Elisabeth & Teije's reis website

Information about Switzerland


Home -> Europe -> Switzerland - > Information Switzerland

Information about Switzerland

Facts about Switzerland

The (national) flag
Official name Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (German), Confederation Suisse (French), Confederazione Svizzera (Italian), Confederaziun Helvetica or short: Svizra (Raetoroman).
Confederation of Switzerland
Surface 41,290 km² (slightly bigger than the Netherlands)
Inhabitants 8.37 million (2016)
Population density 198 people per km²
Capital Bern
Currency Swiss franc (CHF); 1 franc is € 0,88; 1 euro is CHF 1,14
Road network In the mountains there are a lot of small roads with sharp curves but the quality of the roads is very good.
Fuel prices For actual fuel prices in all European countries see Autotraveler.ru.
Code licence plate CH
Telephone countrycode 41
Internet countrycode .ch
Time difference GMT+1; the same time as in the Netherlands

Geographic data

Switzerland (officially in German: Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft; Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica [CH]; French: Confédération suisse; Italian: Confederazione svizzera; Raetoroman: Confederaziun helvetica, or short: Svizra) is a federal state in Middle Europe, bordering Austria, Germany, Italy and Liechtenstein. Switzerland is a bit bigger than the Netherlands (41.000 square kilometers). The highest point is the Dufourspitze (4634 m) in the canton Wallis. The lowest place is Ascona in Ticino at 196 meters. Other well-known mountains in Switzerland are the Matterhorn, the Jungfrau and the Eiger. Sixty percent of the surface is covered with the Alps, a high mountain range which stretches from the southwest to te northeast. The valleys of rivers like the Rhône and the pre Rhine cut through the Alp massif. The average height of the Alps is about 1700 meters. There are about hundred summits of 4000 meters high. Approximately 3000 square km. of the Alps is covered with glaciers and eternal snow. The largest glacier is the Grosse Aletsch-glacier with a surface of 115 square km. Generally, glaciers exist only at a height above 2000 meters. Up to 2000 meters height the Alps are covered with woods for the largest part.
Ten percent of the country consists of the Jura mountain range, in the northwest of Switzerland. The Jura is a middle-sized mountain range with a rich vegetation and ridges that vary in height from 700 up to 1600 meters. The Swiss plateau (Mittelland) makes up thirty percent of the country. This is a hilly area between the Jura and the Alps, with an average height of 600 meters. The most big cities are situated in this area. In the Mittelland is also the most agricultural land, but less woods.
Many rivers cross through Switzerland, like the Rhine, the Rhône, the Aare and the Ticino. The longest river is the Rhine with a basin of 375 kilometers, of which 5% is navigable. All Alp-rivers run through big lakes; this controls the water level and the river is being cleansed of debris and silt.
Switzerland has more than 1000 waterfalls and approximately 1600 lakes. The largest waterfall of Europe is near Schaffhausen. The biggest lake is Lake Geneva (582 square km). Other well-known lakes are Lake Boden and Lago Maggiore.

PopulationNaar boven

Switzerland has approximately 7.100.000 inhabitants, of which almost 6.000.000 are Swiss citizen. The others are mostly migrant workers from Italy, Spain, Croatia, Bosnia, Germany and Turkey. They often have a contract for a limited time. In 1995 the amount of foreigners was 1.363.590. In the same year 541.000 Swiss lived abroad. Foreigners have always been of great importance to Swiss economy and they helped improving prosperity after World War II in an rapid pace. Apart from workers there always came a lot of intellectuals and refugees to neutral Switzerland.
The population density is 174 inhabitants per square km. In the Alps this is 30 per square km. and on the Swiss tableau more than 250 per square km. More than 60% of the population lives in urban areas. These big differences are due to the geographical differences within Switzerland.
The biggest cities are Zrich (338.000 inhabitants), Basel (166.000), Genèva (175.000), the capital Bern (122.500) and Lausanne (115.000).

LanguagesNaar boven

Switzerland has four main languages: German (65%), French (18%), Italian (10%) and Raetoroman (1%). Most of the people are bilingual. According to the Swiss constitution of 1938 all languages are official and equal for the law. Most of the German speaking Swiss also speak Schwyzerdtsch, a variant of German and very difficult to understand. Most cantons have one official language. Only in the canton Graubnden people speak German, Italian and Raeto-Roman. In the cantons Vaud, Neuchâtel and Genèva French is the dominant language, in Ticino Italian and in Bern, Fribourg and Wallis German and French. In all other cantons German/Schwyzerdtsch is the official language. This 'quadrolingual' situation began when the Burgundian and the Alemanni, after a migration in the 6th century AD., spread the French language to the west and German to the east. Until then the Helvetians had spoken Latin, dating back to the time of Roman occupation. The Alemanni and with them the German language were not able to reach the southern areas. A sort of popular Latin developed into a autonomous language which was recognised in 1938 as the fourth official language of Switzerland, Raetoroman. The number of dialects, especially in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, is very large.

