Switzerland Travel Guide Information

Switzerland is a nation shaped by the resolve of its citizens: it is not an ethnic, linguistic or religious entity. Since 1848, it has been a federal state – one of 23 in the world and the second oldest after the United States of America. Switzerland’s independence and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers and Switzerland was not involved in either of the two World Wars. The political and economic integration of Europe over the past half century, as well as Switzerland’s role in many UN and international organizations, may be rendering obsolete the country’s concern for neutrality.The Federal Constitution is the legal foundation of the Confederation. It contains the most important rules for the smooth functioning of the state. It guarantees the basic rights of the people and the participation of the public. It distributes the tasks between the Confederation and the cantons and defines the responsibilities of the authorities.

Switzerland is known officially as the ‘Swiss Confederation’ (Latin: ‘Confederatio Helvetica’ or CH on the licence plates of cars). Its immediate neighbors are Germany, France, Italy, Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein. The federal capital is Bern (134,400) where the parliament, the government and the administration have their seat. The largest cities are Zurich (343,100 inhabitants of the political city), Basel (172,800), Geneva (167,700), and Lausanne (123,100). With a total surface area of 41,285 km² and a population of 7,094,000 Switzerland is commonly designated a small state. Structurally, Switzerland has evolved as a federal state with twenty-six member states, known as cantons and half-cantons, which have retained a high degree of autonomy. The municipalities and communes, which number over 3,000, also enjoy considerable rights of self-government. The cantons of Berne, Fribourg and Valais are officially recognized as bilingual (German and French), and Graubünden (otherwise known as the Grisons) as trilingual (German, Romansh and Italian).

Although the country has few raw materials and no direct access to the sea, it has a highly developed economy with trading and financial relations with countries all over the world. The economic importance of this small country is apparent in, among other things, the gross national product (GNP) which in 1996 amounted to 41’000 US$ per inhabitant. This is higher than that of most other states. Switzerland has a working population of over three million. The most important industrial sectors are engineering and electronics, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the manufacture of precision instruments, watchmaking and the textile and food industries. Banks, insurance companies and tourism dominate the service sector.

The heart of Switzerland is formed by the Alps. In the north, they are composed of limestone, marl and dolomite, in the centre the crystalline massifs consist mainly of granite and gneiss, and schist and rock deposits form the mountains of the south. Thus each region has its typical characteristic landscape which can be traced back to a bygone period of the earth’s history, in particular to the Ice Ages. Today, the glaciers in the Swiss Alps number around 1,800 and cover an area of 1,340 km². The largest of them are the Aletsch, the Gorner and the Fiescher. Agricultural exploitation of the Alps, with an average altitude of 1,700 metres (5,100 feet) above sea level and around one hundred peaks reaching a height of 4,000 metres (12,000 feet), is restricted by the natural conditions and cultivation is limited to the valley floors and sunny hillsides. Whereas the favourable conditions of the central and southern Alps permit fruit farming and wine-growing, livestock-raising and dairy farming prevail in the other regions.

The central plateau is Switzerland’s most heavily populated area, and its hills, valleys and plains are the home of the greater part of the Swiss population and the site of most of the large towns. The long basin between the Jura and the Alps, with an average altitude of 580 meters above sea level, is composed of a mass of debris which was torn from the Alps and now forms the marl, sandstone, flagellum and molasse rock. Much later, in the Ice Ages, glaciers formed the landscape, as well as creating the conditions for the formation of the numerous lakes. Switzerland’s largest waters are the lakes of Geneva, Constance, Neuchâtel, Lucerne, Maggiore and Zurich. The central plateau is also the agricultural center of Switzerland, for it combines good climatic conditions with fertile soil and a situation favorable to trade and enterprise. Industry is concentrated mainly in urban centers although residential and industrial areas are expanding at the expense of agricultural regions.

City in Switzerland Lists:

1. Bern

Bern is the “Bundesstadt” (capital) of Switzerland, and is the fourth most populous Swiss city (after Geneva and Basel). For all its political status, Bern is a tiny city of barely 130,000 people and retains a small town’s easy approach to life. The attraction of the place is its ambiance; traffic is kept out of the Old Town and you could spend days just wandering the streets and alleys, café-hopping and – if it’s warm – joining the locals for a plunge into the river. The perfectly preserved medieval street plan, with its arcades, street fountains and doughty towers persuaded UNESCO to deem Bern a World Heritage Site, placing it in the company of such legendary sites as Florence, Petra and the Taj Mahal. In a competition for the world’s most beautiful and relaxing capital city, it’s hard to think what could knock Bern into second place.

