Zermatt has a permanent population of around 5,800 people, although the actual population varies considerably through the seasons as tourists come and go. The village is situated at the end of Mattertal, a north-facing valley, at an altitude of 1,620 m (5,315 ft). The valley is a dead end; although the border with Italy is close, it cannot be crossed by road, as it traverses a glacier at an altitude of over 3,000 m (9,800 ft). Zermatt is the starting point of the Patrouille des Glaciers and the Haute Route.
Zermatt is famed as a mountaineering and ski resort. Until the mid-19th century, it was predominantly an agricultural community — its name, as well as that of the Matterhorn itself, derives from the alpine meadows, or matten, in the valley. In the German language, the town is 'Zur Matte', or 'in the meadow.'
The town was 'discovered' mid-century by British mountaineers, most notably Edward Whymper, whose conquest of the Matterhorn made the village famous.
There are several 'suburbs' within Zermatt, and the largest of these organise summer street parties, where the local shops, restaurants and bars contribute towards communal events. Notable parties include the Steinmatte (held in late August, last in 2007), and the Winkelmatten (held in September, takes place every other year). Winkelmatten itself was once a separate small hamlet, but as Zermatt has grown it has become incorporated within the greater conurbation.
Some of the high summits in the Zermatt area
Zermatt is a starting point for hikes into the mountains, including the Haute Route that leads to Chamonix in France. cable cars and chair lifts carry skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer; the highest of them leads to the Klein Matterhorn at 3,883m, a peak on the ridge between Breithorn and Matterhorn that offers spectacular views in all directions. It is possible to cross into Italy via the Cervinia cable car station. A spectacular rack railway line (the Gornergratbahn, the highest open-air railway in Europe) runs up to the summit of the Gornergrat at 3,089m (10,134 ft). Zermatt is also the western terminus for the Glacier Express rail service connecting to St. Moritz and the MGB (Matterhorn-Gotthard-Bahn).
Electric cars in the streets of Zermatt
To prevent air pollution which could obscure the town's view of the Matterhorn, the entire town is a combustion-engine car-free zone. Electric vehicles are allowed for local commerces. The Cantonal police can issue a permit which allows residents to drive and park at the northern outskirts. Some emergency (fire trucks, ambulances, etc.) and municipal (buses, garbage trucks, etc) are also allowed to use combustion engines.
Most visitors reach Zermatt by cog railway train or taxi from the nearby town of Täsch. Trains also depart for Zermatt from farther down the valley at Visp and Brig, which are on the main Swiss rail network.
Passenger vehicles operating within Zermatt include tiny electric shuttles provided by hotels to carry visitors from the main train station (or the taxi transfer point just outside town) to the hotel properties, 'electro' taxis operated by four major Zermatt families, and 'electro' buses, which serve two routes: one between the major hotel areas and the stations of the various ski-lifts, and the other following a similar route but also serving the more rural 'suburb' of Winkelmatten. Horse-drawn carriages can also be found; some are operated by hotels and others are available for hire. The town also has a heliport (ICAO: LSEZ) and a local helicopter operator, Air Zermatt, which also provides alpine rescue services.
View of Zermatt with the main church
In 2007, a project group was formed to evaluate options for development of the local transportation network (as the 'electro' buses do not have enough capacity). The results of this study are published in the December 2007 edition of Zermatt Inside. The six options explored are a coaster, a funicular, a metro, moving sidewalks, a gondola or more 'electro' buses.
This article does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (September 2008)
Zermatt is known throughout the world for its skiing, especially Triftji for its moguls. The high altitude results in consistent skiing continuously up until the summer.
Skiing in Zermatt is split up into four areas; Sunnegga, Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn and Schwarzsee. There is also a connection to Cervinia and Valtournenche in Italy. Trail Map 2007/08.
In 2008, Zermatt hosted an 'Infinity Downhill Race'. The race took place on the 13th and 14th December and comprised a course descending from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise (3800m (12'500ft)) and finished in Zermatt itself (1600m (5'200ft)). The course was 20km long and featured a 2'200m descent.
Main article: Sunnegga Paradise ski area
The Sunnegga Paradise is accessed via a funicular railway, followed by a gondola to Blauherd and finally a cable car onwards to the Rothorn (3,103m) above. The topography of the mountain and the valley tends to keep the Rothorn clear and sunny, even when Zermatt is submerged in cloud.
