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Swiss Confederation
Five official names
    • Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (
Motto: (unofficial)
Location of Switzerland (green) in Europe (green and dark grey)
Location of Switzerland (green)

in Europe

 (green and dark grey)

46°57′N 7°27′E / 46.950°N 7.450°E / 46.950; 7.450
Largest cityZürich
Official languages
  • 29.4%
    assembly-independent[6][7] directorial republic with elements of a direct democracy
Walter Thurnherr
LegislatureFederal Assembly
Council of States
National Council
• Founded
1 August 1291[d]
• Sovereignty recognised (Peace of Westphalia)
24 October 1648
7 August 1815
12 September 1848[e][8]
ISO 3166 codeCH
Internet TLD.ch, .swiss

Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a landlocked country located at the confluence of Western, Central and Southern Europe.[f][15] It is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.

Switzerland is geographically divided among the Swiss Plateau, the Alps and the Jura; the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, whereas most of the country's population of 8.7 million are concentrated on the plateau, which hosts the largest cities and economic centres, including Zürich, Geneva and Basel.

Switzerland originates from the

armed neutrality since the 16th century and has not fought an international war since 1815. It joined the United Nations only in 2002, but pursues an active foreign policy that include frequent involvement in peace-building processes worldwide.[16]

Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world's oldest and best-known humanitarian organisations, and hosts the headquarters or offices of most major international institutions, including the WTO, the WHO, the ILO, FIFA, and the United Nations. It is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but not part of the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area, or the Eurozone; however, it participates in the European single market and the Schengen Area through bilateral treaties. Switzerland is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities based in Bern.[a][3][2]

It has four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and

Willensnation ("nation of volition") rather than a nation state.[20]

Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by multiple native names: Schweiz

help·info) (French); Svizzera [ˈzvittsera] (Italian); and Svizra [ˈʒviːtsrɐ, ˈʒviːtsʁɐ] (Romansh).[i] On coins and stamps, the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica — frequently shortened to "Helvetia
" — is used instead of the spoken languages.

Switzerland is one of the world's most developed countries. It has the highest nominal


The English name Switzerland is a portmanteau of Switzer, an obsolete term for a

Confoederatio Helvetica
(English: Helvetic Confederation).

The toponym Schwyz itself was first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, perhaps related to swedan 'to burn' (cf. Old Norse svíða 'to singe, burn'), referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build.[28] The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used for the entire Confederation.[29][30] The Swiss German name of the country, Schwiiz, is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d'Schwiiz for the Confederation,[31] but simply Schwyz for the canton and the town).[32] The long [iː] of Swiss German is historically and still often today spelled ⟨y⟩ rather than ⟨ii⟩, preserving the original identity of the two names even in writing.

The Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was

Gaulish tribe living on the Swiss Plateau before the Roman era

Helvetia appeared as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century in a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.[34]


The state of Switzerland took its present form with the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. Switzerland's precursors established a defensive alliance in 1291, forming a loose confederation that persisted for centuries.


The oldest traces of hominid existence in Switzerland date to about 150,000 years ago.[35] The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, date to around 5300 BC.[35]

Founded in 44 BC by Lucius Munatius Plancus, Augusta Raurica (near Basel) was the first Roman settlement on the Rhine and is now among the most important archaeological sites in Switzerland.[36]

The earliest known tribes formed the

Gallia. Julius Caesar's armies pursued and defeated them at the Battle of Bibracte, in today's eastern France, forcing the tribe to move back to its homeland.[35] In 15 BC, Tiberius (later the second Roman emperor) and his brother Drusus conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii first became part of Rome's Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province. The eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia. Sometime around the start of the Common Era, the Romans maintained a large camp called Vindonissa, now a ruin at the confluence of the Aare and Reuss rivers, near the town of Windisch.[37]

The first and second century AD was an age of prosperity on the Swiss Plateau. Towns such as

Villae rusticae) were established in the countryside.[citation needed

Around 260 AD, the fall of the


In the

Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.[38][39]

Throughout the rest of the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries, Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (

Frankish Empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843.[35] The territories of present-day Switzerland became divided into Middle Francia and East Francia until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.[35]

By 1200, the Swiss Plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of

King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) laid claim to the Kyburg lands and annexed them, extending their territory to the eastern Swiss Plateau.[38]

Old Swiss Confederacy

The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The Confederacy was governed by nobles and patricians of various cantons who facilitated management of common interests and ensured peace on mountain trade routes. The Federal Charter of 1291 is considered the confederacy's founding document, even though similar alliances likely existed decades earlier. The document was agreed among the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden.[40][41]

By 1353, the three original

Jura mountains, and the University of Basel was founded (with a faculty of medicine) establishing a tradition of chemical and medical research. This increased after victories against the Habsburgs (Battle of Sempach, Battle of Näfels), over Charles the Bold of Burgundy during the 1470s, and the success of the Swiss mercenaries. The Swiss victory in the Swabian War against the Swabian League of Emperor Maximilian I in 1499 amounted to de facto independence within the Holy Roman Empire.[41] In 1501, Basel[42] and Schaffhausen joined the Old Swiss Confederacy.[43]

The Confederacy acquired a reputation of invincibility during these earlier wars, but

Zwingli's Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal religious conflicts in 1529 and 1531 (Wars of Kappel). It was not until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Peace of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality.[38][39]

During the

Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the First War of Villmergen, in 1656, and the Toggenburg War (or Second War of Villmergen), in 1712.[41]

Napoleonic era

The Act of Mediation was Napoleon's attempt at a compromise between the Ancien Régime
and a Republic.