Duke Berthold V founded the city on the River Aare in 1191 and allegedly named it after a bear he had killed. It was made a Imperial Free City by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II in 1218 after Berthold died without an heir. In 1353 Bern joined the young Swiss Confederation, becoming a leading member of the new state. It invaded and conquered Aargau in 1415 and Vaud in 1536, as well as other smaller territories, becoming the largest city-state north of the Alps. It was occupied by French troops in 1798 during the French Revolutionary Wars, and was stripped of most of its territories. In 1831 the city became the capital of the canton Bern and in 1848 it additionally became the Swiss capital.

The city grew out of the peninsula on the River Aare towards the west. The Zytglogge tower was on the western boundary of the city from 1191 until 1256, then the Kogturm took this role until 1345 and was then succeeded by the Christoffelturm (close to today’s train station) until 1622. During the time of the Thirty Years War two new fortifications, the so-called big and small Schanze (entrenchment), were built that protected the whole area of the peninsula. The area protected by these edifices was sufficient for the growth of Bern up to the 19th century.

Bern is is perhaps the most immediately charming of all Swiss cities. Crammed onto a steep-sided peninsula in a crook of the fast-flowing River Aare, its quiet, cobbled lanes, lined with sandstone arcades buildings straddling the pavement, have changed barely at all in over five hundred years but for the adornment of modern shop signs and the odd car or tram rattling past. The hills all around, and the steep banks of the river, are still liberally wooded. Views, both of the Old Town’s clustered roofs and of the majestic Alps on the horizon, are breathtaking. Coming from Zürich or Geneva, it’s hard to remember that Bern – once voted Europe’s most floral city – is the nation’s capital, home of the Swiss parliament and wielder of final federal authority. Illustrious Bernese include the scientist Albrecht von Haller, the poet Albert Bitzius and the painters Ferdinand Hodler and Paul Klee. The German-born physicist Albert Einstein worked out his theory of relativity while employed as a clerk at the Bern patent office.

2. Geneva

Geneva (French: Genève is the second most populous city in Switzerland, situated where Lake Geneva (French Lac Léman) flows into the Rhône River, at the foot of the Jura mountains and at the beginning of the Alps. The city’s beauty and charm, as well as the perfect location in Europe make it a very popular tourist and business center. It is the capital of the Canton of Geneva. Geneva’s international profile as a global city is mainly due to the presence in the city of numerous international organisations, including the European headquarters of the United Nations.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Genève was a safe heaven for protestants who were being persecuted in their own countries. In 1863 The Red Cross Organisation was founded here. Since then, the city has become home to numerous humanitarian organisations, which gave it the nick-name “City of Peace”. Because of reformers such as John Calvin, Geneva was sometimes called “ the Protestant Rome”. In the 16th century Geneva was the center of Calvinism; the St Peter’s Cathedral in what is now called the Old Town was John Calvin’s own church. During the time when England was ruled by Queen Mary I, who persecuted Protestants, a number of Protestant scholars fled to Geneva. Among these scholars was William Whittingham who supervised the translation of the Geneva Bible in collaboration with Miles Coverdale, Christopher Goodman, Anthony Gilby, Thomas Sampson, and William Cole.

One of the most important events in Geneva’s history is l’Escalade (literally: “the scaling of the wall”). For the people of Geneva, l’Escalade is the symbol of their independence. It marked the final attempt in a series of assaults mounted throughout the 16th century by Savoy, which wanted to annex Geneva as its capital north of the Alps. This last assault happened on the night of 11-12 December 1602 and is celebrated yearly in the Old Town with numerous demonstrations and a parade of horses, cannons and armed men in period costumes.

The Jet d’eau, the world’s tallest water fountain, is Geneva’s most famous monument. It provides a constant landmark for exploring the city. Geneva’s Old Town offers a living glimpse of the past while more than 30 museums and art galleries show the rich and vibrant history of the city. Some highlights : the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCO). For a change of pace take a cruise on the lake or relax in one of Geneva’s man waterfront parks.

3. Lausanne

Lausanne is a city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, situated roughly midway along the northern shore of Lac Léman, as Lake Geneva is known outside the canton of Genève. It is the capital of the canton of Vaud and of the district of Lausanne.. The elegant small resort cities of Montreux and Vevey are to the east, separated from Lausanne by the Lavaux Corniche coastal road with its vineyards and wine villages. France is just 35 minutes across the lake by boat, and the mountains of Haute Savoie are clearly visible on a sunny day. The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee and Philip Morris International are both located in Lausanne.

