High Resolution Photos of Switzerland
Switzerland - German: die Schweiz - French: la Suisse - Italian: Svizzera - Romansh: Svizra
Switzerland (German: die Schweiz French: la Suisse, Italian: Svizzera, Romansh: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica in Latin, hence its ISO country codes CH and CHE), is a federal republic consisting of 26 states named cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe where it is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.
Switzerland is a landlocked country whose territory is geographically divided between the Jura, the Central Plateau and the Alps; adding together an area of 41,285 km². The approximately 7.8 million people concentrate mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva. Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, with a nominal per capita GDP of $67,384. Zürich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as having the second and third highest quality of life in the world.
The Swiss Confederation has a long history of neutrality—it has not been at war internationally since 1815—and was one of the last countries to join the United Nations. Switzerland is home to many international organisations, including the WEF, the Red Cross, the World Trade Organization and the second largest UN office. On the European level it was a founder of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Agreement.
Switzerland comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian, to which are added the Romansh-speaking valleys. The Swiss therefore do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity. The strong sense of belonging to the country is founded on the common historical background, shared values (federalism, direct democracy, neutrality) and Alpine symbolism. The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291; Swiss National Day is celebrated on the anniversary.
The English name Switzerland is a compound containing Switzer, an obsolete term for the Swiss, in use during the 16th to 19th centuries. The English adjective Swiss is a loan from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century. The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätten cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The toponym itself is first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, ultimately perhaps related to suedan 'to burn', referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build. The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used pars pro toto for the entire Confederation.
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, but simple Schwiiz for the canton and the town).
The Neo-Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was introduced at the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic. It is derived from the name of the Helvetii, a Celtic tribe living on the Swiss plateau before the Roman era. The name of the Helvetii is attested epigraphically, in Etruscan form, on a vessel dated to ca. 300 BC. They first appear in historiography in the 2nd century BC, in Posidonius. Helvetia appears as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century, with a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.
Switzerland exists as a state in its present form since the adoption of the Swiss Federal Constitution in 1848. The precursors of modern Switzerland established a protective alliance since the end of the 13th century, forming a loose confederation of states which persisted for centuries.
The oldest traces of human existence in Switzerland date back about 150,000 years. The oldest known farming settlements in Switzerland, which were found at Gächlingen, have been dated to around 5300 BC.
The earliest known cultural tribes of the area were members of the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures, named after the archaeological site of La Tène on the north side of Lake Neuchâtel. La Tène culture developed and flourished during the late Iron Age from around 450 BC, possibly under some influence from the Greek and Etruscan civilisations. One of the most important tribal groups in the Swiss region was the Helvetii. In 58 BC, at the Battle of Bibracte, Julius Caesar's armies defeated the Helvetii. In 15 BC, Tiberius I, who was destined to be the second Roman emperor and his brother, Drusus, conquered the Alps, integrating them into the Roman Empire. The area occupied by the Helvetii—the namesakes of the later Confoederatio Helvetica—first became part of Rome's Gallia Belgica province and then of its Germania Superior province, while the eastern portion of modern Switzerland was integrated into the Roman province of Raetia.
In the Early Middle Ages, from the 4th century, the western extent of modern-day Switzerland was part of the territory of the Kings of the Burgundians. The Alemanni settled the Swiss plateau in the 5th century and the valleys of the Alps in the 8th century, forming Alemannia. Modern-day Switzerland was therefore then divided between the kingdoms of Alemannia and Burgundy. The entire region became part of the expanding Frankish Empire in the 6th century, following Clovis I's victory over the Alemanni at Tolbiac in 504 AD, and later Frankish domination of the Burgundians.
Throughout the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries the Swiss regions continued under Frankish hegemony (Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties). But after its extension under Charles the Great, the Frankish empire was divided by the Treaty of Verdun in 843. The territories of nowadays Switzerland became divided into Middle Francia and East Francia until they were reunified under the Holy Roman Empire around 1000 AD.
By 1200, the Swiss plateau comprised the dominions of the houses of Savoy, Zähringer, Habsburg and Kyburg. Some regions (Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden, later known as Waldstätten) were accorded the Imperial immediacy to grant the empire direct control over the mountain passes. When the Kyburg dynasty fell in 1264 AD, the Habsburgs under King Rudolph I (Holy Roman Emperor in 1273) extended their territory to the eastern Swiss plateau.
Old Swiss Confederacy
The Old Swiss Confederacy was an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps. The Confederacy facilitated management of common interests (free trade) and ensured peace on the important mountain trade routes. The Federal Charter of 1291 agreed between the rural communes of Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwalden is considered the confederacy's founding document; even though similar alliances are likely to have existed decades earlier.
By 1353 the three original cantons had joined with the cantons of Glarus and Zug and the Lucerne, Zürich and Bern city states to form the 'Old Confederacy' of eight states that existed until the end of the 15th century. The expansion led to increased power and wealth for the federation. By 1460, the confederates controlled most of the territory south and west of the Rhine to the Alps and the Jura mountains. particularly 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.
The Old Swiss Confederacy had acquired a reputation of invincibility during these earlier wars, but expansion of the federation suffered a setback in 1515 with the Swiss defeat in the Battle of Marignano. This ended the so-called 'heroic' epoch of Swiss history. The success of Zwingli's Reformation in some cantons led to inter-cantonal wars in 1529 and 1531 (Kappeler Kriege). It was not until more than one hundred years after these internal wars that, in 1648, under the Treaty of Westphalia, European countries recognised Switzerland's independence from the Holy Roman Empire and its neutrality (ancien régime).
