Switzerland (German: Schweiz[note 3] [va?ts]; French: Suisse [s?is]; Italian: Svizzera [?zvittsera]; Romansh: Svizra [vi?tsr?] or [vi?ts?]), officially the Swiss Confederation (Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western and Central Europe,[note 4] 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 Zürich and Geneva.
Castle Chillon at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Image via Wikipedia
Geography The Swiss Confederation is a landlocked nation state in Central Europe. Countries bordering Switzerland are France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and Liechtenstein to the east and Italy to the south.
Bern is the capital city and the seat of the Federal Government and situated on the Swiss plains. Zurich, Basel and Geneva are the main centres of business and industry. Luzern, Lugano and Lausanne are other important centres of culture and tourism. The country is split into 26 Cantons, or small states each of which have their own constitution and elected regional assembly, similar to the United States of America.
Much of Switzerland is mountainous, with the Alps covering about two thirds of the southern part of the country. The highest peak in Switzerland is Monte Rosa on the Italian border at 4,600m or 15,000 ft. Other spectacular mountains include the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Matterhorn.
The north-west border with France has the Jura Mountains which slope up to the Alps through the Swiss Mittelland plateau. Switzerland is well known for its lakes including Lake Geneva on the western frontier with France, Lake Luzern in central Switzerland, Lake Lugano on the southern frontier with Italy and Lake Constance on the western frontier with Germany and Austria.
Switzerland's enjoys a continental climate, heavily influenced by the mountainous terrain varying according to altitude. The valleys and plains have hot summers and cold winters with the mountains colder throughout the year. Temperatures in the Ticino region in the south tend to be warmer, as does the western part of Lake Geneva. The Alpine geography creates a series of regional microclimates, the Italian Canton of Ticino having an almost Mediterranean climate, to permanent glaciers and snow fields in the high Alps.
Alp de Cascinarsa (1747 m), Val Calanca, Grisons (Switzerland), Image via Wikipedia
Environment The flora and fauna of Switzerland are heavily influenced by the mountainous landscape with deep valleys, lakes and rivers. This remote landscape has contributed to preserving many rare species of plants, birds and animals which have been driven out of areas colonised by humans.
Coniferous trees are very common as they are hardy enough to survive the harsh cold winters and higher in the Alps there are Alpine pastures and scrub bushes. The hot summers support many rare flowers in the high Alpine pastures, including Eidelweiss. Palm trees can be found in the Canton of Ticino!
Wolves and lynxes are still found living in the wild. Foxes are increasing in cities and towns. Deer, ibex and chamois, both mountain goats also live wild, mainly in the high Alpine valleys and pastures. Many types of freshwater fish are found in the lakes and rivers, including dace, trout, perch, char, pike and freshwater salmon.
Birdlife includes swans, ducks, coots, seagulls (which live by the many lakes), sparrows, thrushes and pigeons. The Alpine valleys and mountains support birds of prey like eagles and recently the Bearded Vulture has been reintroduced to the Alps. Despite the reintroduction of birds like the vulture, birdlife is still being harmed by human activities and over 80 species are threatened with extinction.
Scorpions are found in Switzerland, together with many species of amphibians, including toads, and reptiles, as well as snakes and salamanders.
The heavy industrialisation of parts of Switzerland, particularly the chemical and manufacturing industries, has left a continuing legacy of environmental damage and pollution. Acid rain has affected Alpine forests and chemical spills into rivers and lakes, notably mercury into the Rhine, have affected fish and other ecosystems like marshland. The increase in wolf and lynx populations have led to conflicts with humans and a programme is underway to educate the Swiss people about predators.
Switzerland has one of the oldest National Parks in Europe. This is in the eastern part of Switzerland in the Canton of Graubunden.
Environmental matters are taken very seriously in Switzerland and legislation, driven by the population, has resulted in considerable change for the better in recent years. The Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape (BUWAL) is responsible for managing Switzerland's natural environment.
Architecture There are few remains of pre-Roman civilisations to be found in Switzerland. Some finds have been made of Bronze and Iron Age tombs which provide an insight into how the prehistoric settlers of Switzerland lived. Evidence of Helvetian settlements near to rivers have been found.
The defeat and integration of the Helvetic tribe by the Romans in the first century BC gave rise to the first well preserved settlements. In Basel there are remains of the Roman colony of Augusta Raurica, which was founded in 1st century BC. These include ruins and monuments, with a traditional Roman Forum and theatre.
Particularly striking throughout the country are the hundreds of castles, including the Castle of Chillon and Gruyeres Castle, most built in a classic medieval style. Many of the towns and cities have "old towns" dating back to the middle ages, Fribourg has a particularly well preserved medieval old town, with churches and a castle. A feature of some Swiss cities are the covered bridges over rivers running through them. Luzern has two bridges, although one, the, Chapel Bridge was destroyed by fire in 1993 and has been completely rebuilt.
Switzerland's relative stability during much of its history, and particularly this century, has meant that fine examples of architecture from many periods have been preserved. By far the greatest impact Switzerland has had on the world of architecture, both at home and internationally, is through the life and works of Edouard Jeanneret Gris, known as Le Corbusier. Zurich has a museum devoted to his work in developing the basic principles of the Modernist style of architectural design.