In 1798, the revolutionary French government invaded Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution.[41] This centralised the government of the country, effectively abolishing the cantons: moreover, Mülhausen left Switzerland and the Valtellina valley became part of the Cisalpine Republic. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. An invading foreign army had imposed and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September 1798 was an example of the oppressive presence of the French Army and the local population's resistance to the occupation.[citation needed]

When war broke out between France and its rivals, Russian and

Napoleon organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides in Paris. The Act of Mediation was the result, which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons.[41] Henceforth, much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons' tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.[citation needed

In 1815 the

siege of Gaeta. The treaty allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva. Switzerland's borders saw only minor adjustments thereafter.[44]

Federal state

Federal Palace in Bern (1857). One of the three cantons presiding over the Tagsatzung (former legislative and executive council), Bern was chosen as the permanent seat of federal legislative and executive institutions in 1848, in part because of its closeness to the French-speaking area.[2]

The restoration of power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes, such as the

Sonderbundskrieg) broke out in 1847 when some Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbund).[41] The war lasted less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties, most of which were through friendly fire. The Sonderbundskrieg had a significant impact on the psychology and society of Switzerland.[citation needed][who?

The war convinced most Swiss of the need for unity and strength. Swiss from all strata of society, whether Catholic or Protestant, from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more from merging their economic and religious interests.[citation needed]

Thus, while the rest of Europe saw

National Council, with representatives elected from across the country). Referendums were made mandatory for any amendments.[39] This new constitution ended the legal power of nobility in Switzerland.[45]

Gotthard rail tunnel
connecting the southern canton of Ticino, the longest in the world at the time

A single system of weights and measures was introduced, and in 1850 the


An important clause of the constitution was that it could be entirely rewritten if necessary, thus enabling it to evolve as a whole rather than being modified one amendment at a time.[47]

This need soon proved itself when the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution that followed led to calls to modify the constitution accordingly. The population rejected an early draft in 1872, but modifications led to its acceptance in 1874.[41] It introduced the facultative referendum for laws at the federal level. It also established federal responsibility for defence, trade, and legal matters.

In 1891, the constitution was revised with unusually strong elements of direct democracy, which remain unique today.[41]

Modern history

Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to the revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Vladimir Lenin) who remained there until 1917.[48] Swiss neutrality was seriously questioned by the short-lived Grimm–Hoffmann affair in 1917. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, which was based in Geneva, after it was exempted from military requirements.[citation needed]


Axis and Allied powers.[52]

Switzerland's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to

International Red Cross, based in Geneva. Strict immigration and asylum policies and the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy, only at the end of the 20th century.[54]

During the war, the Swiss Air Force engaged aircraft of both sides, shooting down 11 intruding

Article of War, resulted from navigation errors, equipment failure, weather conditions, and pilot errors. The Swiss expressed fear and concern that the bombings were intended to put pressure on Switzerland to end economic cooperation and neutrality with Nazi Germany.[55] Court-martial proceedings took place in England. The U.S. paid SFR 62,176,433.06 for reparations.[citation needed

Switzerland's attitude towards refugees was complicated and controversial; over the course of the war, it admitted as many as 300,000 refugees[53] while refusing tens of thousands more,[56] including Jews persecuted by the Nazis.[57]

After the war, the Swiss government exported credits through the charitable fund known as the Schweizerspende and donated to the Marshall Plan to help Europe's recovery, efforts that ultimately benefited the Swiss economy.[58]

During the

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was seen as a valid alternative. Plans for building nuclear weapons were dropped by 1988.[62] Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963.[51]

In 2003, by granting the Swiss People's Party a second seat in the governing cabinet, the Parliament altered the coalition
that had dominated Swiss politics since 1959.

Switzerland was the last Western republic (the

Principality of Liechtenstein followed in 1984) to grant women the right to vote. Some Swiss cantons approved this in 1959, while at the federal level, it was achieved in 1971[50][63] and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden (one of only two remaining Landsgemeinde, along with Glarus) in 1990. After obtaining suffrage at the federal level, women quickly rose in political significance. The first woman on the seven-member Federal Council executive was Elisabeth Kopp, who served from 1984 to 1989,[50] and the first female president was Ruth Dreifuss in 1999.[64]

In 1979 areas from the canton of Bern attained independence from the Bernese, forming the new canton of Jura. On 18 April 1999, the Swiss population and the cantons voted in favour of a completely revised federal constitution.[50]