During the Early Modern period of Swiss history, the growing authoritarianism of the patriciate families combined with a financial crisis in the wake of the Thirty Years' War led to the Swiss peasant war of 1653. In the background to this struggle, the conflict between Catholic and Protestant cantons persisted, erupting in further violence at the Battles of Villmergen in 1656 and 1712.
In 1798 the armies of the French Revolution conquered Switzerland and imposed a new unified constitution. This centralised the government of the country and effectively abolished the cantons and Mülhausen and Valtellina valley separated from Switzerland. The new regime, known as the Helvetic Republic, was highly unpopular. It had been imposed by a foreign invading army and destroyed centuries of tradition, making Switzerland nothing more than a French satellite state. The fierce French suppression of the Nidwalden Revolt in September of 1798 was an example of the oppressive presence of the French Army and the local population's resistance to the occupation.
When war broke out between France and its rivals, Russian and Austrian forces invaded Switzerland. The Swiss refused to fight alongside the French in the name of the Helvetic Republic. In 1803 Napoleon organised a meeting of the leading Swiss politicians from both sides in Paris. The result was the Act of Mediation which largely restored Swiss autonomy and introduced a Confederation of 19 cantons. Henceforth much of Swiss politics would concern balancing the cantons' tradition of self-rule with the need for a central government.
In 1815 the Congress of Vienna fully re-established Swiss independence and the European powers agreed to permanently recognise Swiss neutrality. Swiss troops still served foreign governments until 1860 when they fought in the Siege of Gaeta. The treaty also allowed Switzerland to increase its territory, with the admission of the cantons of Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva. Switzerland's borders have not changed since.
The canton of Bern was one of the three cantons presiding over the Tagsatzung (former legislative and executive council) with Lucerne and Zürich. Its cantonal capital was then chosen as the federal capital in 1848, mainly because of its closeness to the French speaking area.
The restoration of the power to the patriciate was only temporary. After a period of unrest with repeated violent clashes such as the Züriputsch of 1839, civil war broke out in 1847 when some of the Catholic cantons tried to set up a separate alliance (the Sonderbundskrieg). The war lasted for less than a month, causing fewer than 100 casualties, most of which were through friendly fire. However minor the Sonderbundskrieg seems to be when compared with other European riots and wars in the 19th century, it nevertheless had a major impact on both the psychology and the society of the Swiss and of Switzerland.
The war made all Swiss understand the need for unity and strength towards its European neighbours. Swiss people from all strata of society, whether Catholic, Protestant, or from the liberal or conservative current, realised that the cantons would profit more if their economic and religious interests were merged.
Thus, while the rest of Europe was plagued by revolutionary uprisings, the Swiss drew up an actual constitution which provided for a federal layout, much of it inspired by the American example. This constitution provided for a central authority while leaving the cantons the right to self-government on local issues. Giving credit to those who favoured the power of the cantons (the Sonderbund Kantone), the national assembly was divided between an upper house (the Swiss Council of States, 2 representatives per canton) and a lower house (the National Council of Switzerland, representatives elected from across the country). Referenda were made mandatory for any amendment of this constitution.
A system of single weights and measures was introduced and in 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency. Article 11 of the constitution forbid sending troops to serve abroad, though the Swiss were still obliged to serve Francis II of the Two Sicilies with Swiss Guards present at the Siege of Gaeta in 1860, marking the end of foreign service.
An important clause of the constitution was that it could be re-written completely if this was deemed necessary, thus enabling it to evolve as a whole rather than being modified one amendment at a time.
This need soon proved itself when the rise in population and the Industrial Revolution that followed led to calls to modify the constitution accordingly. An early draft was rejected by the population in 1872 but modifications led to its acceptance in 1874. 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 even today.
Switzerland was not invaded during either of the world wars. During World War I, Switzerland was home to Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) and he remained there until 1917. Swiss neutrality was seriously questioned by the Grimm-Hoffmann Affair in 1917, but it was short-lived. In 1920, Switzerland joined the League of Nations, which was based in Geneva, on the condition that it was exempt from any military requirements.
During World War II, detailed invasion plans were drawn up by the Germans, but Switzerland was never attacked. Switzerland was able to remain independent through a combination of military deterrence, concessions to Germany, and good fortune as larger events during the war delayed an invasion. Attempts by Switzerland's small Nazi Party to cause annexation by Germany failed miserably. The Swiss press vigorously criticised the Third Reich, often infuriating its leadership. Under General Henri Guisan, a massive mobilisation of militia forces was ordered. The Swiss military strategy was changed from one of static defence at the borders to protect the economic heartland, to one of organised long-term attrition and withdrawal to strong, well-stockpiled positions high in the Alps known as the Réduit. Switzerland was an important base for espionage by both sides in the conflict and often mediated communications between the Axis and Allied powers. The International Red Cross, based in Geneva, played an important part during this and other conflicts.
Switzerland's trade was blockaded by both the Allies and by the Axis. Economic cooperation and extension of credit to the Third Reich varied according to the perceived likelihood of invasion and the availability of other trading partners. Concessions reached a peak after a crucial rail link through Vichy France was severed in 1942, leaving Switzerland completely surrounded by the Axis. Over the course of the war, Switzerland interned over 300,000 refugees, 104,000 of whom were foreign troops, interned according to the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers outlined in the Hague Conventions. 60,000 of the refugees were civilians escaping persecution by the Nazis. Of these, 26,000 to 27,000 were Jews. However, strict immigration and asylum policies as well as the financial relationships with Nazi Germany raised controversy. During the war, the Swiss Air Force engaged aircraft of both sides, shooting down 11 intruding Luftwaffe planes in May and June 1940, then forcing down other intruders after a change of policy following threats from Germany. The fact that the Swiss Air Force consistently beat the Luftwaffe was a recurring embarrassment for Hitler in World War Two. The Allies acknowledged this, but the Allied Air Forces also many times intruded Swiss Air Space and made raids on several cities during the War. Over 100 Allied bombers and their crews were interned during the war. During 1944-45, Allied bombers mistakenly bombed the Swiss towns of Schaffhausen (killing 40 people), Stein am Rhein, Vals, Rafz (18 killed), and notoriously on 4 March, 1945 both Basel and Zürich were bombed.