From Blauherd there is a gondola down to Gant, and from there a connecting cablecar goes to Hohtälli. This cable car and the newer 4-seat chairlift Sunnegga-Findeln-Breitboden provide connections between Sunnegga and Gornergrat. With few steep slopes, this mountain is often used to train younger skiers.
On the Gornergrat
The Gornergrat is served by the Gornergratbahn railway, a 29 minute ride to the Gornergrat peak (3,089m), via Riffelalp, Rotenboden and Riffelberg, (with limited stops at Findelbach and Landtunnel just above the town). At the summit, the hotel and restaurant have been refurbished and accommodate a shopping center.
A cable car heads up from Hohtälli to the Rote Nase (3,247m). This final lift serves a freeride area but can be unreliable as this mountainside requires high snow cover to be skiable. The lifts in this area generally open for the season in late February or early March, depending upon the snowfall. In 2008 a new T-bar tow re-opened access to the Stockhorn.
The old Hohtälli to Gornergrat cablecar is now permanently closed, with no replacement lift planned. A new slope leading back from Hohtälli to Kellensee just under the Gornergrat replaced this lift to maintain the link from the Rothorn to Gornergrat.
Klein Matterhorn / Schwarzsee
View of Zermatt from the cable car to Furi
Near the southern end of Zermatt, the Matterhorn Express gondola transports passengers up to the interchange station at Furi. From here there is access to the Schwarzsee via a gondola to the right, a cable car that leads on to the Trockener Steg midstation (and then on to the Klein Matterhorn), and a new gondola, opened on the 18 December 2006, links Furi to Riffelberg on the Gornergrat mountain. This lift addresses one of the most persistent criticisms of Zermatt: that it is very difficult to ski the two sides of the valley without a tiresome trek through the village between the Gornergratbahn and the Matterhorn Express at opposite ends of the town.
Testa Grigia at the top of the Theodulpass serves as a connection to the Italian ski-resorts of Cervinia and Valtournenche. From the Swiss side it is only reachable by skilift, but from the Italian side by a chairlift and by a cablecar. There are customs offices here as well as a small alpine museum.
Zermatt is marketed as an all year skiing resort, with summer skiing limited to the Theodulgletscher behind the Klein Matterhorn. Whilst strictly true, during the off season in May and June there will only tend to be one or two runs open, and the main glacier area does not open until July.
In operation since 25 October 2003, the Furggsattel six-seater chairlift has twelve (of eighteen) masts that stand directly on the glacial ice of the Theodulgletscher - a first for Switzerland. It is one of very few lifts worldwide with bottom- and top-station in different countries, respectively Switzerland and Italy.
History of the lift system
This article is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. You can help by converting this article to prose, if appropriate. Editing help is available. (January 2009)
* 1898 Start of summer operation of Gornergratbahn.
* 1928 Gornergratbahn introduces a twice daily winter sports service to Riffelalp.
* 1939 Development of Theodul area from Breuil Cervinia to Testa Grigia.
* 1942 Zermatt-Sunnegga skilift (summer: foot lift, replaced by chairlift in 1967).
* 1946 Weisti trainer skilift (moved to Riffelberg in 1969). Zermatt-Sunnegga sideways facing chairlift (replaced by funicular in 1980).
* 1947 Sunnegga-Blauherd skilift (replaced by cable car in 1967).
* 1955 Cableway Plan Maison-Furgghorn (discontinued 1992).
* 1956 Suspension lift Gornergrat-Hohtälli (due to be discontinued in the summer of 2007). Skilift Riffelberg (replaced by chairlift 2003). Skilift Furi (discontinued 1960). Chairlift Findeln-Sunegga (due to be replaced in the summer of 2007).
* 1957 Suspension lift Zermatt-Furi.
* 1958 Suspension lift Hohtälli-Stockhorn (due to be discontinued in the summer of 2007). Furi-Schwarzsee suspension lift (replaced by cable car lift 2002).
* 1960 Skilift Garten (discontinued 2003).
* 1962 Suspension lift Furgg-Schwarzsee (replaced by group turnaround lift in 1991).
* 1963 Skilift Hornli.