HistoryNaar boven

Prehistory
In the Jura objects have been found which indicate Switzerland was already inhabited around 10.000 BC. (and probably earlier) by hunters who lived in caves. Around 8.000 BC. these people spread over the plateaus that were formed after the melting of the glaciers. Around 6.000 BC. people from the Middle East arrived and settled down in Switzerland.
They build primitive settlements and lived on agriculture, next to hunting. They cut down woods and started to cultivate the land. In the Iron Age, around 800 BC., the important Tène-culture developed. In this period the first coins circulated. People from this culture lived in pile dwellings. One of the Celtic tribes which spread over Switzerland, coming from south Germany, were the Helvetians, but they couldn't go more to the south, for they were stopped in 58 BC. by Julius Caesar.

58 BC. - 400 AD, Roman Age
In 15 BC. the Helvetians were definitively subjected by the Romans and the country became the Roman province Helvetia. The former Roman army settlements developed slowly into cities were Romans and Celts lived together. Under Roman influence, the population reached a high level of civilization and enjoyed a flourishing commerce. Important cities, such as Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, were linked by military roads that also served as trade arteries between Rome and the northern tribes. Until the 3rd century AD. people lived peacefully together, but raids in the 4th century by German tribes from the north helped to put an end to the West-Roman empire.

400 - 1291, The Middle Ages
After the decline of the Roman Empire, Switzerland was invaded by Germanic tribes from the north and west. Some tribes, such as the Alemanni in central and northeastern Switzerland, and the Burgundians, who ruled western Switzerland, settled there. They founded a kingdom with Latin as the official language. The Alemanni talked German and here lies the origin of the different languages still in use today. In 534 Clovis and his Franks conquered the area of both Burgundians and the Alamannians. Christianity starts to spread under the people. Charlemagne is the most well-known king of the Franks. His empire stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pyrenees. After his death his empire is divided into three parts after the Treaty of Verdun in 843: West-Francia (now France), East-Francia(now Germany) and Middle-Francia, to which most of present Switzerland belonged. After the death of king Lotharius Middle-Francia was divided between Ludwig the German of East-Francia and Charles the Bold of West-Francia.
At the end of the 9th century the kingdom High-Burgundia was founded, including West-Switzerland and Savoye. But the German emperor annexed it in 1032 and it became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The power of the emperor was very limited, thanks to the feudal system. In the French-speaking part of Switzerland the duke of Savoye became more and more powerful; in the east of Switzerland two mighty families ruled, the Zähringen and the Kyburg. Meanwhile the Habsburgs rose to power in Austria and the German-speaking part of Switzerland. When the house of Kyburg died out, all their land and possessions were taken by the Habsburgs. They appointed Austrian governors but they were very unpopular and this caused many conflicts. The story of Wilhelm Tell (whether true or not) took place in this time. He refused to greet the hat of the Austrian Bailiff Gessler and was sentenced to shoot an apple on top of his son's head. He succeeded in shooting the apple, but was imprisoned after all by Gessler. Tell managed to escape and shot Gessler dead. As a result of this a great uprising is supposed to have taken place.