Women were granted the right to vote in the first Swiss cantons in 1959, at the federal level in 1971 and, after resistance, in the last canton Appenzell Innerrhoden in 1990. After suffrage at the federal level women quickly rose in political significance, with the first woman on the seven member Federal Council executive being Elisabeth Kopp who served from 1984–1989. The first female president was Ruth Dreifuss, elected in 1998 to become president during 1999. (The Swiss president is elected every year from those among the seven member high council and cannot serve two consecutive terms). The second female president is Micheline Calmy-Rey who held the 2007 Swiss high office. She is originally from the western area of the French-speaking canton Geneve (Genf in German, Ginevra in Italian). She is presently joined on the seven member cabinet/high council by two other women, Doris Leuthard, from the canton of Aargau and Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, from the canton of Graubünden.
Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963. 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.
In 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations, leaving the Vatican as the last widely recognised state without full UN membership. Switzerland is a founding member of the EFTA, but is not a member of the European Economic Area. An application for membership in the European Union was sent in May 1992, but not advanced since the EEA was rejected in December 1992 when Switzerland was the only country to launch a referendum on the EEA. There have since been several referenda on the EU issue; due to a mixed reaction from the population the membership application has been frozen. Nonetheless, Swiss law is gradually being adjusted to conform with that of the EU and the government has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland, together with Liechtenstein, has been completely surrounded by the EU since Austria's membership in 1995. On 5 June 2005, Swiss voters agreed by a 55% majority to join the Schengen treaty, a result that was regarded by EU commentators as a sign of support by Switzerland, a country that is traditionally perceived as independent, or isolationist.
The Federal Constitution adopted in 1848 is the legal foundation of the modern federal state, the second oldest in the world. A new Constitution was adopted in 1999, but did not introduce notable changes to the federal structure. It outlines basic and political rights of individuals and citizen participation in public affairs, divides the powers between the Confederation and the cantons and defines federal jurisdiction and authority. There are three main governing bodies on the federal level: the bicameral parliament (legislative), the Federal Council (executive) and the Federal Court (judicial).
The Swiss Parliament consists of two houses: the Council of States which has 46 representatives (two from each canton and one from each half-canton) who are elected under a system determined by each canton, and the National Council, which consists of 200 members who are elected under a system of proportional representation, depending on the population of each canton. Members of both houses serve for 4 years. When both houses are in joint session, they are known collectively as the Federal Assembly. Through referendums, citizens may challenge any law passed by parliament and through initiatives, introduce amendments to the federal constitution, thus making Switzerland a direct democracy.
The Federal Council constitutes the federal government, directs the federal administration and serves as collective Head of State. It is a collegial body of seven members, elected for a four-year mandate by the Federal Assembly which also exercises oversight over the Council. The President of the Confederation is elected by the Assembly from among the seven members, traditionally in rotation and for a one-year term; the President chairs the government and assumes representative functions. However, the president is a primus inter pares with no additional powers, and remains the head of a department within the administration.
The Swiss government has been a coalition of the four major political parties since 1959, each party having a number of seats that roughly reflects its share of electorate and representation in the federal parliament. The classic distribution of 2 CVP/PDC, 2 SPS/PSS, 2 FDP/PRD and 1 SVP/UDC as it stood from 1959 to 2003 was known as the 'magic formula'. In the 2007 Federal Council elections the seven seats in the Federal Council were distributed as follows:
2 Social Democrats (SPS/PSS),
2 Liberal Democrats (FDP/PRD),
2 Swiss People's Party (SVP/UDC),
1 Christian Democrats (CVP/PDC).
The function of the Federal Supreme Court is to hear appeals against rulings of cantonal or federal courts. The judges are elected by the Federal Assembly for six-year terms.
Swiss citizens are subject to three legal jurisdictions: the commune, canton and federal levels. The 1848 federal constitution defines a system of direct democracy (sometimes called half-direct or representative direct democracy since it is aided by the more commonplace institutions of a parliamentary democracy). The instruments of Swiss direct democracy at the federal level, known as civil rights (Volksrechte, droits civiques), include the right to submit a constitutional initiative and a referendum, both of which may overturn parliamentary decisions.
By calling a federal referendum a group of citizens may challenge a law that has been passed by Parliament, if they can gather 50,000 signatures against the law within 100 days. If so, a national vote is scheduled where voters decide by a simple majority whether to accept or reject the law. Eight cantons together can also call a referendum on a federal law.
Similarly, the federal constitutional initiative allows citizens to put a constitutional amendment to a national vote, if they can get 100,000 voters to sign the proposed amendment within 18 months. Parliament can supplement the proposed amendment with a counter-proposal, with voters having to indicate a preference on the ballot in case both proposals are accepted. Constitutional amendments, whether introduced by initiative or in Parliament, must be accepted by a double majority of both the national popular vote and a majority of the cantonal popular votes.