* 1964 Suspension lift Furi-Furgg (replaced by Matterhorn Express in 2002). Theodullift (replaced by extension of Gandegglift 2003). Skilift Triftji-RoteNase
* 1965 Furgg-Trockener Steg suspension lift. Skilift National (replaced by chairlift Patrullarve 1989).
* 1967 Cable car lift Sunnegga-Blauherd (replaced by combi system in 2005). Suspension lift Blauherd-Rothorn (replaced in 1996). Skilift Furgsattel (replaced by chairlift in 2003). Skilift Eisfluh (replaced by chairlift 2001). Passlift (replaced by extension to Gandegglift 2003).
* 1968 Platform skilift Kumme (replaced by chairlift 1982). Skilift Gandegg (extended and renewed in 2003).
* 1971 Cablecar Gant-Blauherd. Skilift Gant-Platte (discontinued 2002). Skilift Riffelberg-Gifthittli (replaced by chairlift 2003). Skilift Test Grigia 1.
* 1979 Suspensionlift Trockener Steg-Klein Matterhorn.
* 1980 Funicular Zermatt-Sunnegga. Skilift Testa Grigia 2 (moved to Plateau Rosa 3 2005). Border skilift (Gobba di Rollin). Skilift Plateau Rosa 1.
* 1982 Suspension lift Furi-Trockener Steg. Cable car Zermatt-Furi. Chairlift Kumme-Rothorn.
* 1984 Joint skipass in Zermatt.
* 1986 Suspension lift Hohtälli-Rote Nase.
* 1989 Chairlift Patrullarve-Blauherd.
* 1991 Chairlift Furgg-Sandiger Boden-Theodul Glacier. Skilift Plateau Rosa 2. Group turnaround lift Furgg-Schwazsee.
* 1995 Joint skipass Zermatt-Cervinia.
* 1996 Suspension lift Blauherd-Rothorn.
* 1998 Suspension lift Gant-Hohtälli.
* 1999 Electronic ticketing system introduced.
* 2001 Chairlift Eisfluh-Sunnegga.
* 2002 Merger of Zermatt Bergbahnen. Cable car lifts Matterhorn Express (Zermatt-Furi-Schwarzsee).
* 2003 Chairlift Furgsattel Gletcherbahn. Chairlift Gifthittli.
* 2005 Combi system (car/chair) Sunnegga-Blauherd. Passenger lift funicular-Riedweg.
* 2006 Suspension lift Furi-Schweigmatten-Riffelberg.
* 2007 End of operations of the Gornergrat - Hohtälli tram, replaced by a red slope Hohtälli - Kellensee.
* 2007 End of operations of the Hohtälli - Stockhorn tram, replaced by a surface lift in 2008.
* 2007 Clearing of the skitunnel at Riffelberg, increasing the capacity of this slope.
* 2007 4-seat chairlift Sunnegga-Findeln-Breitboden.
The Zermatt Bergbahnen's website mentions a few projects for the following years:
* 2009 Extension of the Matterhorn Express from Schwarzsee to Trockener Steg.
* 2010 Chairlift at Garten (Furgg), replacing an old surface lift.
* 2011 Cable car Testa Grigia-Klein Matterhorn.
As well as several changes to the slopes, and the placement of new snowmaking installations.
The Matterhorn (German),
Cervino (Italian) or Cervin (French),
is a mountain in the Pennine Alps
The Matterhorn (German), Cervino (Italian) or Cervin (French), is a mountain in the Pennine Alps. With its 4,478 metres (14,692 ft) high summit, lying on the border between Switzerland and Italy, it is one of the highest peaks in the Alps and its 1,200 metres (3,937 ft) north face is one of the Great north faces of the Alps. It is one of the deadliest peaks in the Alps: from 1865 – when it was first climbed – to 1995, 500 alpinists have died on it. The mountain overlooks the town of Zermatt in the canton of Valais to north-east and Cervinia in the Aosta Valley to the south.
The Matterhorn is an iconic emblem of the Swiss Alps, and Alps in general.
Typical banner cloud formation on the Matterhorn
The Matterhorn has two distinct summits, both situated on a 100-metre-long rocky ridge: the Swiss summit (4,477.5 m) on the east and the Italian summit (4,476.4 m) on the west. Their names originated from the first ascents, not for geographic reasons, as they are both located on the border.
