Switzerland (German: Schweiz; French: Suisse; Italian: Svizzera; Romansh: Svizra), officially the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal republic consisting of 26 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 geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2 (15,940 sq mi). While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zurich and Geneva. The Swiss Confederation has a long history of armed neutrality — it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815 —and did not join the United Nations until 2002. It pursues, however, an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. Switzerland is also the birthplace of the Red Cross and home to a large number of international organizations, including thesecond largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Area – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area.

Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world by per capita gross domestic product, and has the highest wealth per adult (financial and non-financial assets) of any country in the world. Zurich and Geneva have respectively been ranked as the cities with the second and eighth highest quality of life in the world. It has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest bypurchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter and eighteenth largest importer of goods.

Switzerland comprises three main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, and Italian, to which the Romansh-speaking valleys are added. The Swiss, therefore, though predominantly German-speaking, 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 and direct democracy) and Alpine symbolism. The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291; Swiss National Day is celebrated on the anniversary.


Extending across the north and south side of the Alps in west-central Europe, Switzerland encompasses a great diversity of landscapes and climates on a limited area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 sq mi). The population is about 7.9 million, resulting in an average population density of around 190 people per square kilometre (485/sq mi). The more mountainous southern half of the country is far more sparsely populated than the northern half. In the largest Canton of Graubünden, lying entirely in the Alps, population density falls to 27 /km² (70 /sq mi).

Switzerland lies between latitudes 45° and 48° N, and longitudes 5° and 11° E. It contains three basic topographical areas: the Swiss Alps to 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 valleys of the Swiss Alps many glaciers are found, totalling an area of 1,063 square kilometres. From these originate the headwaters of several major rivers, such as the Rhine, Inn, Ticino and Rhone, which flow in the four cardinal directions into the whole of Europe. The hydrographic network includes several of the largest bodies of freshwater in Central and Western Europe, among which are included Lake Geneva, Lake Constance and Lake Maggiore. Switzerland has more than 1500 lakes, and contains 6% of Europe's stock of fresh water. Lakes and glaciers cover about 6% of the national territory.

About a hundred of Switzerland's mountain peaks are close to or higher than 4,000 metres (13,000 ft). At 4,634 m (15,203 ft), Monte Rosa is the highest, although the Matterhorn(4,478 m/14,692 ft) is probably the most famous. Both are located within the Pennine Alps in the canton of Valais. The section of the Bernese Alps above the deep glacial Lauterbrunnen valley, containing 72 waterfalls, is well known for the Jungfrau (4,158 m/13,642 ft) 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/13,284 ft).

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 isLake Geneva (also called Lac Léman in French), in western Switzerland. The Rhone River is both the main input and output of 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. There are some valley areas in the southern part of Switzerland where some cold-hardy palm trees are found. Summers tend to be warm and humid at times with periodic rainfall so they are ideal for pastures and grazing. The less humid winters in the mountains may see long intervals of stable conditions for weeks, while the lower lands tend to suffer from inversion, during these periods, thus seeing no sun for weeks.

A weather phenomenon known as the föhn (with an identical effect to the chinook wind) can occur at all times of the year and is characterised by an unexpectedly warm wind, bringing air of very low relative humidity to the north of the Alps during rainfall periods on the southern face of the Alps. This works both ways across the alps but is more efficient if blowing from the south due to the steeper step for oncoming wind from the south. Valleys running south to north trigger the best effect. The driest conditions persist in all inner alpine valleys that receive less rain because arriving clouds lose a lot of their content while crossing the mountains before reaching these areas. Large alpine areas such as Graubünden remain drier than pre-alpine areas and as in the main valley of the Valais wine grapes are grown there.

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. Precipitation tends to be spread moderately throughout the year with a peak in summer. Autumn is the driest season, winter receives less precipitation than summer, yet the weather patterns in Switzerland are not in a stable climate system and can be variable from year to year with no strict and predictable periods.

Contrasted climates between the most glaciated area in western Eurasia (Aletsch Glacier), the cold temperate Jura (Vallée de Joux) and the southern canton of Ticino (Lake Lugano)


Switzerland's ecosystems can be particularly fragile, 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 climatic, geological and topographical conditions of the alpine region make for a very fragile ecosystem that is particularly sensitive toclimate change.

Administrative divisions

The Swiss Confederation consists of 26 cantons.

The cantons have a permanent constitutional status and, in comparison with the situation in other countries, a high degree of independence. Under the Federal Constitution, all 26 cantons are equal in status. Each canton has its own constitution, and its own parliament, government and courts. However, there are considerable differences between the individual cantons, most particularly in terms of population and geographical area. Their populations vary between 15,000 (Appenzell Innerrhoden) and 1,253,500 (Zurich), and their area between 37 km2 (14 sq mi) (Basel-Stadt) and 7,105 km2 (2,743 sq mi) (Graubünden). The Cantons comprise a total of 2,485 municipalities. Within Switzerland there are two enclaves: Büsingen belongs to Germany, Campione d'Italia belongs to Italy.

