874 and again in 1891 to become the one largely in effect today (with minor amendments in 1999).
Switzerland avoided being invaded during both world wars, although the Germans did prepare plans for a World War II invasion, and the Allies mistakenly bombed several Swiss towns in 1944-1945, including Basel, Schaffhausen, and Zurich. Switzerland drew some criticism for its failure to accept more than the 27,000 Jewish refugees it did take in during the war. Swiss banks also drew fire in the 1990s when it was revealed that they had accepted secret deposits of Holocaust victims’ assets. The International Red Cross was founded in Switzerland in 1863 and has its headquarters in Geneva. The International Olympic Committee is located in Lausanne, while the World Economic Forum (WEF) foundation is based in Geneva. The WEF is best known for its annual meeting in Davos, in the Swiss Alps.
Modern Switzerland has maintained its independent, isolationist, neutral attitude by refusing to join the European Union or to use the euro currency. (The Swiss franc has been in use since 1850.) Switzerland did not become a full member of the United Nations until 2002. It is a founding member of the European Space Agency (ESA). Women were not allowed to vote or hold office at the federal level in Switzerland until 1971.
Switzerland Today: Facts and Figures
- Official Name: Swiss Confederation (Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft in German)
- International Abbreviation: CH (from the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica)
- Government: Federal republic; parliamentary democracy (Bundesversammlung, Federal Assembly) with two legislative bodies: the Ständerat (Council of States, 46 members) and the Nationalrat (National Council, 200 members)
- President: One-year term rotating through the seven members of the Federal Council. The president has no political power.
- Chancellor: Corina Casanova, Christian Democratic People's Party (2008 - present)
- Size: 15,940 sq mi (41,284 sq km), slightly smaller than the US states of New Hampshire and Vermont combined.
- Population: 7.9 million (2010 est.)
- Languages: German (63.7%), French (20.4%), Italian (6.5%), Romansch (0.5%)
- Capital City: Bern (also spelled Berne in English)
- National Holiday: August 1 - More: Other holidays in German-speaking Europe
- Largest Cities: Zurich (Zürich) 382,906 (1.1 million in metro area), Geneva (Genf) 190,725, Basel 169,464, Lausanne 125,885, Bern 123,466, Winterthur 101,203
- Ethnicity: German 65%, French 18%, Italian 10%, Romansch 1%, other 6%
- Religions: Protestant 35%, Roman Catholic 42%, Muslim 4%, Eastern Orthodox 2%, unaffiliated or other 17%
- Monetary Unit: Swiss franc (Schweizer Franken, CHF) since 1850. One CHF has 100 Rappen (centimes).
- Economy/Industries: Switzerland is noted for its strong capitalistic economy, especially in the banking and insurance sectors. Key industries include: agricultural products, banking, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, machinery, textiles, watchmaking, and tourism. Swiss multinational corporations include: ABB, Adecco, Glencore, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, UBS, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, and the Swatch Group.
- Climate: Temperate; cool, cloudy, wet winters (snow in mountainous areas); mild summers with occasional heat waves. However, the climate varies greatly — from Alpine glaciers to almost Mediterranean warmth in southern Ticino.
- Highest Point: Although the Matterhorn (14,692 ft) is more famous, it is the Dufourspitze at 15,203 ft (4,634 m) in the Monte Rosa massif (near Italy) that is Switzerland’s highest peak.
- Largest Lakes: Lake Geneva (Genfer See, Lac Léman), Lake Constance (Bodensee), Lago Maggiore, Lake Zurich (Zürichsee)
- Waterways: The Rhine (der Rhein) flows out of the Swiss Alps and is navigable from Basel northward. The Swiss Alps also contain the headwaters of these European rivers: Aare, Inn, Rhone, and Ticino.
- Neighboring Countries (5): Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein
- Famous Swiss: Ursula Andress (film actress), Felix Bloch (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1952), Ruth Dreifuss (first female Swiss president, 1999), Friedrich Dürrenmatt (author), Albert Einstein (also claimed by Germany and the US), Roger Federer (tennis pro), Max Frisch (author, architect), Marc Forster (film director), Bruno Ganz (film actor), H.R. Giger (film art designer), Hermann Hesse (poet), Carl Jung (psychiatrist), Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (author), Claude Nicollier (NASA astronaut), Jacques Piccard (marine explorer), Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (educator), Liselotte Pulver (film actress), Hermann Rorschach (psychiatrist, inkblot test), Johanna Spyri (author of Heidi), Andreas Vollenweider (musician), Renée Zellweger (film actress, Swiss father), Huldrych Zwingli (religious reformer), and more…
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Switzerland on the Web
- Swiss Federal Authrorities (Swiss Government) - The Swiss government website with information in English and all four official languages.
- Switzerland - Wikipedia
- Schweiz - Wikipedia (in German)
- www.swissworld.org - Your gateway to Switzerland
- MySwitzerland.com - Travel and tourism
Related GW Pages
- Switzerland - Part 1 of our Switzerland information
- Money, banks, and credit - from the GW book
- Hotels and Lodging - Accommodations
- Travel - Travel info for Switzerland and Europe
- Travel Shop - Find voltage adapters, books, maps, luggage, and other travel items.
- Photographs - Views of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland
- Books about Switzerland (travel, art, culture, history, etc.)
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