SWITZERLAND

Date of establishment: August 1, 1291

Brief history:

1291: Formation of the Swiss Confederation with the signing of the Federal Charter by the cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden.

1499: The Swabian War between the Swiss Confederation and the Habsburg Monarchy resulted in Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire’s jurisdiction.

16th century: The Reformation brought religious changes and division between Catholics and Protestants, leading to internal conflicts like the Wars of Kappel.

1648: The Peace of Westphalia formally recognized Switzerland’s independence from the Holy Roman Empire.

1798: Swiss territories were occupied by French revolutionary armies, leading to the establishment of the Helvetic Republic, which centralized government power.

1803: The Act of Mediation issued by Napoleon restored some cantonal autonomy, leading to the end of the Helvetic Republic.

1815: The Congress of Vienna re-established Swiss independence and neutrality and admitted new cantons, forming the current borders of Switzerland.

1848: A new Swiss constitution created a federal state, balancing federal and cantonal powers, and establishing a bicameral legislature.

1863: The International Committee of the Red Cross was founded in Geneva.

1874: The federal constitution was revised, increasing federal powers and introducing a system of referendums.

20th century: Switzerland maintained neutrality during both World Wars. The country developed its financial sector and advanced in science and technology.

1971: Women gained the right to vote at the federal level (note: the last canton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, granted women voting rights in 1991).

1992: Switzerland joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

2002: Switzerland became a member of the United Nations.

 

International abbreviation: CH

 

Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)

The Swiss franc is historically stable and recognized worldwide. Its stability and sound monetary policy have been crucial for the Swiss economy. The Swiss franc is subdivided into 100 centimes (French), Rappen (German), or centesimi (Italian). The denominations of Swiss banknotes include 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 1,000 francs. Coin denominations include 5, 10, 20, and 50 centimes, as well as 1, 2, and 5 francs.

 

Internet domain: .ch

 

Dialing code: +41

 

Time zone: +1 GMT

 

Geography:

The Alpine mountain range is a prominent geographical feature of Switzerland, occupying a significant portion of the country. Besides the Alps, the Jura mountains in the northwest and the Swiss Plateau between the Alps and the Jura are also important geographical features.

The country features numerous lakes, each with its own distinct character, such as Lake Geneva, Lake Zurich, and Lake Lucerne. These lakes are integral to the Swiss landscape and contribute to its natural beauty and recreational opportunities.

Rivers play a significant role in the Swiss landscape. The Rhine, Rhône, and Inn rivers are major waterways that not only supply water but also serve as important connectors between regions and neighboring countries.

Switzerland borders Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, Austria to the east, and Liechtenstein to the east.

 

Highest peak: Dufourspitze 4 634 m (15 203 feet) above sea level

Dufourspitze is the highest point not only in Switzerland but also in the entire Monte Rosa massif, and the second highest peak in Western Europe after Mont Blanc.

 

Climate:

Switzerland experiences a variety of climates, heavily influenced by altitude, proximity to the Alps, and lakes.

In general, winters are cold, especially in the mountainous regions, with average temperatures in January ranging from -2°C to 2°C (28°F to 36°F) in lower areas and dropping significantly below freezing at higher altitudes. Snowfall is common in the Alps, making it a popular destination for winter sports.

Summers are mild to warm, with average temperatures in July ranging from 18°C to 28°C (64°F to 82°F) in lower regions. In the mountains, summer temperatures are cooler, ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F).

The Swiss Plateau, located between the Jura and the Alps, tends to have a temperate climate with moderate rainfall throughout the year.

In southern Switzerland, particularly in the canton of Ticino, the climate is influenced by the Mediterranean, leading to warmer and more humid conditions, with temperatures in July averaging around 26°C (79°F).

Local influences and microclimates can lead to deviations from these general trends, with areas near large lakes such as Lake Geneva and Lake Zurich often experiencing milder winters and slightly cooler summers compared to surrounding regions.

 

Fauna and flora:

Characteristic animal species in Switzerland include the Alpine ibex, which inhabits mountainous areas and is known for its impressive climbing abilities. Red deer are also found in forested regions and symbolize the country’s wild nature. Marmots, small burrowing rodents, are typical of the Alpine environment and are often seen and heard during the warmer months. The golden eagle, a powerful predator, dominates the mountainous areas and nests on cliffs, representing the apex of the Alpine food chain.