The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons:
Canton: Aargau Capital: Aarau
* Canton: Appenzell Ausserrhoden Capital: Herisau
* Canton: Appenzell Innerrhoden Capital: Appenzell
* Canton: Basel-City Capital: Basel
* Canton: Basel-Country Capital: Liestal
Canton: Bern Capital: Bern
Canton: Fribourg Capital: Fribourg
Canton: Geneva Capital: Geneva
Canton: Glarus Capital: Glarus
Canton: Graubünden Capital: Chur
Canton: Jura Capital: Delémont
Canton: Lucerne Capital: Lucerne
Canton: Neuchâtel Capital: Neuchâtel
* Canton: Nidwalden Capital: Stans
* Canton: Obwalden Capital: Sarnen
Canton: Schaffhausen Capital: Schaffhausen
Canton: Schwyz Capital: Schwyz
Canton: Solothurn Capital: Solothurn
Canton: St. Gallen Capital: St. Gallen
Canton: Thurgau Capital: Frauenfeld
Canton: Ticino Capital: Bellinzona
Canton: Uri Capital: Altdorf
Canton: Valais Capital: Sion
Canton: Vaud Capital: Lausanne
Canton: Zug Capital: Zug
Canton: Zürich Capital: Zürich
*These half cantons are represented by one councillor (instead of two) in the Council of States (see traditional half-cantons).
Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zürich), and their area between 37 km² (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km² (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,889 municipalities. Within Switzerland there are two enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.
In a referendum held in the Austrian state of Vorarlberg on 11 May 1919 over 80% of those voting supported a proposal that the state should join the Swiss Confederation. However, this was prevented by the opposition of the Austrian Government, the Allies, Swiss liberals, the Swiss-Italians (persons of Swiss nationality who live in Italian Switzerland, see map) and the Romands (Swiss nationals living in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland, see map).
Foreign relations and international institutions
Traditionally, Switzerland avoids alliances that might entail military, political, or direct economic action and had been neutral since the end of its expansion in 1515. Only in 2002 Switzerland became a full member of the United Nations but was the first state to join it by referendum. Switzerland maintains diplomatic relations with almost all countries and historically has served as an intermediary between other states. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union; the Swiss people consistently rejected membership since the early 1990s.
An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part because of its policy of neutrality. The Red Cross was founded there in 1863 and still has its institutional centre in the country. European Broadcasting Union has the official headquarters in Geneva. Even though Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member of the League of Nations. Apart from the United Nations headquarter, Geneva is host to many UN agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and about 200 other international organizations.
Furthermore, many sport federations and organizations are located throughout the country, such as the International Ice Hockey Federation. The most important ones are probably the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne, the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football), in Zurich, and the UEFA (Union of European Football Association).
The World Economic Forum foundation is based in Geneva. It is best known for its annual meeting in Davos which brings together top international business and political leaders to discuss important issues facing the world, including health and the environment.
Swiss armed forces
The Swiss armed forces, including the Land Forces and the Air Force, are composed of conscripts: professional soldiers constitute only about 5 percent of the military personnel, and all the rest are conscript citizens aged from 20 to 34 (in special cases up to 50) years. Being a landlocked country, Switzerland has no navy, however on lakes bordering neighbouring countries armed military patrol boats are used. Swiss citizens are prohibited from serving in foreign armies, with the exception of the Swiss Guards of the Vatican.
The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Some organisations and political parties find this practice controversial and dangerous. Compulsory military service concerns all male Swiss citizens; women can serve voluntarily. They usually receive the marching order at the age of 19 for military conscription. About two thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, an alternative service exists. Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in boot camp for a duration from 18 to 21 weeks. The reform 'Army XXI' was adopted by popular vote in 2003, it replaced the previous model 'Army 95', reducing the effectives from 400,000 to about 200,000. Of those 120,000 are active and 80,000 are reserve units.
Overall, three general mobilisations have been declared to ensure the integrity and neutrality of Switzerland. The first one was held on the occasion of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The second one was decided in response to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The third mobilisation of the army took place on September 1939 in response to the German attack on Poland; Henri Guisan was elected as the General-in-Chief.
Because of neutrality, the army can not take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world. Since 2000 the armed forces department also maintains the Onyx intelligence gathering system, to monitor satellite communications.
Following the end of the Cold War there have been a number of attempts to curb military activity or even abolish the armed forces altogether (see Group for a Switzerland without an Army). A notable referendum on the subject was held on the 26 November 1989 and, although defeated, did see a high percentage of the people of favour of such an initiative. A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after the 9/11 Attacks, was defeated by over 77% of voters.
Extending across the north and south side of the Alps, Switzerland comprises a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi). The population is about 7.6 million, resulting in an average population density of around 240 people per square kilometer (622/sq mi). However, the more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than this average, while the northern half and extreme south have a somewhat greater density, as they comprise more hospitable hilly terrain, partly forested and partly cleared, as well as several large lakes.
Switzerland comprises three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps on the south, the Swiss plateau or 'middleland', and the Jura mountains on the north. The Alps are a high mountain range running across the central-south of the country, comprising about 60% of the country's total area. Among the high peaks of the Swiss Alps, the highest of which is the Dufourspitze at 4,634 metres (15,203 ft), countless valleys are found, many with waterfalls and glaciers. From these the headwaters of several major European rivers such as the Rhine, Rhône, Inn, Aare, and Ticino flow finally into the largest Swiss lakes such as Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), Lake Zürich, Lake Neuchâtel, and Lake Constance.
The most famous mountain is the Matterhorn (4,478 m) in Valais and Pennine Alps bordering Italy. Even higher mountains are located in the area, the Dufourspitze (4,634 m), the Dom (4,545 m) and the Weisshorn (4,506 m). The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley containing 72 waterfalls is also well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m) and Eiger, and the many picturesque valleys in the region. In the southeast the long Engadin Valley, encompassing the St. Moritz area in canton Graubünden, is also well known; the highest peak in the neighbouring Bernina Alps is Piz Bernina (4,049 m).
