In the middle of the Alps, in the middle of Europe
Switzerland has few resources, but an excellent organization, a well-kept environment, a great respect for traditional cultures (with four official languages) and a good system of social integration (one in five residents has recently immigrated). It has been neutral for centuries and, thanks to trade, is one of the most prosperous countries in the world
Rich thanks to trade
The territory of Switzerland corresponds to a stretch of the northern slope of the Alps (Monte Rosa, 4,638 m) and to the pre-Alpine belt at their foot. Many lakes partly occupy the valleys, of glacial origin – the few areas useful for agriculture – and crossed by the initial stretches of rivers such as the Rhone, the Rhine, the Ticino. The climate is continental, more rigid in the Alpine area.
It is at the foot of the mountains and in the high valleys that the Swiss population is distributed, in many small towns and cities that are not too populous: Zurich, a large financial center, in the agglomeration nearly one million residents; Geneva, a city with international functions, has 470,000; Basel 402,000; the capital Bern 321,000.
However, it is in the mountains, in the control of the passes that connect Central Europe and the Mediterranean, that Switzerland has found its origin and the first source of wealth. In a land without resources, industry, banks, the stock exchange, immigration, tourism came later: in the wake of trade and thanks to peaceful cooperation.
A neutral country in the heart of Europe
The territory of present-day Switzerland was dominated by the Romans between the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD It was then invaded by Burgundians, Alemanni and Franks. Incorporated into the Frankish kingdom and divided between the different parts into which the Carolingian Empire was dismembered, in 1032 it fell under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire. From the 13th century it was exposed to increasing pressure from the Habsburgs. In this context, the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden signed an important defensive pact in 1291, considered the birth certificate of the Swiss Confederation. They were joined by new cantons, which through further conflicts with the Habsburgs and a significant process of expansion, obtained independence from the empire in 1499.
In the 16th century the Confederation became a center of the Protestant Reformation. The religious conflicts that followed, however, produced violent conflicts between Protestant and Catholic cantons. Neutral in the Thirty Years War (1618-48), Switzerland saw its independence recognized with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It remained, however, marked by the particularism of the cantons, dominated within by rigid oligarchies.
The French Revolution and Napoleonic rule set this picture in motion: first with the creation of the centralized Swiss republic (1798), and then with the return to a confederal state model, that is, based on the substantial sovereignty of the cantons (1803). In 1814-15 the Congress of Vienna restored the old Confederation, which was recognized as perpetual neutrality. In 1847, after a new civil and religious war, Switzerland was transformed into a federal state. This model was perfected with the new Constitution of 1874, which gave even greater importance to the institution of the referendum.
Neutral during the two world wars, Switzerland experienced strong economic and financial growth and great political stability in the 20th century. It became a member of the UN only in 2002.