In terms of flora, the edelweiss, a white flower with woolly leaves, is one of the most iconic alpine flowers and a symbol of Switzerland. Gentian, with its striking blue color, is another well-known alpine flower, often found in meadows and rocky areas. Spruce trees are common in the mountainous regions, forming dense forests that provide habitat for various species, including deer, birds, and small mammals. Additionally, Swiss flora includes a variety of other plants such as larch, pine, and beech trees, which contribute to the country’s rich and diverse forest ecosystems.

 

Agriculture:

Due to the mountainous terrain and conditions that are not ideal for intensive agriculture, pastoralism is a dominant agricultural practice in Switzerland. Cattle grazing in Alpine meadows is a traditional method known as transhumance or Alpine pasture. This method is crucial for producing high-quality milk, which is fundamental for making renowned Swiss dairy products such as cheese and butter. Swiss cheeses, including Emmental, Gruyère, and Raclette, are famous worldwide.

In the lowland areas, agriculture is more diverse. Crops such as wheat, barley, and maize are cultivated, along with fruits like apples, pears, and cherries. Vegetables, including potatoes, carrots, and lettuce, are also grown. Vineyards are particularly significant in regions like the Valais, Vaud, and Ticino, where wine production is an important part of the local economy. Switzerland’s wine industry, though not as internationally famous as its dairy products, produces high-quality wines that are appreciated both locally and internationally.

Agriculture in Switzerland also includes other livestock farming, such as pigs and poultry, which contribute to the country’s meat production. Despite the challenges posed by its geography, Switzerland’s agricultural sector remains diverse and vital to its economy and cultural heritage.

 

Natural resource extraction:

Switzerland has limited reserves of precious metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. While there is minimal mining and processing of these metals within the country, Swiss companies are renowned globally for their expertise in processing, refining, and trading precious metals, particularly in cities like Zurich.

The extraction of construction materials like gravel and sand is an essential industry in certain regions, serving the country’s construction needs for infrastructure projects, residential buildings, and roadways.

Salt mining is an important activity in specific areas, notably in the Bex and Rheinfelden regions. The Saltworks in Switzerland have historical significance, dating back to the 16th century. Swiss salt is used in various sectors, including the food industry for seasoning and preservation, as well as in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries for manufacturing a wide range of products.

 

Industries:

Switzerland is a major hub for the pharmaceutical industry, home to numerous renowned companies specializing in research, development, and the production of medications. Notable companies like Novartis and Roche are global leaders in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology.

The engineering and precision technical equipment industry is a cornerstone of the Swiss economy. This sector includes the production of high-precision machinery, equipment for precise measuring, and other technical devices used in various industries such as healthcare, aerospace, and manufacturing. Companies like ABB and Georg Fischer are prominent in this field.

Switzerland has become a center of innovation in the field of financial technology (fintech). Local fintech companies focus on electronic payments, blockchain technologies, digital banking, and other modern financial services. Zurich and Geneva are key hubs for fintech innovation.

The food industry also plays an important role in Switzerland, with the production of high-quality food and beverages. Swiss chocolate, in particular, is internationally renowned, with brands like Lindt and Toblerone being household names worldwide. The dairy industry is also significant, producing famous Swiss cheeses such as Emmental and Gruyère.

Switzerland is famous for its luxury watches and watchmaking industry, which boasts a rich history and tradition. Brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe, and Swatch represent Swiss excellence in watchmaking, combining craftsmanship with precision engineering.

The defense industry in Switzerland is also notable. The country produces a variety of defense-related equipment and technology, focusing on maintaining its neutral stance while ensuring robust defense capabilities. Companies such as RUAG and MOWAG are key players in this sector, manufacturing products ranging from aerospace components to armored vehicles. Switzerland’s defense industry is known for its high-quality engineering and innovation, contributing to both domestic security and international markets.

 

Services and other economic sectors: services, trade, banking and insurance, information technology, science, research, education, healthcare, and rail transport

 

Natural and historical attractions: Cities like Bern, Basel, Lucerne, and La Chaux-de-Fonds; Matterhorn Mountain; Rhine Falls; Alpine lakes including Lake Geneva; Lake Zurich; Lake Lucerne; Lake Constance; Aletsch Glacier; St. Gallen Abbey; the Lavaux region; Swiss National Park

The mountains offer opportunities for various outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding. Winter resorts like St. Moritz, Zermatt, Verbier, and Engelberg are internationally recognized.

Besides natural beauty, Switzerland offers cultural richness. Historical cities like Zurich, Geneva, Lucerne, and Bern are filled with landmarks, museums, and galleries.

Certain places offer relaxation and wellness. Alpine thermal springs and spas are popular for their therapeutic effects.

Switzerland is also known for its gastronomy, including cheeses, chocolates, and regional specialties. Tourists have the chance to sample authentic dishes and experience local culture.