The more populous northern part of the country, comprising about 30% of the country's total area, is called the Middle Land. It has greater open and hilly landscapes, partly forested, partly open pastures, usually with grazing herds, or vegetables and fruit fields, but it is still hilly. There are large lakes found here and the biggest Swiss cities are in this area of the country. The largest lake is Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman in French), in the West of Switzerland. The Rhone River is the main tributary to Lake Geneva.
The Swiss climate is generally temperate, but can vary greatly between the localities, from glacial conditions on the mountaintops to the often pleasant near Mediterranean climate at Switzerland's southern tip. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The winters in the mountains alternate with sun and snow, while the lower lands tend to be more cloudy and foggy in winter. A weather phenomenon known as the föhn can occur at all times of the year, even in winter, and is characterized by a wind with warm Mediterranean air crossing the Alps from Italy. The driest conditions persist in the southern valleys of the Valais above which valuable saffron is harvested and many wine grapes are grown, Graubünden also tends to be drier in climate and slightly colder, yet with plentiful snow in winter. 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. The east tends to be colder than the west of Switzerland, yet anywhere up high in the mountains can experience a cold spell at any time of the year. Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year, with minor variations across the seasons depending on locale. Autumn frequently tends to be the driest season, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland can be highly variable from year to year, and difficult to predict.
Switzerland's eco-systems can be particularly vulnerable, because of the many delicate valleys separated by high mountains, often forming unique ecologies. The mountainous regions themselves are also vulnerable, with a rich range of plants not found at other altitudes, and experience some pressure from visitors and grazing. The tree line in the mountains of Switzerland has advanced down 1,000 ft (300 m) over the years, largely because of the increasing absence of herding and grazing pressures.
Switzerland has a stable, modern and one of the most capitalist economies in the world. It has the 2nd highest European rating after Ireland in the Index of Economic Freedom 2008, while also providing large coverage through public services. The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger western European economies and Japan, ranking 6th behind Luxembourg, Norway, Qatar, Iceland and Ireland.
Greater Zürich area, home to 1.5 million employees and 150,000 companies, has taken top position in some life quality surveys.
If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 15th in the world for GDP per capita. The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin. In 2005 the median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 95,000 CHF, the equivalent of roughly 81,000 USD (as of Nov. 2008) in purchasing power parity, which is similar to wealthy American states like California.
Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB and Adecco. Also notable are UBS AG, Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Swiss Re, and The Swatch Group. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.
Chemicals, health and pharmaceutical, measuring instruments, musical instruments, real estate, banking and insurance, tourism, and international organizations are important industries in Switzerland. The largest exported goods are chemicals (34% of exported goods), machines/electronics (20.9%), and precision instruments/watches (16.9%). Exported services amount to a third of exported goods.
Around 3.8 million people work in Switzerland. Switzerland has a more flexible job market than neighboring countries and the unemployment rate is very low. Unemployment rate increased from a low of 1.7% in June 2000 to a peak of 3.9% in September 2004. Partly because of the economic upturn which started in mid-2003, the unemployment rate is currently 3.4% as of April 2009. Population growth from net immigration is quite high, at 0.52% of population in 2004. Foreign citizen population is 21.8% as of 2004, about the same as in Australia. GDP per hour worked is the world's 17th highest, at 27.44 international dollars in 2006.
Switzerland has overwhelmingly private sector economy and low tax rates by Western standards; overall taxation is one of the smallest of developed countries. Switzerland is an easy place to do business; Switzerland ranks 16th of 178 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index. The slow growth Switzerland experienced in the 1990s and the early 2000s has brought greater support for economic reforms and harmonization with the European Union. According to Credit Suisse, only about 37% of residents own their own homes, one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe. Housing and food price levels were 171% and 145% of the EU-25 index in 2007, compared to 113% and 104% in Germany. Agricultural protectionism—a rare exception to Switzerland's free trade policies—has contributed to high food prices. Product market liberalization is lagging behind many EU countries according to the OECD. Nevertheless, domestic purchasing power is one of the best in the world. Apart from agriculture, economic and trade barriers between the European Union and Switzerland are minimal and Switzerland has free trade agreements worldwide. Switzerland is a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Education, science and technology
Education in Switzerland is very diverse because the constitution of Switzerland delegates the authority for the school system to the cantons. There are both public and private schools, including many private international schools. The minimum age for primary school is about six years in all cantons. Primary school continues until grade four or five, depending on the school. Traditionally, the first foreign language in school was always one of the other national languages, although recently (2000) English was introduced first in a few cantons. At the end of primary school (or at the beginning of secondary school), pupils are separated according to their capacities in several (often three) sections. The fastest learners are taught advanced classes to be prepared for further studies and the matura, while students who assimilate a little bit more slowly receive an education more adapted to their needs.
There are 12 Universities in Switzerland, ten of which are maintained at cantonal level and usually offer a range of non-technical subjects. The first university in Switzerland was founded in 1460 in Basel (with a faculty of medicine) and has a tradition of chemical and medical research in Switzerland. The biggest university in Switzerland is the University of Zurich with nearly 25,000 students. The two institutes sponsored by the federal government are the ETHZ in Zürich (founded 1855) and the EPFL in Lausanne (founded 1969 as such, formerly an institute associated with the University of Lausanne) which both have an excellent international reputation. In 2008, the ETH Zurich was ranked 15th in the field Natural Sciences and Mathematics by the Shanghai Academic Ranking of World Universities and the EPFL in Lausanne was ranked 18th in the field Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences by the same ranking. In addition there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, University of St. Gallen (HSG) and Institute of Management Development (IMD) are the leaders. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.
Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein in the field of physics who developed his theory of relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrich received Nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners stand in relation to Switzerland and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 9 times to organizations residing in Switzerland.