A recent survey (1999) using Global Positioning System technology has been made, allowing the height of the Matterhorn to be measured to within one centimetre accuracy, and its changes to be tracked. The result was 4,477.54 metres (14,690 ft).
The particularly steep faces of the mountain and its isolated location make it prone to banner clouds formation with the air flowing around and creating vortices, conducting condensation of the air on the lee side.
The mountain derives its name from the German words Matte, meaning meadow, and Horn, which means peak. The migration of the name meadow from the lower part of the countryside to the peak is common in the Alps. The Italian and French names (Cervino and Cervin) come from Mons Silvinus from the Latin word silva, meaning forest (with again the migration of the name from the lower part to the peak). The changing of the first letter s to c is attributed to Horace Bénédict de Saussure, who thought that the word was related to a deer (French: cerf).
The Matterhorn has a pyramidal shape with four faces facing the four compass points: the north and east faces overlook, respectively, the Zmutt valley and Gornergrat ridge in Switzerland, the south face (the only one south of the Swiss-Italian border) fronts the resort town of Breuil-Cervinia, and the west face looks towards the mountain of Dent d'Hérens which straddles the border. The north and south faces meet at the summit to form a short east-west ridge.
The Matterhorn's faces are steep, and only small patches of snow and ice cling to them; regular avalanches send the snow down to accumulate on the glaciers at the base of each face, the largest of which is the Zmutt Glacier to the west. The Hörnli ridge of the northeast (the central ridge in the view from Zermatt) is the usual climbing route.
Well-known faces are the east and north, visible from Zermatt. The east face is 1,000 metres high and, because it is 'a long, monotonous slope of rotten rocks', presents a high risk of rockfall, making its ascent dangerous. The north face is 1,200 metres high and is one of the most dangerous north faces in the Alps, in particular for its risk of rockfall and storms. The south face is 1,350 metres high and offers many different routes. The west face, the highest at 1,400 metres, has the fewest ascent routes.
The four main ridges separating the four faces are the main climbing routes. The least difficult technical climb, the Hörnli ridge (Hörnligrat), lies between the east and north faces, facing the town of Zermatt. To its west lies the Zmutt ridge (Zmuttgrat), between the north and west faces; this is, according to Collomb, 'the classic route up the mountain, its longest ridge, also the most disjointed.' The Lion ridge (Cresta del Leone), lying between the south and west faces is the Italian normal route and goes across Pic Tyndall; Collomb comments, 'A superb rock ridge, the shortest on the mountain, now draped with many fixed ropes, but a far superior climb compared with the Hörnli.' Finally the south side is separated from the east side by the Furggen ridge (Furggengrat), according to Collomb 'the hardest of the ridges... the ridge still has an awesome reputation but is not too difficult in good conditions by the indirect finish'.
The border between Italy and Switzerland is the main Alpine watershed, separating the drainage basin on the Rhone on the north (Mediterranean Sea) and the Po River on the south (Adriatic Sea).
The Matterhorn is one of the many 4000 metres summits surrounding the Mattertal valley, with the Breithorn, Zwillinge, Liskamm and Monte Rosa on the south and the Dom and Weisshorn on the north. The region between Matterhorn and Monte Rosa is one of the major glaciated area in the Alps and is listed in the Federal Inventory of Landscapes and Natural Monuments.
Apart from the base of the mountain, the Matterhorn is composed of gneiss belonging to the Dent Blanche klippe, an isolated part of the Austroalpine nappes, lying over the Penninic nappes. The Austroalpine nappes are part of the Apulian plate, a small continent which broke up from Africa before the Alpine orogeny. For this reason the Matterhorn has been popularized as an African mountain. The Austroalpine nappes are mostly common in the Eastern Alps.
Different layers of rock can be seen: the lower part is sedimentary rocks (yellow); the middle part is greenschists from the oceanic crust. The peak itself (above the seracs) is gneisses from the African continent.
The formation of the Matterhorn (and the whole Alpine range) started with the break-up of the Pangaea continent 200 million years ago into Laurasia (containing Europe) and Gondwana (containing Africa). While the rocks constituting the nearby Monte Rosa remained in Laurasia, the rocks constituting the Matterhorn found themselves in Gondwana, separated by the newly formed Tethys Ocean.
