General Information

 

History

The establishment of the modern state of Switzerland dates back to 1848. Prior to this, Switzerland consisted of a loose alliance of independent cantons. In 1848 Switzerland formed a modern constitution which made a federal state of the confederation. A central government took over certain areas such as the foreign and financial policy responsibilities of the cantons. The Constitution had to link the various interests of the individual cantons with the overall interests of the federal state.
Unique to this small country is its strong federalism. This is expressed in two ways: In the strong autonomy of the 26 cantons and their municipalities, as well as in their direct participation in political decision-making.
It is not only the cantons that have a major influence – the individual citizens also do. This is the result of the country’s direct democracy: People's initiatives and referendums (polls held every quarter) give citizens the chance to influence the government.
 

 

Geography

Switzerland has an area of 41,285 square kilometres (15,940 square miles). The productive area - that is, the area without the lakes, rivers, unproductive vegetation and no vegetation at all - covers 30,753 square km (11,870 square miles).

Switzerland measures 220 kilometers (137 miles) from north to south and 350 km (217 miles) from east to west. It has a total 1852 km of boundries with:

  • Austria: 164 km
  • France: 573 km
  • Germany: 334 km
  • Italy:740 km
  • Liechtenstein 41 km

 

Population and Administrative Divisions

 

Capital city is Bern. The Swiss Confederation consists of 20 cantons and 6 half cantons. About 8 million in the entire country. Population in larger cities (approx.): 

 

  • Zürich: 376'990
  • Geneva: 188'234
  • Basel: 164'516
  • Bern: 125'681
  • Lausanne: 129'383
  • Winterthur: 103'075
  • St. Gallen: 73'505
  • Lucerne: 78'093
  • Lugano: 55'151

 

Language distribution

Switzerland has four unevenly distributed languages and a wealth of dialects. 

German (65.6 %)
German is by far the most widely spoken language in Switzerland: 19 of the country’s 26 cantons are predominantly (Swiss) German-speaking.

French (22.8 %)
French is spoken in the western part of the country, the "Suisse Romande." Four cantons are French-speaking: Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel and Vaud. Three cantons are bilingual: in Bern, Fribourg and Valais both French and German are spoken. 

Italian (8.4 %)
Italian is spoken in Ticino and four southern valleys of Canton Graubünden. 

Rhaeto-Rumantsch (0.6 %)
Rumantsch is spoken in the only trilingual canton, Graubünden. The other two languages spoken there are German and Italian. Rumantsch, like Italian and French, is a language with Latin roots. It is spoken by just 0.5% of the total Swiss population. 

Other languages (5.6 %)
The many foreigners resident in Switzerland have brought with them their own languages, which taken as a whole now outnumber both Rumantsch and Italian. The 2000 census showed that speakers of Serbian/Croatian were the largest foreign language group, with 1.4% of the population. English was the main language for 1%. 

 

 

Religion

The majority of people living in Switzerland are Christian. Approx. 42% are Roman Catholic, and 35% Protestant (2002 figures). There are also many other religions represented in Switzerland: 4% Muslim, 0.3% Buddhist, 0.2% Jewish. The number of people with no religious affiliation has significantly increased (11%).