Geneva host the world's largest laboratory, the CERN, dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research center is the Paul Scherrer Institute. Notable inventions include the Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), the Scanning tunneling microscope (Nobel prize) or the very popular Velcro. Some technologies enabled the exploration of new worlds such as the pressurized balloon of Auguste Piccard and the Bathyscaphe which permitted Jacques Piccard to reach the deepest point of the world's oceans.
Switzerland Space Agency, the Swiss Space Office, has been involved in various space technologies and programs. In addition it was one of the 10 founders of the European Space Agency in 1975 and is the seventh largest contributor to the ESA budget. In the private sector, several companies are implicated in the space industry such as Oerlikon Space or Maxon Motors who provide spacecraft structures.
Switzerland and the European Union
Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in December 1992 and has since maintained and developed its relationships with the European Union (EU) and European countries through bilateral agreements. In March 2001, the Swiss people refused in a popular vote to start accession negotiations with the EU. In recent years, the Swiss have brought their economic practices largely into conformity with those of the EU in many ways, in an effort to enhance their international competitiveness. The economy has been growing most recently at around 3% per year. Full EU membership is a long-term objective of some in the Swiss government, but there is considerable popular sentiment against this supported by the conservative SVP party. The western French-speaking areas and the urban regions of the rest of the country tend to be more pro-EU, however with far from any significant share of the population.
The government has established an Integration Office under the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Economic Affairs. To minimise the negative consequences of Switzerland's isolation from the rest of Europe, Bern and Brussels signed seven bilateral agreements to further liberalise trade ties. These agreements were signed in 1999 and took effect in 2001. This first series of bilateral agreements included the free movement of persons. A second series covering nine areas was signed in 2004 and has since been ratified. The second series includes the Schengen Treaty and the Dublin Convention. They continue to discuss further areas for cooperation. In 2006, Switzerland approved a billion francs supportive investment in the poorer eastern European countries in support of cooperation and positive ties to the EU as a whole. A further referendum will be needed to approve 300 million francs to support Romania and Bulgaria and their recent admission. The Swiss have also been under EU and sometimes international pressure to reduce banking secrecy and to raise tax rates to parity with the EU. Preparatory discussions are being opened in four new areas: opening up the electricity market, participation in the European GNSS project Galileo, cooperating with the European centre for disease prevention and recognising certificates of origin for food products.
On 27 November 2008 the interior and justice ministers of European Union in Brussels announced Switzerland's accession to the Schengen passport-free zone from 12 December 2008. The land border checkpoints will remain in place only for goods movements, but should not run controls on people, though people entering the country had their passports checked until 29 March 2009 if they originated from a Schengen nation.
Infrastructure and environment
Electricity generated in Switzerland is 56% from hydroelectricity and 39% from nuclear power, with 5% of the electricity generated from conventional power sources resulting in a nearly CO2-free electricity-generating network.
On 18 May 2003, two anti-nuclear initiatives were turned down: Moratorium Plus, aimed at forbidding the building of new nuclear power plants (41.6% supported and 58.4% opposed), and Electricity Without Nuclear (33.7% supported and 66.3% opposed). The former ten-year moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power plants was the result of a citizens' initiative voted on in 1990 which had passed with 54.5% Yes vs. 45.5% No votes. A new nuclear plant in the Canton of Bern is presently planned. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) is the office responsible for all questions relating to energy supply and energy use within the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC). The agency is supporting the 2000-watt society initiative to cut the nation's energy use by more than half by the year 2050.
Swiss private-public managed road network is funded by road tolls and vehicle taxes. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute system requires the purchase of a vignette (toll sticker)—which costs 40 Swiss francs—for one calendar year in order to use its roadways, for both passenger cars and trucks. The Swiss autobahn/autoroute network has a total length of 1,638 km (as of 2000) and has, by an area of 41,290 km², also the one of the highest motorway densities in the world. Zürich Airport is Switzerland's largest international flight gateway, which handled 20.7 million passengers in 2007. The second largest Geneva Cointrin International Airport handled 10.8 million passengers and the third largest EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg 4.3 million passengers, both airports being shared with France.
The rail network of 5,063 km in Switzerland carries over 350 million passengers annually. In 2007, each Swiss citizen ran on average 2,103 km by rail, which makes them the keenest rail users. The network is administered mainly by the Federal Railways, except in Graubünden, where the 366 km narrow gauge railway is operated by the Rhaetian Railways and includes some World Heritage lines. The building of new railway base tunnels through the Alps is under way to reduce the time of travel between north and south.
Switzerland is heavily active in recycling and anti-littering regulations and is one of the top recyclers in the world, with 66% to 96% of recyclable materials being recycled. In many places in Switzerland, household garbage disposal is charged for. Garbage (except dangerous items, batteries etc.) is only collected if it is in bags which either have a payment sticker attached, or in official bags with the surcharge paid at the time of purchase. This gives a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, since recycling is free. Swiss health officials and police often open up garbage for which the disposal charge has not been paid and search for evidence such as old bills which connect the bag to the household/person they originated from. Fines for not paying the disposal fee range from CHF 200–500.
Official languages in Switzerland: Swiss German (63.7%; 72.5%) French (20.4%; 21.0%) Italian (6.5%; 4.3%) Romansh (0.5%; 0,6% )
Switzerland lies at the crossroads of several major European cultures that have heavily influenced the country's languages and culture. Switzerland has four official languages: German (63.7% total population share, with foreign residents; 72.5% of residents with Swiss citizenship, in 2000) in the north, east and center of the country; French (20.4%; 21.0%) to the west; Italian (6.5%; 4.3%) in the south. Romansh, a Romance language spoken locally by a small minority (0.5%; 0.6%) in the southeastern canton of Graubünden, is designated by the Federal Constitution as a national language along with German, French and Italian (Article 4 of the Constitution), and as official language if the authorities communicate with persons of Romansh language (Article 70), but federal laws and other official acts do not need to be decreed in this language. The federal government is obliged to communicate in the official languages, and in the federal parliament simultaneous translation is provided from and into German, French and Italian.