100 million years ago the extension of the Tethys Ocean stopped and the Apulian plate broke from Gondwana and moved toward the European continent. This resulted in the closure of the western Tethys by subduction under the Apulian plate (with the Piemont-Liguria Ocean first and Valais Ocean later). The subduction of the oceanic crust left traces still visible today at the base of the Matterhorn (accretionary prism). The orogeny itself began after the end of the oceanic subduction when the European continental crust collided with the Apulian continent, resulting in the formation of nappes. The Matterhorn acquired its characteristic pyramidal shape in much more recent times as it was caused by natural erosion over the past million years. At the beginning of alpine orogeny, the Matterhorn was only a rounded mountain like a hill. Because its height is above the snowline, its flanks are covered by ice, resulting from the accumulation and compaction of snow. During the warmer period of summer, part of the ice melts and seeps into the bedrock. When it freezes again, it fractures pieces of rock because of its dilatation (Freeze Thaw), forming a cirque. Four cirques led to the shape of the mountain.
Most of the base of the mountain lies in the Tsaté nappe, a remnant of the Piedmont-Liguria oceanic crust (Ophiolites) and its sedimentary rocks. Up to 3,400 metres the mountain is composed of successive layers of ophiolites and sedimentary rocks. From 3,400 metres to the top, the rocks are gneisses from the Dent Blanche klippe (Austroalpine nappes). They are divided into the Arolla series (below 4,200 m) and the Valpelline zone (the summit). Other mountains in the region (Weisshorn, Zinalrothorn, Dent Blanche, Mont Collon) also belong to the Dent Blanche klippe.
Rail and cable-car facilities have been built to make some of the summits in the area more accessible. The Gornergrat railway was inaugurated in 1898. Areas served by cable car are the Unterrothorn and the Klein Matterhorn ( 3,883 m). The Hörnli Hut (3,260 m), which is the start of the normal route via the Hörnli ridge, is easily accessible from Schwarzsee and is also frequented by hikers.
The Matterhorn Museum in Zermatt relates the history of mountaineering in the region.
The Matterhorn was one of the last of the main Alpine mountains to be ascended, not because of its technical difficulty, but because of the fear it inspired in early mountaineers. The first serious attempts began around 1857, mostly from the Italian side; but despite appearances, the southern routes are harder, and parties repeatedly found themselves having to turn back. However, on July 14, 1865, in what is considered the last ascent of the golden age of alpinism, the party of Edward Whymper, Charles Hudson, Lord Francis Douglas, Douglas Robert Hadow, Michel Croz and the two Peter Taugwalders (father and son) was able to reach the summit by an ascent of the Hörnli ridge in Switzerland. Upon descent, Hadow, Croz, Hudson and Douglas fell to their deaths on the Matterhorn Glacier, and all but Douglas (whose body was never found) are buried in the Zermatt churchyard.
Before the first ascent
In the summer of 1860, Edward Whymper came across the Matterhorn for the first time. He was an English artist and engraver who had been hired by a London publisher to make sketches of the mountains in the region of Zermatt. Although the unclimbed Matterhorn had a mixed reputation among British mountaineers, it fascinated Whymper. Whymper's first attempt was in 1861, from the village of Breuil on the south side. He was at the beginning of the climb, with a Swiss guide, when he met Jean-Antoine Carrel and his uncle. Carrel was an Italian guide from Breuil who had already made several attempts on the mountain. The two parties camped together at the base of the peak. Carrel and his uncle woke up early and decided to continue the ascent without Whymper and his guide. Discovering that they had been left, Whymper and his guide tried to race Carrel up the mountain, but neither party met with success.
In 1862 Whymper made further attempts, still from the south side, on the Lion ridge (or Italian ridge), where the route seemed easier than the Hörnli ridge (the normal route today). On his own he reached above 4,000 metres, but was injured on his way down to Breuil. He soon returned to the mountain with a local guide and went higher, but the Matterhorn still remained unclimbed.
Whymper returned to Breuil in 1863, persuading Carrel to join forces with him and try the mountain once more via the Italian ridge. On this attempt a storm, however, soon developed and they were stuck halfway to the summit. They remained there for 26 hours in their tent before giving up. Whymper did not try any more attempts for two years.
In the decisive year 1865, Whymper returned with new plans, deciding to attack the Matterhorn via its south face instead of the Italian ridge. On June 21, Whymper began his ascent with Swiss guides, but halfway up they experienced severe rockfall; although nobody was injured, they decided to give up the ascent. This was Whymper's seventh attempt.