 

 

Form of government: Federal republic with elements of direct democracy

Switzerland has a unique political system that significantly differs from many other countries. It is a federal republic composed of several independent member states, known as cantons. This federal system grants each canton a considerable degree of autonomy and authority. Each canton has its own constitution, parliament, and government, allowing local residents to actively influence matters concerning their region.

Above these cantons stands the central federal government, consisting of the Federal President and six Federal Councilors. Each member of the government oversees a specific department, for which they are responsible. However, the federal government has more limited powers compared to the cantons. Its competencies are defined in the constitution and include areas such as foreign policy and defense.

One of the most interesting aspects of Switzerland’s political system is direct democracy. This practice allows citizens to regularly participate in referendums and popular votes on key issues, such as constitutional changes, new laws, or international treaties. This form of democracy enhances citizen participation in political decision-making and gives citizens a direct influence on the direction of the country.

Additionally, Switzerland is known for its neutrality and peaceful stance in global conflicts. The country maintains its neutrality and non-membership in international military alliances. This policy has long influenced Swiss international relations and positions it uniquely in the world.

The judicial system in Switzerland is independent of the executive and legislative branches. The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland is the highest judicial authority and ensures the uniform application of federal law across the country. It oversees lower federal courts and cantonal courts, ensuring justice and adherence to the Swiss constitution and legal framework. The judiciary plays a crucial role in upholding the rule of law and protecting citizens’ rights within the Swiss legal system.

 

Capital city: Bern

Located in the central part of the country on the banks of the Aare River, Bern is the de facto capital of Switzerland and serves as the seat of the federal government. The city is renowned for its well-preserved medieval architecture, picturesque streets, and historical buildings. Among its most notable landmarks is the Federal Palace, which houses the Swiss Federal Parliament and the Federal Council.

Bern was founded in 1191 by Duke Berthold V of Zähringen, and its historical core, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is filled with medieval buildings, churches, and squares. Notable sites include the Zytglogge (Clock Tower), the Münster (Cathedral), and the Käfigturm (Prison Tower).

The city is also home to the University of Bern, a significant institution contributing to research and education in various fields. Bern hosts several research institutions and libraries, including the Swiss National Library and the Bern University Hospital, making it an important center for education and healthcare.

Additionally, Bern is known for its vibrant cultural scene, with numerous museums, theaters, and festivals. The Bern Historical Museum, the Zentrum Paul Klee, and the Museum of Communication are some of the key cultural institutions that attract visitors and locals alike.

The city has a population of about 133 000.

 

Area: 41 284 km2 (15 940 square miles)

 

Population: 8 815 000 (2022 estimate)

Switzerland is known for its linguistic diversity. The four official languages are German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Each canton has its predominant language, reflecting the country’s historical and cultural diversity.

Importantly, Swiss people emphasize their Swiss identity over ethnic affiliation, although the presence of various nationalities exists due to migration and foreign workers.

The religious landscape in Switzerland is diverse, with Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism) being dominant. However, the number of individuals identifying as irreligious or unaffiliated with any religion is increasing.

 

UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 13

 

  1. Gall Abbey (1983) – A Carolingian monastery with rare manuscripts.
  2. The Benedictine Convent of St John at Müstair (1983) – A Benedictine women’s monastery with figurative wall paintings and Romanesque frescoes.
  3. Bern (1983) – The historical center of the capital.
  4. Bellinzona (2000) – A group of fortifications meeting at Castlegrande Castle on a rocky peak above the Ticino Valley. S
  5. Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch (2001) – Europe’s largest glacier area with glacial features.
  6. Monte San Giorgio (2003) – A forested area south of Lake Lugano, considered the richest fossil deposit site of marine life.
  7. Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces (2007) – 11th-century vineyard terraces along Lake Geneva.
  8. The Rhaetian Railway in the Albula / Bernina Landscapes (2008) – A railway network and infrastructure in the Swiss Alps.
  9. Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona (2008) – An area of mountain building processes and rock formations.
  10. La Chaux-de-Fonds / Le Locle, Watchmaking Town Planning (2009) – A town known for its connection to the watchmaking industry and urban planning.
  11. Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps (2011) – Pile dwelling settlements dating from 5 000 to 500 years BCE near lakes, rivers, and marshes.
  12. The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier, an Outstanding Contribution to the Modern Movement (2016) – 17 buildings across the globe designed by Le Corbusier, with two in Switzerland.
  13. The Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe (2007) – Preserved beech forests in various parts of Europe from the Pyrenees to the Black Sea.

 

National parks: 1

 

Swiss National Park