Already in neolithic times there was a settlement in what is now the upper town of Geneva. Later, the Romans built a military camp, which they called Lousanna, at the site of a Celtic settlement, near the lake where currently are Vidy and Ouchy; on the hill above was a fort called ‘Lausodunon’ or ‘Lousodunon’. After the fall of the Empire, insecurity forced the transfer of Lausanne to its current center, a hilly, easier to defend site. The first Christian bishop arrived here shortly before 700 AD. The first important cathedral was built about 200 years later.The city which grew from the ancient Roman camp was ruled by the Dukes of Savoy and the Bishop of Lausanne, and then by Berne from 1536 to 1798. In 1803, it became the capital of a newly formed Swiss canton, Vaud. One of the most significant historical event in Lausanne was the Reformation, which arrived in 1529 with a sermon by Guillaume Farel. By 1536, Lausanne had largely swapped Catholicism for Calvinism, and both the city and its canton have been Protestant ever since.

The most important geographical feature of the area surrounding Lausanne is Lake Geneva (Lac Léman in French). Lausanne is built on the southern slope of the Swiss plateau, with a difference in elevation of about 500 meters between the lakeshore at Ouchy and its northern edge bordering Le Mont sur Lausanne. Lausanne boasts a dramatic panorama over the lake. The city of Lausanne is built on three hills. Since the climb from the lakeside resort area of Ouchy to the Haute Ville, or Upper Town was quite steep, the original Métro connecting Ouchy to Lausanne’s main railway station and the Flon nightlife district had to be a funicular and, later, a cogwheel railroad.

In addition to its generally southward-sloping layout, the center of the city is the site of an ancient river Flon, which had dried up in ancient times. The former river forms a gorge running through the middle of the city south of the old city center, generally following the course of the present Rue Centrale, with several bridges crossing the depression to connect the adjacent neighborhoods. Today’s old town dates back to medieval times. The Château St-Maire, or Castle, was built from 1397 to 1426, and another prominent feature of the old town, the St-François Church, is about the same age as the Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1275. The Hôtel de Ville, or town hall, came later; the Renaissance building on the Place de la Palud was built in the 17th Century.

4. Zürich

Zürich is the largest city in Switzerland with a population of about 1 million inhabitants (the greater urban area). Zürich is the country’s main commercial centre, and , like Geneva, a city with an international vocation.Zürich is situated where the river Limmat leaves Lake Zürich and is surrounded by wooded hills including the Zürichberg and the Ütliberg.

In Roman times, Turicum, as Zürich was called then, was a tax-collecting point for goods entering the imperial province of Raetia by river. A Carolingian castle was built on the site of the Roman castle by Charlemagne’s grandson, Louis the German. He also founded the Fraumünster abbey in 853 for his daughter Hildegard. He endowed the Benedictine convent with the lands of Zürich, Uri, and the Albis forest, and granted the convent immunity, placing it under his direct authority. In 1045, the convent received the right to hold markets, collect tolls, and mint coins from King Henry III. In this way, the convent held the municipal power over the city. However, the political power of the convent slowly waned in the fourteenth century, beginning with the establishment of the guild laws in 1336 by Rudolf Brun, who also became the first independent mayor who was not assigned by the abbess.

Zürich joined the Swiss confederation as the fifth member in 1351. Zürich was expelled from the confederation in 1440 due to a war with the other member states over the territory of Toggenburg. Zürich was defeated in 1446, and re-admitted to the confederation in 1450. The protestant reformer Zwingli started the Swiss reformation. He lived there from 1484 until his death in 1531.

In 1839, the city had to yield to the demands of its rural subjects, following the Züriputsch of 6 September. Most of the ramparts built in the 17th centuries were torn down, without ever having been sieges, to allay rural concerns over the city’s hegemony.From 1847, the Spanisch-Brötli-Bahn, the first railway on Swiss territory, connected Zürich with Baden, putting the Zürich Main Station at the origin of the Swiss rail network. The present building of the Hauptbahnhof (chief railway station) dates to 1871. The Fraumünster was fully renovated in 2004. During this period the installed scaffolding went above the tip of the tower allowing a unique and exceptional 360° panoramic view of Zürich.