In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving

Schengen treaty, a result that EU commentators regarded as a sign of support.[51] In September 2020, a referendum calling for a vote to end the pact that allowed a free movement of people from the European Union was introduced by the Swiss People's Party (SPP).[65] However, voters rejected the attempt to retake control of immigration, defeating the motion by a roughly 63%–37% margin.[66]

On 9 February 2014, 50.3% of Swiss voters approved a ballot

restrict immigration. This initiative was mostly backed by rural (57.6% approval) and suburban groups (51.2% approval), and isolated towns (51.3% approval) as well as by a strong majority (69.2% approval) in Ticino, while metropolitan centres (58.5% rejection) and the French-speaking part (58.5% rejection) rejected it.[67] In December 2016, a political compromise with the EU was attained that eliminated quotas on EU citizens, but still allowed favourable treatment of Swiss-based job applicants.[68] On 27 September 2020, 62% of Swiss voters rejected the anti-free movement referendum by SVP.[69]


Extending across the north and south side of the Alps in west-central Europe, Switzerland encompasses diverse landscapes and climates across its 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi).[70]

Switzerland lies between latitudes

Jura mountains on the west. The Alps are a mountain range running across the central and south of the country, constituting about 60% of the country's area. The majority of the population live on the Swiss Plateau. The Swiss Alps host many glaciers, covering 1,063 square kilometres (410 sq mi). From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhône, which flow in the four cardinal directions, spreading across Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of fresh water in Central and Western Europe, among which are Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French), Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes and contains 6% of Europe's freshwater stock. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory. Lake Geneva is the largest lake and is shared with France. The Rhône is both the main source and outflow of Lake Geneva. Lake Constance is the second largest and, like Lake Geneva, an intermediate step by the Rhine at the border with Austria and Germany. While the Rhône flows into the Mediterranean Sea at the French Camargue region and the Rhine flows into the North Sea at Rotterdam, about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) apart, both springs are only about 22 kilometres (14 miles) apart in the Swiss Alps.[70][71]

Contrasted landscapes between the regions of the Matterhorn and Lake Lucerne

Forty-eight mountains are 4,000 metres (13,000 ft) or higher in height.

Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m or 13,284 ft).[70]

The Swiss Plateau has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds or vegetable and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. Large lakes and the biggest Swiss cities are found there.[70]

Switzerland contains two small

Büsingen belongs to Germany, while Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.[72]
Switzerland has no exclaves.


The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly across localities,[73] from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the near-Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. Some valley areas in the southern part of Switzerland offer cold-hardy palm trees. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall, ideal for pastures/grazing. The less humid winters in the mountains may see weeks-long intervals of stable conditions. At the same time, the lower lands tend to suffer from inversion during such periods, hiding the sun.[citation needed]

A weather phenomenon known as the

Graubünden remain drier than pre-alpine areas, and as in the main valley of the Valais, wine grapes are grown there.[74]

The wettest conditions persist in the high Alps and in the Ticino canton, which has much sun yet heavy bursts of rain from time to time.[74] Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year, with a peak in summer. Autumn is the driest season, winter receives less precipitation than summer, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland are not in a stable climate system. They can vary from year to year with no strict and predictable periods.[citation needed]


Switzerland contains two terrestrial ecoregions: Western European broadleaf forests and Alps conifer and mixed forests.[75]

Switzerland's many small valleys separated by high mountains often host unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves offer a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes. The climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive to

GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 compared to the level of 1990 and plans to reach zero emissions by 2050.[79]

However, access to biocapacity in Switzerland is far lower than the world average. In 2016, Switzerland had 1.0 hectares[80] of biocapacity per person within its territory, 40 percent less than world average of 1.6. In contrast, in 2016, Swiss consumption required 4.6 hectares of biocapacity – their ecological footprint, 4.6 times as much as Swiss territory can support. The remainder comes from other countries and the shared resources (such as the atmosphere impacted by greenhouse gas emissions).[80] Switzerland had a 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index mean score of 3.53/10, ranking it 150th globally out of 172 countries.[81]


Rhone Valley (outskirts of Sion

Between two-thirds and three-quarters of the population live in urban areas.[82][83] Switzerland went from a largely rural country to an urban one from 1930 to 2000. After 1935 urban development claimed as much of the Swiss landscape as it did during the prior 2,000 years. Urban sprawl affects the plateau, the Jura and the Alpine foothills,[84] raising concerns about land use.[85] During the 21st century, population growth in urban areas is higher than in the countryside.[83]

Switzerland has a dense network of complementary large, medium and small towns.[83] The plateau is densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape shows uninterrupted signs of human presence.[86] The weight of the largest metropolitan areas – Zürich, GenevaLausanne, Basel and Bern – tend to increase.[83][clarification needed] The importance of these urban areas is greater than their population suggests.[83] These urban centers are recognised for their high quality of life.[87]

The average

Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 28.0 inhabitants per square kilometre (73/sq mi).[88]: 30  In the canton of Zürich, with its large urban capital, the density is 926.8 per square kilometre (2,400/sq mi).[88]
: 76 

Government and politics

Federal Council