Profile of Switzerland

The Matterhorn in Switzerland

thipjang / Getty Images

Switzerland is a landlocked country in Western Europe. It is one of the richest countries in the world and has consistently ranked high for its quality of life. Switzerland is known for its history of being neutral during wartimes. It is the home of many international organizations like the World Trade Organization, but it is not a member of the European Union.

Fast Facts: Switzerland

  • Official Name: Swiss Confederation
  • Capital: Bern
  • Population: 8,292,809 (2018)
  • Official Languages: German (or Swiss German), French, Italian, Romansh
  • Currency: Swiss franc (CHF)
  • Form of Government: Federal republic (formally a confederation) 
  • Climate: Temperate, but varies with altitude
  • Total Area: 15,937 square miles (41,277 square kilometers)
  • Highest Point: Dufourspitze at 15,203 feet (4,634 meters)
  • Lowest Point: Lake Maggiore at 639 feet (195 meters)

History of Switzerland

Switzerland was originally inhabited by the Helvetians and the area that makes up today's country, which became part of the Roman Empire in the first century BCE. When the Roman Empire began to decline, Switzerland was invaded by several German tribes. In 800, Switzerland became a part of Charlemagne's Empire. Shortly thereafter, control of the country was passed through the Holy Roman emperors.

In the 13th century, new trade routes across the Alps opened and Switzerland's mountain valleys became important and were given some independence as cantons. In 1291, the Holy Roman Emperor died and, according to the U.S. Department of State, the ruling families of several mountain communities signed a charter to keep peace and independent rule.

From 1315–1388, Swiss Confederates were involved in several conflicts with the Habsburgs and their borders expanded. In 1499, the Swiss Confederates gained independence from the Holy Roman Empire. Following its independence and a defeat by the French and Venetians in 1515, Switzerland ended its policies of expansion.

Throughout the 1600s, there were several European conflicts but the Swiss remained neutral. From 1797–1798, Napoleon annexed part of the Swiss Confederation and a centrally governed state was established. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna preserved the country's status as a permanently armed neutral state. In 1848, a short civil war between Protestants and Catholics led to the formation of a federal state modeled after the United States. A Swiss Constitution was then drafted and was amended in 1874 to ensure cantonal independence and democracy.

In the 19th century, Switzerland underwent industrialization and it remained neutral during World War I. During World War II, Switzerland also remained neutral despite pressure from surrounding countries. After the war, Switzerland began to grow its economy. It did not join the Council of Europe until 1963 and it is still not a part of the European Union. In 2002, Switzerland became a member of the United Nations.

Government of Switzerland

Today, Switzerland's government is formally a confederation but it is more similar in structure to a federal republic. It has an executive branch with a chief of state, a head of government that is filled by the president, a bicameral Federal Assembly with the Council of States, and the National Council for its legislative branch. Switzerland's judicial branch is made up of a Federal Supreme Court. The country is divided into 26 cantons for local administration, and each has a high degree of independence. Each canton is equal in status.

People of Switzerland

Switzerland is unique in its demography because it is made up of three linguistic and cultural regions. These are German, French, and Italian. As a result, Switzerland is not a nation based on one ethnic identity; instead, it is based on its common historical background and shared governmental values. The official languages of Switzerland are German, French, Italian, and Romansh.

Economics and Land Use in Switzerland

Switzerland is one of the wealthiest nations in the world and has a very strong market economy. Unemployment is low and its labor force is also very highly skilled. Agriculture makes up a small part of its economy and the main products include grains, fruit, vegetables, meat, and eggs. The largest industries in Switzerland are machinery, chemicals, banking, and insurance. In addition, expensive goods such as watches and precision instruments are also produced in Switzerland. Tourism is also a very large industry in the country due to its natural setting in the Alps.

Geography and Climate of Switzerland

Switzerland is located in Western Europe, to the east of France and to the north of Italy. It is known for its mountain landscapes and small mountain villages. The topography of Switzerland is varied but it is mainly mountainous with the Alps in the south and the Jura Mountains in the northwest. There is also a central plateau with rolling hills and plains, and there are many large lakes throughout the country. Dufourspitze at 15,203 feet (4,634 m) is Switzerland's highest point but there are many other peaks that are at very high elevations as well—the Matterhorn near the town of Zermatt in Valais is the most famous.

The climate of Switzerland is temperate but it varies with altitude. Most of the country has cold and rainy to snowy winters and cool to warm and sometimes humid summers. Bern, Switzerland's capital, has an average January low temperature of 25.3 degrees F (-3.7 degrees C) and an average July high of 74.3 degrees F (23.5 degrees C).

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