The German spoken in Switzerland is predominantly a group of Alemannic dialects collectively known as Swiss German, but written communication typically use Swiss Standard German, whilst the majority of radio and TV broadcast is (nowadays) in Swiss German as well. Similarly, there are some dialects of Franco-Provençal in rural communities in the French speaking part, known as 'Suisse romande', called Vaudois, Gruérien, Jurassien, Empro, Fribourgeois, Neuchâtelois, and in the Italian speaking area, Ticinese (a dialect of Lombard). Also the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside of Switzerland, i.e. terms from other languages (German Billette from French), from similar term in another language (Italian azione used not as act but as discount from German Aktion). Learning one of the other national languages at school is obligatory for all Swiss, so most Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual.
Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population. Most of these (60%) are from European Union or EFTA countries. Italians are the largest single group of foreigners with 17,3% of total foreign population. They are followed by Germans (13,2%), immigrants from Serbia and Montenegro (11,5%) and Portugal (11,3%). Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, are the largest group among people of Asian origin. In the 2000s, domestic and international institutions have expressed concern about what they perceive as an increase of xenophobia, particularly in some political campaignings. However, the high proportion of foreign citizens in the country, as well as the generally unproblematic integration of foreigners, underlines Switzerland's openness.
In 2006 life expectancy at birth was 79 years for men and 84 years for women. It is among the highest in the world.
The Swiss citizens are covered by a compulsory universal health-insurance coverage, permitting access to a broad range of modern medical services. The healthcare system compares well with other European countries and patients are largely satisfied with it. However, spending on health is particularly high, with 11.5% of GDP (2003) and, from 1990, a steady increase is observed, reflecting the high prices of the services provided With ageing populations and new healthcare technologies, health spending will likely continue to rise.
Between two thirds and three quarters of the population live in urban areas. Switzerland has gone from a largely rural country to an urban one in just 70 years. Since 1935 urban development has claimed as much of the Swiss landscape as it did during the previous 2,000 years. This urban sprawl does not only affect the plateau but also the Jura and the Alpine foothills and there are growing concerns about land use. However, from the beginning of the 21st century, the population growth in urban areas is higher than in the countryside.
Switzerland has a dense network of cities, where large, medium and small cities are complementary. The plateau is very densely populated with about 450 people per km2 and the landscape continually shows signs of man's presence. The weight of the largest metropolitan areas, which are Zürich, Geneva-Lausanne, Basel and Bern tend to increase. In international comparison the importance of these urban areas is stronger than their number of inhabitants suggests. In addition the two main centers of Zürich and Geneva are recognized for their particular great quality of life.
Switzerland has no official state religion, though most of the cantons (except Geneva and Neuchâtel) recognize official churches, which are either the Catholic Church or the Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.
Christianity is the predominant religion of Switzerland, divided between the Catholic Church (41.8% of the population) and various Protestant denominations (35.3%). Immigration has brought Islam (4.3%, predominantly Kosovars, Bosniaks and Turks) and Eastern Orthodoxy (1.8%) as sizeable minority religions. The 2005 Eurobarometer poll found 48% to be theist, 39% expressing belief in 'a spirit or life force', 9% atheist and 4% agnostic.
A modern church, the Church of San Giovanni Battista, designed by Mario Botta in Mogno
The country is historically about evenly balanced between Catholic and Protestant, with a complex patchwork of majorities over most of the country. One canton, Appenzell, was officially divided into Catholic and Protestant sections in 1597. The larger cities (Bern, Zürich and Basel) are predominantly Protestant. Central Switzerland, as well as the Ticino, is traditionally Catholic. The Swiss Constitution of 1848, under the recent impression of the clashes of Catholic vs. Protestant cantons that culminated in the Sonderbundskrieg, consciously defines a consociational state, allowing the peaceful co-existence of Catholics and Protestants. A 1980 initiative calling for the complete separation of church and state was resoundingly rejected, with only 21.1% voting in support.
The culture of Switzerland is influenced by its neighbours but over the years a distinctive culture with some regional differences and an independent streak has developed. In particular, French-speaking regions have tended to orient themselves slightly more on French culture and tend to be more pro EU. In general, the Swiss are known for their long standing humanitarian tradition as Switzerland is the birth place of the Red Cross Movement and hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Swiss German speaking areas may perhaps be seen more oriented on German culture, although German-speaking Swiss people identify strictly as Swiss because of the difference between High German, and the Swiss German dialects. Italian-speaking areas can have more of an Italian culture. A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language. The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in the eastern mountains of Switzerland is also robust and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition.
Many mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski resort culture in winter, and a hiking (wandering) culture in summer. Some areas throughout the year have a recreational culture that caters to tourism, yet the quieter seasons are spring and autumn when there are fewer visitors and a higher ratio of Swiss. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas and small farms are omnipresent outside the cities. In film, American productions constitute most of the programme, although several Swiss movies have enjoyed commercial successes in recent years. Folk art is kept alive in organizations all over the country. In Switzerland it is mostly expressed in music,dance, poetry, wood carving and embroidery. The alphorn, a trumpet- like musical instrument made of wood, has become alongside yodeling and the accordion an epitome of traditional Swiss music.
As the Confederation, from its foundation in 1291, was almost exclusively composed of German-speaking regions, the earliest forms of literature are in German. In the 18th century French became the fashionable language in Bern and elsewhere, while the influence of the French-speaking allies and subject lands was more marked than before.