1291 - 1515, The Swiss Confederation
At the death of Rudolf, the representatives of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden met to conclude a permanent alliance "to last, if God will, forever". This mutual assistance pact did not propose disobedience to the overlords, but it categorically rejected any administrative and judicial system imposed from without and it is regarded by the Swiss as the birth certificate of the Confederation. Its original text is carefully preserved at Schwyz (Federal Charters Museum), and the anniversary of its signature (on 1 August 1291) is celebrated as the national festival. The pact became stronger, and the Habsburgs were furious. Eventually, this lead to the battle of Morgarten in 1315, where an army of the Habsburgs were defeated totally.
A new pact was formulated, the "Ewige Bund" (eternal pact). More cantons joined the Confederation in the 14th century: Luzern in 1332, Zurich in 1351, Glarus and Zug in 1352, Bern in 1353. Especially the joining of Zurich was a thorn in the Habsburgs flesh. This lead to two battles, and both were lost by the Habsburgs. Swiss territory was also attacked by Savoye and the revived dukedom of Burgundy. The new Burgundy spread, but misjudged the Swiss Confederation. The army of the duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, was defeated twice in one year and with his death in 1477 the Burgundy empire fell apart. More cantons joined the federation.
At the end of the 15th century disagreements in the Confederation arose, caused by the contrasts between cities and the rural areas. A civil war could hardly be prevented. The hermit Klaus von der Fle had a great influence in preventing a civil war and is since then called "Father of the Fatherland". Only in Wallis there still were battles for a long time between Savoye and the bisshops of van Sion. Leading figures were Walter and Jörg Supersaxo and the Schiner, a theology student from Wallis. Supersaxo supported France in it's position of European power, Schiner supported the union between Rome of the pope and the German empire.
In 1513 the Confederation was at the peak of its territorial influence, and even had Milan under its protection. Schiner became appointed cardinal and Tircino and Locarno were annexed. But finally the Swiss over-reached themselves. They squared up against a superior combined force of French and Venetians at Marignano in 1515 and lost. The Swiss therefore decided to withdraw from the international scene by renouncing expansionist policies and declaring their neutrality. Swiss mercenaries continued to serve in other armies for centuries to come and earned an unrivalled reputation for their skill and courage. Even today the Pope is protected by the Swiss Guard.

1515- 1798
The Reformation did affect Switzerland like many other countries. It started in Zurich, 1519, where Zwingli, a secular priest at the cathedral, demanded reforms in the church and economic and political changes. The reformers rejected the authorities and the rituals and habits of the catholic church. And again, there was a big contrast between the cities and rural areas. Inhabitants of the cities liked the ideas of the Reformation, whereas the people living in the rural areas felt threatened by it. Zwingli also wanted to reform the Confederation. This led to a religious battle in 1531 near Kappel where Zwingli died and the catholics were victorious. Another reformer, the Frenchman Calvijn, settled down in Genèva, which formed an independant republic since it had freed itself from Savoye. Calvijn became well-known for the utmost rigorous way of life he prescribed.
Around 1550 the Contra-Reformation started and until the beginning of the 18th century religious conflicts between the cantons dominate the history of Switzerland.
Switzerland was spared from the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) and from the development and wars of absolutist monarchies in Europe. In the Treaty of Westfalia, which ended the war, Switzerland was mentioned for the first time as an European nation and confirmed it's independence from the German empire. But the conflicts between peasants and city-dwellers continued. In 1653 thousands of peasants lost their lives when the unrest was quashed. Religious disputes dragged on in Switzerland in the Villmergen Wars of 1656 and 1712. At this time the catholic cantons were sucked into a dangerous alliance with France that could have split the Confederation beyond repair had matters really come to a head but the Catholic factions reluctantly agreed to religious freedom after a victory of the protestants. In the Peace of Aarau they agreed to honestly divide the political power between the catholic and protestant cantons.
Although the political situation didn't change much in the 18th century, there was a big industrial expansion. Before 1798 Switzerland was the most highly industrialised country on the European continent.

1798 - 1848, The end of the old Confederation
After the French Revolution the situation changed. Napoleon Bonaparte invades Switzerland and forms the Helvetian Repuclic in 1798, a centralised state with France as an example. But the French can't keep a grip on the stubborn Swiss and in 1803 the occupation army is called back. Six new cantons join the Confederation (19 altogether then) and federal laws were made which applied to the whole country.
After Napoleon's defeat the Congress of Vienna (1814/1815) restored the old neutral league of sovereign states and three new cantons were added. But nobody knew exactly how to go on. Radical youths, liberals, aristocrats, and the differences in language and religion didn't make things easier. The catholics united in a alliance of their own: the Sonderbund. The protestants tried to prevent this, but to no avail. Again, war broke out, and Dufour led the protestant cantons to a victory in 1847. In 1848 a new Constitution was made up.
The new Federal Constitution guaranteed a whole range of civil liberties, such as the right to reside wherever one wished, freedom of association, and equality before the law. It also heeded the interests of the defeated minority by making far-reaching provisions to maintain cantonal sovereignty. The Swiss Federal state of 1848 marked the end of 18 years of bitter conflict.