During the following weeks, Whymper spent his time climbing other mountains in the area with his guides, before going back to Breuil on July 7. Meanwhile the Italian Alpine Club was founded and its leader, Felice Giordano, hired Carrel to make the first ascent of Matterhorn, before any foreigner could succeed. He feared the arrival of Whymper, now a rival to Carrel, and wrote to the latter:
'I have tried to keep everything secret, but that fellow whose life seems to depend on the Matterhorn is here, suspiciously prying into everything. I have taken all the best men away from him; and yet he is so enamored of the mountain that he may go with others...He is here in the hotel and I try to avoid speaking to him.'
Just as he did two years before, Whymper asked Carrel to be his guide, but Carrel declined; he was also unsuccessful in hiring other local guides from Breuil. When Whymper discovered Giordano and Carrel's plan, he left Breuil and crossed the Theodul Pass to Zermatt to hire local guides. He encountered Lord Francis Douglas, another English mountaineer, who also wanted to climb the Matterhorn. They arrived later in Zermatt in the Monte Rosa Hotel, where they met two other British climbers — the Reverend Charles Hudson and his young and inexperienced companion, Douglas Robert Hadow — who had hired the French guide Michel Croz to try to make the first ascent. These two groups decided to join forces and try the ascent of the Hörnli ridge. They hired another two local guides, Peter Taugwalder, father and son.
The first ascent
Whymper and party left Zermatt early in the morning of July 13, heading to the foot of the Hörnli ridge, which they reached 6 hours later (approximately where the Hörnli Hut is situated today). Meanwhile Carrel and six other Italian guides also began their ascent of the Italian ridge.
Despite its appearance, Whymper wrote that the Hörnli ridge was much easier to climb than the Italian ridge:
'We were now fairly upon the mountain, and were astonished to find that places which from the Riffel, or even from the Furggen Glacier, looked entirely impracticable, were so easy that we could run about.'
After having camped for the night, Whymper and party started on the ridge. According to Whymper:
'The whole of this great slope was now revealed, rising for 3,000 feet like a huge natural staircase. Some parts were more, and others were less, easy; but we were not once brought to a halt by any serious impediment, for when an obstruction was met in front it could always be turned to the right or left. For the greater part of the way there was, indeed, no occasion for the rope, and sometimes Hudson led, sometimes myself. At 6.20 we had attained a height of 12,800 feet and halted for half an hour; we then continued the ascent without a break until 9.55, when we stopped for fifty minutes, at a height of 14,000 feet.'
When the party came close to the summit, they had to leave the ridge for the north face because 'the ridge… was usually more rotten and steep, and always more difficult than the face'. At this point of the ascent Whymper wrote that the less experienced Hadow 'required continual assistance'. Having overcome these difficulties the group finally arrived in the summit area, with Croz and Whymper reaching the top first.
'The slope eased off, and Croz and I, dashing away, ran a neck-and-neck race, which ended in a dead heat. At 1.40 p.m. the world was at our feet, and the Matterhorn was conquered. Hurrah! Not a footstep could be seen.'
Precisely at this moment, Carrel and party were approximatively 400 metres below, still dealing with the most difficult parts of the Italian ridge. When seeing his rival on the summit, Carrel and party gave up on their attempt and went back to Breuil.
The Matterhorn tragedy, by Gustave Doré
After having built a cairn, Whymper and party stayed an hour on the summit. Then they began their descent of the Hörnli ridge. Croz descended first, then Hadow, Hudson and Douglas, Taugwalder father, Whymper with Taugwalder son coming last. They climbed down with great care, only one man moving at a time.
Whymper wrote: 'As far as I know, at the moment of the accident no one was actually moving. I cannot speak with certainty, neither can the Taugwalders, because the two leading men were partially hidden from our sight by an intervening mass of rock. Poor Croz had laid aside his axe, and in order to give Mr. Hadow greater security was absolutely taking hold of his legs and putting his feet, one by one, into their proper positions. From the movements of their shoulders it is my belief that Croz, having done as I have said, was in the act of turning round to go down a step or two himself; at this moment Mr. Hadow slipped, fell on him, and knocked him over.'
