Switzerland is a small, mountainous, land-locked country at the heart of Europe. It has a long history of neutrality, and is the headquarters of several worldwide organisations, such as the Red Cross, FIFA, and the International Olympic Committee. This writeup will look briefly at the geography and history of the country before concluding with a look at some aspects of life in the country today.

Swiss geography

Switzerland is surrounded by Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east, Italy to the south, and France to the west. The main towns are Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Basel on the Rhine, and the capital, Berne. The country is very mountainous, with the Alps and Jura mountains, and has four major lakes: Maggiore, Lucerne, Geneva, and Constance. Swiss trees suffer greatly from acid rain from its neighbours.

Swiss history

Conquered by Julius Caesar and subsequently a province of the Roman Empire, Swiss cantons combined in an "Everlasting League" in 1291, growing to a group of 13 by 1513. The protestant Reformation was accepted by some towns 1523-29, but rural areas remained catholic. Independence from the Hapsburgs was gained in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Helvetic Republic was established 1798-1815 during the Napoleonic Wars, and guaranteed neutrality by the Congress of Vienna of 1815, which also expanded Switzerland's territory to 22 cantons. A civil war between the Catholic cantons of the Sonderbund and the Liberals led to a revised constitution in 1848. Another revision in 1874 introduced the principle of the referendum, a key feature of the Swiss federal government. Women only received the vote in federal elections in 1971, and the first female cabinet minister was appointed in 1984. 18-year-olds only gained the right to vote in 1991.

Switzerland today

The Swiss banking system is renowned for its confidentiality, and the Swiss are among the richest nations per capita. Tourism plays a major role in the economy, and exports include watches and precision instruments, electrical goods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and confectionery. Culturally, Switzerland was the home of the Dada artistic and literary movement. Alpine sports such as skiing are very popular.

The Hutchinson Encyclopedia (1997 ed.), Helicon Publishing Ltd, 1996
Chronicle of the World, Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1989

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