1848 - now
The most important thing after 1848 was that the mutual relationships recovered and stabilised. Because of that the economy grew fast and Switzerland became a highly industrialised country again and the people prospered. In 1874 the new Federal Constitution was proclaimed which stated that the government was elected directly by the people and all parliamentary bills had to be submitted to popular vote, a victory for democracy. Industrialisation kept going on fast, tourism developed as an industry and a means of profit for the country, roads, railways and tunnels were build and the banks were getting more important.
In the first World War Switzerland kept it's neutrality, but only with problems. The German-speaking part was pro-Germany, but the other parts weren't. Both Germans and the Allies didn't trust the Swiss. Trade came to a stop and many people fled to Switzerland because it was neutral. Because of that there came a great shortage of goods, food and workers. In 1920 Switzerland became member of the League of Nations, but it ended in the thirties when Switzerland choose for a total neutrality again.
In World War II Switzerland stayed neutral, but kept trading with the Axis-powers. After World War II, Switzerland was isolated politically, because it hadn't been allied to the 'good guys'. But Switzerland choose to stay neutral and voters voted against becoming member of the United Nations. But the country started to play more often a mediating role between fighting parties. Geneva became the place of establishment for organisations like the United Nations, scouting, the World Health Organisation, ILO and the Red Cross.
Important questions in postwar Switzerland were female suffrage (only in 1971 women got the right to vote), equal rights for men and women (only in 1981) and so there were many more things. The youth rebelled against the establishment. Political scandals and the ideological revolution in the Middle and East-Europe at the end of the eighties undermined the self-confidence of the Swiss. Should they stay neutral, or not, should they become a member of the European Union or not. The people voted against membership in 1992 and they still do (March 2001).
In 1996 there was a reseach about the bank accounts victims of the holocaust had in Switzerland and to the role of the country in WW II in general. Apparently Switzerland had given back only part of the money, once owned by Jews and stolen by Germans who had put the money on Swiss banks.
The position of Switzerland is still neutral, but is it really?

ClimateNaar boven

Switzerland knows a great variety of climates. From a polar climate in the high mountains above the snowe line, to an almost subtropical climate in the southern Alp valleys. In general, Switzerland has a transitional climate, from maritime to continental. The shape of the landscape has great influence on the climate. North of the Alps there is a Middle-European climate, south of the Alps a more Mediterranean climate. One could say every part of Switzerland has it's own climate. A mountain can have a dry steppe vegetation on the north side, while the south side can be covered with dense woods. Another striking example is Sion with an average of 600 mm precipitation a year. Thirty kilometers further on, mountain Rochers de Naye has an average of 2600 mm precipitation a year. The weather is quite unstable, especially because depressions often stay in place between the mountains.
Switzerland has quite a lot of precipitation. The humid westwinds have to ascend when they reach the Alps and the Jura and cause a lot of rain, most of which falls on the French side of the Jura and the west and north edge of the Alps. As a result of this, the tableau behind the Jura and many valleys of the Alps have much less precipitation. The driest part of Switzerland is the Rhône-valley. But weather conditions can change fast. Temperature can drop quickly, in particular above 2000 meters altitude. In winter one often sees the phenomenon of reversal of the temperature: heavy cold air fill the valleys and the tableau, causing a thick fog, while on a higher altitude sunshine causes higher temperatures.
Many areas are covered with snow in winter. The big lakes have a moderating influence on the temperature on the Swiss tableau, as well in winter as in summer.

Flora and faunaNaar boven

Switzerland enjoys a wide range of wildlife and botanical habitats. Thanks to the huge difference in altitude, climate and vegetation zones, there are many different habitats.
In the distant past the Swiss Alps were inhabited by such creatures as the cave bear, cave lion and panther, and not more than a few hundred years ago the most prolific animals found in the Alpine valleys included the lynx and wildcat, and the wolf. Periods of glaciation drove the first group from the mountains, while hunters reduced the numbers of the latter: the last wolf in Switzerland was thought to have been shot in 1947, but a handful of suspected sightings of wolves during 1999 in the Valais are under current investigation by naturalists. Hunting is still popular today, but is generally under strict controls. The Parc Naziunal Svizzer in the Lower Engadine (Swiss National Park) is a haven for numerous resident and migratory animals, since something like half of the seventy species of mammals found in Switzerland can be seen there. There are many protected areas, but the National Park (founded in 1914) in Engadine, Graubnden, is world-famous; it is also a centre for scientific research.
Alpine fauna is noted for its extreme shyness, which is why observation can be difficult, but many animals that inhabit the more remote regions of the high Alps also descend to lower altitudes.