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. Its policy of neutrality was internationally recognised at theCongress of Vienna in 1815. Only in 2002 did Switzerland become a full member of the United Nations and it 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 have consistently rejected membership since the early 1990s.

The monochromaticallyreversed Swiss flag became the symbol of the Red Cross Movement, founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant.

An unusual number of international institutions have their seats in Switzerland, in part because of its policy of neutrality. Geneva is the birthplace of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Geneva Conventions and, since 2006, hosts the United Nations Human Rights Council. Even though Switzerland is one of the most recent countries to have joined the United Nations, the Palace of Nations in Geneva is the second biggest centre for the United Nations after New York, and Switzerland was a founding member and home to the League of Nations.

Apart from the United Nations headquarters, the Swiss Confederation is host to many UN agencies, like the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and about 200 other international organisations, including theWorld Trade Organization. The annual meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos bring together top international business and political leaders from Switzerland and foreign countries to discuss important issues facing the world, including health and the environment.

Furthermore, many sport federations and organisations are located throughout the country, such as the International Basketball Federation, in Geneva, the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), in Nyon, the FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) and the International Ice Hockey Federation, in Zurich, the International Cycling Union, in Aigle, and the International Olympic Committee, in Lausanne.


The Swiss Armed Forces, including the Land Forces and the Air Force, are composed of conscripts: professional soldiers constitute only about 5% of the military personnel, and all the rest are conscript male 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, or if they are dual citizens of a foreign country and resident there.

The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their Army issued equipment, including all personal weapons, at home. Some organizations and political parties find this practice controversial[66] but mainstream Swiss opinion is in favour of the system. Compulsory military service concerns all male Swiss citizens; women can serve voluntarily. Men usually receive military conscription orders for training at the age of 19. About two thirds of the young Swiss are found suited for service; for those found unsuited, various forms of alternative service exist. Annually, approximately 20,000 persons are trained in recruit centres 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 in periodic Army training and 80,000 are non-training reserves.

Because of its neutrality policy, the Swiss army does not currently take part in armed conflicts in other countries, but is part of some peacekeeping missions around the world. Since 2000 the armed forces department has also maintained 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. A notable referendum on the subject, launched by an anti-militarist group, was held on 26 November 1989. It was defeated with about two thirds of the voters against the proposal. A similar referendum, called for before, but held shortly after, the September 11 attacks in the US, was defeated by over 78% of voters.


Switzerland has a stable, prosperous and high-tech economy. In 2011, it was ranked as being the wealthiest country in the world in per capita terms (with 'wealth' being defined to include both financial and non-financial assets). It has the world's nineteenth largest economy by nominal GDP and the thirty-sixth largest bypurchasing power parity. It is the twentieth largest exporter, despite its size. Switzerland has the highest European rating in the Index of Economic Freedom 2010, while also providing large coverage through public services. The nominal per capita GDP is higher than those of the larger Western and Central European economies and Japan. If adjusted for purchasing power parity, Switzerland ranks 8th in the world in terms of GDP per capita, according to the World Bank and IMF (ranked 15th according to the CIA Worldfactbook).

The World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report currently ranks Switzerland's economy as the most competitive in the world, while ranked by the European Union as Europe's most innovative country. For much of the 20th century, Switzerland was the wealthiest country in Europe by a considerable margin (by GDP – per capita). In 2005 the median household income in Switzerland was an estimated 95,000 CHF, the equivalent of roughly 100,000 USD (as of December 2010) in nominal terms. Switzerland also has one of the world's largestaccount balances as a percentage of GDP.

The Greater Zurich Area, home to 1.5 million inhabitants and 150,000 companies, is one of the most important economic centres in the world.

Switzerland is home to several large multinational corporations. The largest Swiss companies by revenue are Glencore,Gunvor, Nestlé, Novartis, Hoffmann-La Roche, ABB, Mercuria Energy Group and Adecco. Also notable are UBS AG,Zurich Financial Services, Credit Suisse, Barry Callebaut, Swiss Re, Tetra Pak and The Swatch Group. Switzerland is ranked as having one of the most powerful economies in the world.

Switzerland's most important economic sector is manufacturing. Manufacturing consists largely of the production of specialist chemicals, health and pharmaceutical goods, scientific and precision measuring instruments and musical instruments. 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. The services sector – especially banking and insurance, tourism, and international organisations – is another important industry for Switzerland.

