Switzerland (French Suisse; German Schweiz; Italian Svizzera), federal republic in west central Europe, bounded on the north by France and Germany, on the east by Austria and Liechtenstein, on the south by Italy, and on the west by France. The country has an area of 41,288 sq km (15,941 sq mi). Its largest city is Zürich, and the capital is Bern.
Map of the world
Map of Europe
Map of Switzerland
Land and Resources
Switzerland is one of the most mountainous countries of Europe, with more than 70 percent of its area covered by the Alps, in the central and southern sections, and the Jura, in the northwest. The Swiss Alps are part of the largest mountain system in Europe, and are famous for their jagged peaks and steep gorges. There are several ranges within the Alps, including the Pennine range, which has Switzerland’s highest peak, the 4634-m (15,203-ft) Dufourspitze of Monte Rosa. The Jura (Celtic for “forest”) are much lower and smaller than the Alps, and are popular for cross-country skiing. The renowned Swiss watchmaking industry began in the Jura Mountains. Between these two mountain systems lies the Swiss plateau, about 400 m (about 1300 ft) above sea level in average elevation and some 50 km (some 30 mi) wide; it extends from Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) in the extreme southwest to the Lake of Constance (Bodensee) in the extreme northeast. The plateau is thickly studded with hills. Between the ranges of the Alps and Jura also stretch long valleys connected by transverse gorges; one such valley is the Engadine along the Inn River in the southeast. Nearly every Swiss valley is traversed by streams, often interrupted by picturesque waterfalls, including the Staubbach Falls (about 290 m/950 ft) in the canton of Bern. The principal river system is formed by the Rhine and its tributaries. Other important rivers are the Rhône, Ticino, and Inn. However, the Swiss rivers are not navigable for any appreciable extent. Switzerland is famous for its many lakes, particularly those of the Alpine region, known for their scenic beauty. The most important include Lake Geneva, Lake of Constance, Lake of Lugano, and Lake Maggiore (at which lies Switzerland’s lowest point, 194 m (636 ft) above sea level), which are not wholly within Swiss borders; and Lake of Neuchâtel, Lake of Lucerne and Zürichsee, Brienzersee, and Thunersee, which are entirely within Switzerland.
The Swiss people as a whole are mainly of Alpine, Nordic, and Slavic or Dinaric descent. The ethnic composition of Switzerland is generally defined by the major language communities: German, French, Italian, and Romansh (Rhaeto-Romanic). Less than 10 percent of the population is made up of other ethnicities, such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish.
The population of Switzerland (2001 estimate) is 7,250,000, yielding an overall population density of about 174 persons per sq km (about 450 per sq mi). The population of Switzerland is unevenly distributed, with the principal concentrations occurring in the Swiss plateau. Approximately 64 percent of the population is classified as urban, but most live in small towns. Population growth is slow, and a surplus of jobs means that foreign laborers and their families make up nearly one-fifth of the population.
The capital of Switzerland is Bern, with a population (1991 estimate) of 134,510. Other major cities are Zürich (342,391), the largest city and financial center; Basel (171,903), a commercial center noted for textile and clothing manufacturing; Geneva (167,431), a cultural, financial, and manufacturing center noted for its watchmaking and jewelry; and Lausanne (123,153), a railroad junction and center for the manufacture of iron goods.
Bern – Kramgasse and clock tower
Zurich – Limmat River and Grossmuenster
Roman Catholicism is the faith of about 46 percent of the population of Switzerland, and about 40 percent of the people are Protestant. Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Jews make up a small percentage of the population, while those with no religion are about 10 percent. Freedom of worship is guaranteed. In 1973 a referendum repealed articles of the constitution that were responsible for the banning of the Jesuit order and the founding of new religious houses. Several important developments of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century occurred in Switzerland; the French theologian John Calvin instituted some of his theories at Geneva.
The official languages of Switzerland are German (spoken by about 64 percent of the population), French (19 percent), and Italian (7 percent). The fourth national language, Romansh, is spoken by less than 1 percent of the people. Other languages spoken include Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish. In a majority of the cantons the most commonly spoken language is Schwyzertütsch (Swiss German), an Allemanic dialect of German differing vastly from both written German and other German dialects. Newspapers and magazines are written in standard German, however, and German is the language of many theater, motion picture, and television productions. French is the most commonly spoken language in the cantons of Fribourg, Jura, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, and Geneva, and Italian is the predominant language in Ticino. Romansh, a Romance language, is spoken chiefly in the canton of Graubünden.
Neither the soil nor the climate favors agriculture, and Switzerland must import much of the food it consumes and subsidize the farms that do exist. Nearly all the farms are family enterprises, and most are small in size. The leading agricultural products in the early 1990s (ranked by estimated value and with production in metric tons) were potatoes (737,000), apples (396,000), wheat (533,000), sugar beets (907,000), grapes (164,000), and barley (365,000). About 124 million liters (33 million gallons) of wine are produced annually. Dairy products make up a significant portion of Switzerland’s agricultural sector. Each year in the early 1990s some 3.8 million metric tons of cow’s milk and 134,600 metric tons of cheese were produced. Livestock included about 1.8 million cattle, 1.7 million pigs, 415,000 sheep, 52,000 horses, and 6 million poultry.
Grape garden in Rapperswil
Forestry and Fishing
Production of timber in Switzerland was about 4.1 million cu m (about 144 million cu ft) per year in the early 1990s. The industry has been hurt by air pollution, which has damaged more than 35 percent of the country’s forests. Most of the harvest was used to make either lumber or paper. Fishing is of minor importance, with catches of fish such as salmon and trout—primarily from Lakes Geneva and Neuchâtel and Lake of Constance and their tributary rivers—totaling about 4800 metric tons annually.
The Swiss mining industry is not of major importance. Annual mineral production in the early 1990s included rock salt, about 250,000 metric tons, and cement, about 5.2 million tons.
Although raw materials are extremely limited in Switzerland, the country has a well-developed manufacturing economy. Raw material imports are converted into high-value exports by the country’s skilled workers. Leading areas of manufacturing include precision engineering, in particular clocks and watches (which accounted for 8 percent of export revenue in the early 1990s); heavy engineering and machine building, notably specialized, custom-produced equipment such as generators and turbines; food products, particularly specialized goods such as chocolate and cheese; textiles; chemicals; and pharmaceuticals. Swiss handicrafts, such as music boxes, embroideries, laces, and carved wooden objects, are widely prized.
Switzerland has extensive waterpower resources, and in the early 1990s some 59 percent of its electricity was produced in hydroelectric facilities. Nearly all of the rest was generated in nuclear power plants. Output from all sources in the early 1990s was about 56 billion kilowatt-hours annually, with an installed capacity of 17.7 kilowatts.
Leibstadt Nuclear Power Plant – Aargau
The Swiss Postal and Telecommunications agency oversees a comprehensive and modern communications system. The Swiss Broadcasting Corporation provides radio and television programs in German, French, and Italian, and Swiss Radio International transmits radio programs to foreign countries. In the early 1990s about 2.7 million radios and 2.5 million television receivers were licensed. Switzerland has 83 daily newspapers; dailies with international reputations include Neue Zürcher Zeitung, published in Zürich, and Journal de Genève, published in Geneva.
In the early 1990s the Swiss labor force was made up of about 3.6 million people, including nearly 912,000 foreigners (mostly from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and France), called guest workers. The leading labor group is the Swiss Federation of Trade Unions, with some 444,000 members.