The range of plants found in Switzerland is enormous, as one might expect in a country whose soil, habitat, climate and altitude varies from region to region and, in some cases, from one valley to the next. Bare rocks may dominate in one district, with more plant-friendly limestone in another. Habitats vary from damp grassland to semi-arctic rockface, from desert-like scree to shady woodland, from glacial moraine to the marshy fringe of a mountain lake, from a sunny cliff or stretch of limestone pavement to an acid valley bog. Each has its own specific flora.
The mountain sides are covered with woods, like many riverbanks. The tree line begins between 1800 and 2800 meters, dependent on the local climate. A special tree is the arve or Alp pine which sometimes can be hundreds of years old. The transition from woods to the Alp meadows is marked by bushy vegetation. Many species of flowers make the Alp meadows a colorful spectacle in the spring. And of course there’s the edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), whose woolly grey flowers have for some reason become prized above all other mountain plants. Found usually, but not exclusively, on limestone, it may be seen clustered in short grass overlooking a glacier, or thrusting from a cliff face. Its distribution in Switzerland ranges from the Engadine to the Bernese and Pennine Alps, flourishing between 1700 and 3400m.
Environmental pollution and winter sports have caused erosion in many places creating a soil which looses all it's vegetation.

EconomyNaar boven

Industry
Switzerland doesn't have any raw materials of any importance. Imported raw materials are processed in high-grade industrial products, especially in machinery, which are then being exported again. Important products are agricultural instruments, locomotives, aeroplane parts, printing presses and diesel engines. Other important branches of industry are the graphical and the metal industry. Since the 16th century Switzerland has a reputation for it's watch and bell industry and later the manufacturing of the connected measuring equipment. After a collapsing market caused by competition from Far East countries (mainly Japan) it is now going better, since the introduction of the Swatch-watch in 1983. The chemical industry, mainly specialised in high-grade medicine, is also an important industry. Since 1939 the number of employees in the industry has grown with more than 50% pumping more money and into the economy. The most important industrial centres are Zrich, Winterthur, Basel, Bern, Baden, Sankt Gallen and Genèva.

Agriculture, cattle breeding and forestry
Only a small part of Switzerland is suitable for agriculture, but thanks to modern agriculture technology Switzerland can provide for 68% of it's food needs. 5,5% of the working population works in agriculture meaning a great deal of their personal budget and wealth comes from agriculture as well. Swiss agriculture, mainly situated on the Swiss plateau, produces sugar beet, fodder crop, grains, vegetables, apples and pears. Switzerland is more a land of cattle breeding. Dairy, milk and chocolate products are an important export product. Famous cheeses are gruyère and emmentaler. The production of wines amounts to 3 million hectolitres a year and is mostly used for domestic use. The largest wine-growing regions are in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. 25% of Switzerland is covered with woods. The timber is used in the construction of houses and as a source of energy. Nowadays the Swiss are very afraid of erosion and for every chopped tree a young tree has to be planted.

Banking
Banking and assurances are an important pillar of Swiss economy, because of the neutrality policy and the strong banking secrecy. Zrich is the centre of these activities. Apart from all Swiss banks and insurance companies, all major foreign banks have an establishment there. The banking secrecy is only canceled in matters of inheritance, criminal cases and tax evasion.
The central bank is the Schweizerische Nationalbank, with two headquarters, one in Zrich and one in Bern. The central bank takes care of the circulation of bank notes and oversees the other banking activities, but more restricted than in most other countries. There are four major banks with many branch offices, 29 canton banks, 204 regional and saving banks and 197 other banks. Typical for Swiss banking are the canton banks, which are often owned by the canton itself. Their activities are mostly restricted to the territory of that particular canton. With so many banks there is little need to have standalone title loan companies like Titlemax Missouri.

Trade
Trade with foreign countries is essential for the Swiss economy. The main export products are: chemical products, bells, watches, measurement equipment, machinery and technical equipment. The most important buyers are the countries of the European Union and the United States. Imported products are: petroleum, iron and steel products and foods. Most important suppliers are the countries of the European Union and recently Japan.

TourismNaar boven

Switzerland is an important passage country, for passenger and freight traffic. The road network is of great quality. Tunnels have an important function to guarantee a good circulation of all traffic, but the last few years there have been a lot of safety problems and even accidents which caused tunnels to close for a long time. In 1980 the Sint-Gotthard cartunnel, then the longest of the world, was opened. The electric railways are run by the Schweizerische Bundesbahnen and for local traffic there are much smaller bus and railroad companies. The shipping traffic (mainly on the big lakes) is maintained by national and private shipping companies and is of great importance to tourism. Switzerland also has quite a large fleet of ships destined for traffic on the Rhine. Although Switzerland has no harbors, there is a substantial merchant shipping fleet with it's home port in foreign harbors.
The national airline was until recently Swissair. Zrich, Bern, Basel and Genèva have international airports. Tourism is of the major sources of income and provides for many jobs. Switzerland has a lengthy experience with mass tourism and famous are it's countless distinguished hotel schools. In 1995 the country had 18.4 million visitors.

The actual weather


© Teije & Elisabeth 2000 - 2019 To the top of the page