The weight of the falling men pulled Hudson and Douglas from their holds and dragged them down the north face. Taugwalder, father and son, and Whymper were left alive when the rope linking Douglas to Taugwalder father broke. They were stunned by the accident and for a time could not move until Taugwalder son descended to enable them to advance. When they were together Whymper asked to see the broken rope and saw that it had been employed by mistake as it was the weakest and oldest of the three ropes they had brought. They frequently looked, but in vain, for traces of their fallen companions. They continued their descent, including an hour in the dark, until 9.30pm when a resting place was found. At daybreak the descent was resumed and the group finally reached Zermatt, where a search of the victims was quickly organized. The bodies of Croz, Hadow and Hudson were found on the Matterhorn Glacier, but the body of Douglas was never found. Although Taugwalder's father was accused of cutting the rope to save himself and his son, the official inquest found no proof for this.
Other first ascents
Three days after Whymper's ascent, the mountain was ascended from the Italian side via an indirect route by Jean-Antoine Carrel and Jean-Baptiste Bich on July 17, 1865. The first direct ascent of the Italian ridge as it is climbed today was by J. J. and J. P. Maquignaz on September 13, 1867. Julius Elliott made the second ascent via the Hörnli ridge in 1868, and later that year the party of John Tyndall, J. J. and J. P. Maquignaz was the first to traverse the summit by way of the Hörnli and Italian ridges. On August 22, 1871, while wearing a white print dress, Lucy Walker became the first woman to reach the summit of the Matterhorn, followed a few weeks later by her rival Meta Brevoort. The first winter ascent of the Hörnli ridge was by Vittorio Sella with guides J. A. Carrel, J. B. Carrel and L. Carrel on March 17, 1882, and its first solo ascent was made by W. Paulcke in 1898. The first winter solo ascent of the Hörnli ridge was by G. Gervasutti in 1936.
The Zmutt ridge was first climbed by Albert F. Mummery, Alexander Burgener, J. Petrus and A. Gentinetta on September 3, 1879. Its first solo ascent was made by Hans Pfann in 1906, and the first winter ascent was made by H. Masson and E. Petrig on March 25, 1948. The last of the Matterhorn's four ridges to be ascended, the Furggen ridge was first climbed by M. Piacenza with guides J. J. Carrel and J. Gaspard on September 9, 1911.
On August 20, 1992 Italian alpinist Hans Kammerlander and Swiss alpine guide Diego Wellig climbed the Matterhorn four times in just 23 hours and 26 minutes. The route they followed was: Zmutt ridge–summit–Hörnli ridge (descent)–Furggen ridge–summit–Lion ridge (descent)–Lion ridge–summit–Hörnli ridge (descent)–Hörnli ridge–summit–Hörnli Hut (descent). Their itinerary has not been repeated.
William Penhall and guides made the first ascent of the west face one hour after Mummery and party's first ascent of the Zmutt ridge on September 3, 1879.
The north face was first climbed by Franz and Toni Schmid on July 31–August 1, 1931, and in winter by Hilti von Allmen and Paul Etter on February 3–4, 1962. Its first solo ascent was made in five hours by Dieter Marchart on July 22, 1959. Walter Bonatti climbed the 'North Face Direct' solo on February 18–22, 1965. The first ascent of the south face was made by E. Benedetti with guides L. Carrel and M. Bich on October 15, 1931, and the first complete ascent of the east face was made by E. Benedetti and G. Mazzotti with guides L. and L. Carrel, M. Bich and A. Gaspard on September 18–19, 1932.
Today, all ridges and faces of the Matterhorn have been ascended in all seasons, and mountain guides take a large number of people up the northeast Hörnli route each summer. By modern standards, the climb is fairly difficult (AD Difficulty rating), but not hard for skilled mountaineers. There are fixed ropes on parts of the route to help. Still, several climbers die each year due to a number of factors including the scale of the climb and its inherent dangers, inexperience, falling rocks, and overcrowded routes.
The usual pattern of ascent is to take the Schwarzsee cable car up from Zermatt, hike up to the Hörnli Hut elev. 3,260 m (10,700 ft), a large stone building at the base of the main ridge, and spend the night. The next day, climbers rise at 3:30 am so as to reach the summit and descend before the regular afternoon clouds and storms come in. The Solvay Hut located on the ridge at 4,003 m (13,130 ft) can be used only in a case of emergency.
