Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons. In succeeding years, other localities joined the original three. The Swiss Confederation secured its independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. A constitution of 1848, subsequently modified in 1874, replaced the confederation with a centralized federal government. Switzerland's sovereignty and neutrality have long been honored by the major European powers, and the country 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, has strengthened Switzerland's ties with its neighbors. However, the country did not officially become a UN member until 2002. Switzerland remains active in many UN and international organizations but retains a strong commitment to neutrality.

Switzerland is a small, landlocked country (approximately twice the size of Wales), bordered by France, Germany, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein. It is mainly mountainous (Alps and Jura) with a central plateau of rolling hills, plains and lakes - the largest of which is Lake Geneva. It is the second most densely forested country in Europe. One quarter of the land is unproductive and, with the exception of water (and hydroelectric production), there are few natural resources. Zurich (population 364,000) is the country’s financial and commercial centre. The other major cities are Basel (199,000), Geneva (180,000), Berne (129,000), and Lausanne (124,000).

Zurich ranks first as the world's top city for quality of life, with Geneva following closely behind, according to Mercer Human Resources Consulting. London is in 39th place.

Nestlé is the largest company in Switzerland, yet more than 98% of its revenue comes from outside the country.

Swiss Guards still protect the Pope at the Vatican.

The Red Cross was started in 1864 by Henri Dunant in Geneva. The symbol of the Red Cross is based on a reversed Swiss flag.

Women were not given the right to vote until 1971.

Switzerland manages 35% of all private and institutional offshore funds and is world number one in Private Funds.

Switzerland is responsible for around half the value of the worlds watch production.

There are five 'designer' public conveniences in the Eastern Swiss town of St Gallen, one of which plays the sound of twittering birds and a stream rushing over pebbles to its users.

Swiss physicist and explorer Auguste Piccard was the model for Professor Calculus in the Tintin comic books. Author Hergé described him as the "archetypal scientist."

Switzerland has the densest rail network in Europe - 121.9 km of rail per 1000 km2, more than 2.5 times the European average.

Zurich Council banned chocolate in 1722, due to it reputation as an aphrodisiac. Today, the Swiss eat more chocolate per head than anyone else in the world – an annual average consumption in 2006 of 12 kg per head.

Switzerland has the steepest funicular railway in the world: the Gelmerbahn at the foot of the Grimsel Pass, which reaches 106% gradient in places.

Switzerland is the second most densely forested country in Europe (30%).

Area: 41,293 sq km (16,000 sq mi)
Population: 7.5 million (2007)
Capital City: Berne
People: German (64%), French (19%), Italian (8%), Romansch (1%)
Languages: Swiss German, French, Italian, Rhaeto-Rumantsch
Religion(s): Roman Catholic (46.1%), Protestant (40%), Muslim (4.3%)
Currency: Swiss franc (SFr)