views updated May 29 2018



41,290sq km (15,942sq mi)



capital (population):

Bern (122,484)


Federal republic

ethnic groups:

German 64%, French 19%, Italian 8%, Yugoslav 3%, Spanish 2%, Romansch 1%


French, German, Italian and Romansch (all official)


Christianity (Roman Catholic 46%, Protestant 40%)


Swiss franc = 100 centimes

Small, landlocked republic in central Europe. The Swiss Confederation is a mountainous, landlocked country in central Europe. The Jura Mountains lie on the w border with France. The Swiss Alps make up about 60% of the country. Switzerland's highest peak is Monte Rosa, at 4634m (15,217ft). The plateau contains the cities of Zürich, Basel, Lausanne, and Bern, and Lakes Geneva and Constance.

Climate and Vegetation

The climate varies with altitude. The plateau has warm summers and cold, snowy winters.Grassland covers c.30% of the land and arable land c.10%. Forests cover c.32%, and help to reduce the destructiveness of avalanches.

History and Politics

Originally occupied by the Celtic Helvetii, the region was taken by Romans in 58 bc. Ruled by Franks in the 6th century ad; it was later divided between Swabia and Burgundy. United within the Holy Roman Empire, it came under Habsburg rule in the 13th century. In 1291, the cantons, Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, united against the Habsburgs. Traditionally led by William Tell, the Swiss League expanded and defeated the Habsburgs (1386, 1388). In 1499, victory over Emperor Maximilian I brought partial independence. Defeated by the French in 1515, the Swiss adopted neutrality. The Reformation caused religious divisions, but the Confederation survived to achieve independence in 1648. The French Revolutionary Wars led to the overthrow of the oligarchy and the establishment of the Helvetic Republic (1798–1803). In 1815, the Federation was fully re-established. The Congress of Vienna expanded it to 22 cantons and guaranteed its neutrality. A brief civil war led to the constitution of 1848, turning Switzerland into a federal state. In 1979, Jura became the 23rd canton. A referendum (1986) rejected Swiss membership of the United Nations (UN) to avoid compromising its neutrality. EU membership was also rejected in 1992. In 1995, the ruling coalition, led by the Christian Democrats, was re-elected. In 1999, Ruth Dreifuss became Switzerland's first woman president. In 2002, Switzerland voted to join the UN.


Despite lacking natural resources, Switzerland is wealthy and industrialized (2000 GDP per capita, US$28,600). Manufactures include chemicals, electrical equipment, machinery, precision instruments, watches, and textiles. Livestock, notably dairy farming, is the chief agricultural activity. Tourism is important, and Swiss banks attract worldwide investment.

Political map

Physical map


http://www.gov.ch; http://www.about.ch