Among the classics of Swiss German literature are Jeremias Gotthelf (1797-1854) and Gottfried Keller (1819-1890). The undisputed giants of 20th century Swiss literature are Max Frisch (1911-91) and Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-90), whose repertoire includes Die Physiker (The Physicists) and Das Versprechen (The Pledge), released in 2001 as a Hollywood film.
Prominent French-speaking writers were Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) and Germaine de Stael (1766-1817). More recent authors include Charles Ferdinand Ramuz (1878-1947), whose novels describe the lives of peasants and mountain dwellers, set in a harsh environment and Blaise Cendrars (born Frédéric Sauser, 1887-1961). Also Italian and Romansh-speaking authors contributed but in more modest way given their small number.
The probably most famous Swiss literary creation, Heidi, the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Alps, was one of the most popular children's books ever and has come to be a symbol of Switzerland. Her creator, Johanna Spyri (1827-1901), wrote a number of other books around similar themes.
The freedom of the press and the right to free expression is guaranteed in the federal constitution of Switzerland. The Swiss News Agency (SNA) broadcasts information around-the-clock in the three national languages—on politics, economics, society and culture. The SNA supplies almost all Swiss media and a couple dozen foreign media services with its news.
Switzerland has historically boasted the greatest number of newspaper titles published in proportion to its population and size. The most influential newspapers are the German-language Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zürcher Zeitung NZZ, and the French-language Le Temps, but almost every city have at least one local newspaper. The cultural diversity accounts for a large number of newspapers.
In contrast to the print media, the broadcast media has always been under greater control of the government. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, whose name was recently changed to SRG SSR idée suisse, is charged with the production and broadcast of radio and television programs. SRG SSR studios are distributed throughout the various language regions. Radio content is produced in six central and four regional studios while the television programs are produced in Geneva, Zürich and Lugano. An extensive cable network also allows most Swiss to access the programs from neighboring countries.
Skiing and mountaineering are much practiced by Swiss people and foreigners, the highest summits attract mountaineers from around the world. The Haute Route or the Patrouille des Glaciers race have international reputation.
Like many other Europeans, many Swiss are fans of football and the national team or 'Nati' is widely supported. Switzerland was also the joint venue with Austria in the Euro 2008 football tournament, although the Swiss team dropped out before the Quarter Finals. The Swiss Beach Soccer Team on the other hand became runner-up in 2008 and in 2005 they won the Euro Beach Soccer Cup.
Many Swiss also follow ice hockey and support one of the 12 clubs in the League A. In April 2009, Switzerland hosted the 2009 IIHF World Championship for the 10th time. The Swiss team's latest achievement in ice hockey is the 1953 bronze medal. Switzerland is also the home of the sailing team Alinghi which won the America's Cup in 2003 and defended the title in 2007.
Curling has been a very popular winter sport for more than 30 years. The Swiss teams have won 3 World Men's Curling Championships and 2 Women's titles. The Swiss men's team skipped by Dominic Andres won a gold medal at 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
Golf is becoming increasingly popular, with already more than 35 courses available and more in planning.
Over the last few years several Swiss tennis players, like Roger Federer and Martina Hingis, have been multiple Grand Slam singles champions. One of the world's best current ice skaters is Swiss Stéphane Lambiel. André Bossert is successful Swiss professional golfer.
Spengler Cup in Davos
Other sports where the Swiss have been successful include fencing (Marcel Fischer), cycling (Fabian Cancellara), whitewater slalom (Ronnie Dürrenmatt—canoe, Mathias Röthenmund—kayak), ice hockey (Swiss National League), beach volleyball (Sascha Heyer, Markus Egger, Paul and Martin Laciga), and skiing, (Bernhard Russi, Pirmin Zurbriggen, Didier Cuche).
Motorsport racecourses and events were banned in Switzerland following the 1955 Le Mans disaster with exception to events such as Hillclimbing. However, this ban was overturned in June 2007. During this period, the country still produced successful racing drivers such as Clay Regazzoni, Jo Siffert and successful World Touring Car Championship driver Alain Menu. Switzerland also won the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport in 2007-08 with driver Neel Jani. Swiss motorcycle racer Thomas Lüthi won the 2005 MotoGP World Championship in the 125cc category.
High profile drivers from Formula One and World Rally Championship such as Michael Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Sébastien Loeb all have a residence in Switzerland, albeit sometimes for tax purposes.
Traditional sports include Swiss wrestling or 'Schwingen'. It is an old tradition from the rural central cantons and considered the national sport by some. Hornussen is another indigenous Swiss sport, which is like a cross between baseball and golf. Steinstossen is the Swiss variant of stone put, a competition in throwing a heavy stone. Practiced only among the alpine population since prehistoric times, it is recorded to have taken place in Basel in the 13th century. It is also central to the Unspunnenfest, first held in 1805, with its symbol the 83.5 kg stone named Unspunnenstein.
The cuisine of Switzerland is multi-faceted. While some dishes such as fondue, raclette or rösti are omnipresent through the country, each region developed its own gastronomy according to the differences of climate and languages. Traditional Swiss cuisine uses ingredients similar to those in other European countries, among them dairy products and cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmental, produced in the valleys of Gruyères and Emmental.
Chocolate had been made in Switzerland since the 18th century but it gained its reputation at the end of the 19th century with the invention of modern techniques such as conching and tempering which enabled its production on a high quality level. Also a breakthrough was the invention of milk chocolate in 1875 by Daniel Peter.
Swiss wine is produced mainly in Valais, Vaud (Lavaux), Geneva and Ticino, with a small majority of white wines. Vineyards have been cultivated in Switzerland since the Roman era, even though certain traces can be found of a more ancient origin. The most widespread varieties are the Chasselas (called Fendant in Valais) and Pinot Noir. The Merlot is the main variety produced in Ticino.
Web references: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland
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