Other routes on the mountain include the Italian (Lion) ridge (AD Difficulty rating), the Zmutt ridge (D Difficulty rating) and the north face route, one of the six great north faces of the Alps (TD+ Difficulty rating).
The table below gives an overview of the different routes and climbing grades:
Routes Start Time of ascent Difficulty
Ridges Hörnli Hörnli Hut 6 hours AD+/III+
Zmutt Hörnli Hut (or Schönbiel Hut) 7 hours (10 hours) D/IV
Lion Carrel Hut 5 hours AD+/III
Furggen Bivacco Bossi 7 hours TD/V+
Faces North Hörnli Hut 14 hours TD/V
West Schönbiel Hut 12 hours TD/V+
South Rifugio Duca degli Abruzzi 15 hours TD+/V+
East Hörnli Hut 14 hours TD
* Murder On The Matterhorn by 'Glyn Carr' (nom-de-plume of noted climbing writer Showell Styles) is a 1951 detective novel.
* James Ramsey Ullman offers a fictional retelling of the original ascent of the Matterhorn (renamed the Citadel in the novel) in Banner in the Sky, a 1955 Newberry Honor Book.
* In the 1957 Warner Brothers animated short Piker's Peak, Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam try to beat each other to the summit of the Schmatterhorn, towering high above a fictional Swiss village, with the winner to receive 50,000 'cronkites'. Warner's 1961 cartoon A Scent of the Matterhorn has Pepe Le Pew chasing a female cat (whom he mistakes for a skunk) through the Alps.
* A miniature imitation of the Matterhorn featuring a bobsled ride is one of the attractions at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Matterhorn Bobsleds opened in 1959 as the world's first tubular steel coaster and partially encloses a 1/100 scale replica (147 feet in height) of the mountain.
* The 'Mini Matterhorn' is the unofficial name of a 75-cm piece of Martian rock immediately east-southeast of the Mars Pathfinder lander.
* The individual pieces of the chocolate bar Toblerone are claimed by its maker Kraft to be formed in the likeness of the Matterhorn.
* The Operation Matterhorn was a military operations plan of the United States Army Air Forces in World War II.
* Matterhorn Peak, California is climbed by three characters from Jack Kerouac's 'The Dharma Bums' (1958).
* A song called 'Matterhorn' performed by the Country Gentlemen features on the 'Rough Guide to Bluegrass' album.
Many other prominent mountains around the world are nicknamed the 'Matterhorn' of their respective countries or mountain ranges. Examples include:
The Matterhorn on a 2004 Swiss commemorative coin
* Ama Dablam ('the Matterhorn of the Himalaya')
* Cimon della Pala ('the Matterhorn of the Dolomites')
* Clach Glas ('the Matterhorn of Skye').
* Cnicht ('the Matterhorn of Wales')
* Dabajian Mountain ('the Matterhorn of Taiwan')
* Innerdalstårnet ('the Matterhorn of Norway')
* Kajaqiao ('the Matterhorn of China')
* Kurtbashitsa ('the Matterhorn of Bulgaria')
* Machapuchare ('the Matterhorn of Nepal')
* Mount Aspiring/Tititea in New Zealand ('the Matterhorn of the South')
* Mount Assiniboine ('the Matterhorn of North America')
* Mount Yari ('the Matterhorn of Japan')
* Olomana ('the Matterhorn of Oahu')
* Pfeifferhorn ('the Little Matterhorn of Utah's Wasatch Mountains')
* Roseberry Topping ('the Matterhorn of the Moors')
* Shivling ('the Matterhorn of India')
* Sloan Peak ('the Matterhorn of the Cascades')
* Spitzkoppe ('the Matterhorn of Namibia')
* Tinzenhorn ('the Matterhorn of Davos')
* Ushba ('the Matterhorn of the Caucasus')
* Matterhorn Peak 12,264 feet (3,738 m) in California's Sierra Nevada range, Matterhorn 10,838 feet (3,303 m) in Nevada's Jarbidge Mountains, Matterhorn Peak 9,826 feet (2,995 m) in Oregon's Wallowa Range, and Matterhorn Peak 13,590 ft (4,142 m) in Colorado's San Juan Mountains are other notable mountains with this name.
* An outcrop on Grey Friar in the Lake District in England is known as the 'Matterhorn Rock'.
German: die Schweiz
French: la Suisse
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.