Education and science

Some of the Swiss scientists who played a key role in their discipline (clockwise):
Leonhard Euler (mathematics)
Louis Agassiz (glaciology)
Auguste Piccard (aeronautics)
Albert Einstein (physics)

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. 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.

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 Zurich(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 addition there are various Universities of Applied Sciences. In business and management studies, University of St. Gallen, (HSG) and International Institute for Management Development(IMD) are the leaders within the country and highly regarded internationally. Switzerland has the second highest rate of foreign students in tertiary education, after Australia.

As might befit a country that plays home to innumerable international organizations, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, located in Geneva, is not only continental Europe's oldest graduate school of international and development studies, but also widely believed to be one of its most prestigious.

Many Nobel prizes were awarded to Swiss scientists, for example to the world-famous physicist Albert Einstein in the field of physics who developed hisSpecial relativity while working in Bern. More recently Vladimir Prelog, Heinrich Rohrer, Richard Ernst, Edmond Fischer, Rolf Zinkernagel and Kurt Wüthrichreceived Nobel prizes in the sciences. In total, 113 Nobel Prize winners in all fields stand in relation to Switzerland and the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded nine times to organisations residing in Switzerland.

The LHC tunnel. CERN is the world's largest laboratory and also the birthplace of the World Wide Web. Geneva and the nearby French department of Ain co-host the world's largest laboratory, CERN dedicated to particle physics research. Another important research center is the Paul Scherrer Institute.

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[105] or Maxon Motors[106] who provide spacecraft structures.

Switzerland and the European Union

Switzerland voted against membership in the European Economic Area in a referendum 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.


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 centre of the country; French (20.4%; 21.0%) to the west; Italian (6.5%; 4.3%) in the south. Romansh(0.5%; 0.6%), a Romance language spoken locally in the southeastern trilingual 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 asSwiss German, but written communication typically use Swiss Standard German, while the majority of radio and TV broadcast is now 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 ofLombard). Moreover, the official languages (German, French and Italian) borrow some terms not understood outside 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 many Swiss are supposed to be at least bilingual, especially those belonging to minorities.

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population. Most of these (60%) are from European Union or EFTAcountries. 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%) as well as Portugal (11.3%).] Immigrants from Sri Lanka, most of them former Tamil refugees, are the largest group among people of Asian origin. Additionally, a 2008 study showed that 30.6% of the Swiss permanent resident population aged 15 or over, i.e. 1,965,000 persons, had an immigration background. A third of this population (651,000) have Swiss citizenship. Four fifths of persons with an immigration background are themselves immigrants (first generation of foreigners as well as native-born and naturalized Swiss citizens), whereas one fifth were born in Switzerland (second-generation foreigners as well as native-born and naturalized Swiss citizens). In the 2000s, domestic and international institutions expressed concern about what they perceived as an increase in xenophobia, particularly in some political campaigns. In reply to one critical report the Federal Council noted that "racism unfortunately is present in Switzerland", but stated that the high proportion of foreign citizens in the country, as well as the generally unproblematic integration of foreigners", underlined Switzerland's openness.


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 (Protestant) Swiss Reformed Church. These churches, and in some cantons also the Old Catholic Church and Jewish congregations, are financed by official taxation of adherents.


Three of Europe's major languages are official in Switzerland. Swiss culture is characterised by diversity, which is reflected in a wide range of traditional customs.] A region may be in some ways strongly culturally connected to the neighbouring country that shares its language, the country itself being rooted in western European culture. The linguistically isolated Romansh culture in Graubünden in eastern Switzerland constitutes an exception, it survives only in the upper valleys of the Rhine and the Inn and strives to maintain its rare linguistic tradition.

Switzerland is home to many notable contributors to literature, art, architecture, music and sciences. In addition the country attracted a number of creative persons during time of unrest or war in Europe. Some 1000 museums are distributed through the country; the number has more than tripled since 1950. Among the most important cultural performances held annually are the Lucerne Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Locarno International Film Festival.

Alpine symbolism has played an essential role in shaping the history of the country and the Swiss national identity. Nowadays some concentrated mountain areas have a strong highly energetic ski resort culture in winter, and a hiking (wandering) or Mountain biking culture in summer. Other 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. A traditional farmer and herder culture also predominates in many areas and small farms are omnipresent outside the cities. Folk art is kept alive in organisations 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.


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, as well as unique dairy productsand cheeses such as Gruyère or Emmental, produced in the valleys of Gruyères and Emmental. The number of fine-dining establishments is high, particularly in western Switzerland.

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. The Swiss are the world's largest consumers of chocolate.

The most popular alcoholic drink in Switzerland is wine. Switzerland is notable for the variety of grapes grown because of the large variations in terroirs, with their specific mixes of soil, air, altitude and light. 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.