Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country, home to numerous lakes, villages and the high peaks of the Alps. Its cities contain medieval quarters, with landmarks like capital Bern’s Zytglogge clock tower and Lucerne’s wooden chapel bridge. The country is also known for its ski resorts and hiking trails. Banking and finance are key industries, and Swiss watches and chocolate are world renowned.
Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world’s oldest and best known humanitarian organisations. It is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably not part of the European Union, the European Economic Area or the Eurozone. However, it participates in the Schengen Area and the European Single Market through bilateral treaties.
Switzerland occupies the crossroads of Germanic and Romance Europe, as reflected in its four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although the majority of the population are German-speaking, Swiss national identity is rooted in a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, as well as Alpine symbolism. Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by a variety of native names: Schweiz [ˈʃvaɪts] (German);Suisse [sɥis(ə)] (French); Svizzera [ˈzvittsera] (Italian); and Svizra [ˈʒviːtsrɐ, ˈʒviːtsʁɐ] (Romansh).On coins and stamps, the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica – frequently shortened to “Helvetia” – is used instead of the four national languages. A developed country, it has the highest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product; it has been considered a tax haven.
The Matterhorn is a mountain of the Alps, straddling the main watershed and border between Switzerland and Italy. It is a large, near-symmetric pyramidal peak in the extended Monte Rosa area of the Pennine Alps, whose summit is 4,478 metres high, making it one of the highest summits in the Alps and Europe.
The Matterhorn is mainly composed of gneisses (originally fragments of the African Plate before the Alpine orogeny) from the Dent Blanche nappe, lying over ophiolites and sedimentary rocks of the Penninic nappes. The mountain’s current shape is the result of cirque erosion due to multiple glaciers diverging from the peak, such as the Matterhorn Glacier at the base of the north face. Sometimes referred to as the Mountain of Mountains (German: Berg der Berge), the Matterhorn has become an iconic emblem of the Alps in general. Since the end of the 19th century, when railways were built in the area, the mountain has attracted increasing numbers of visitors and climbers. Each year, numerous mountaineers try to climb the Matterhorn from the Hörnli Hut via the northeast Hörnli ridge, the most popular route to the summit. Many trekkers also undertake the 10-day-long circuit around the mountain. The Matterhorn has been part of the Swiss Federal Inventory of Natural Monuments since 1983.
Interlaken is a traditional resort town in the mountainous Bernese Oberland region of central Switzerland. Built on a narrow stretch of valley, between the emerald-colored waters of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, it has old timber houses and parkland on either side of the Aare River. Its surrounding mountains, with dense forests, alpine meadows and glaciers, has numerous hiking and skiing trails.
Interlaken’s reputation as international resort started around 1800 due to the landscapes of Franz Niklaus König and other Swiss landscape artists. The success of the Unspunnenfest, a festival of Swiss culture, in 1805 and 1808 brought many tourists to Interlaken. Starting in 1820, they came for mountain air and spa treatment and the large Kursaal opened in 1859 to provide an elegant spa. The many hotels combined with good transportation links made it easy for these early tourists to visit. In 1835 a steam ship route opened along Lake Thun from Thun, followed in 1839 by another along Lake Brienz from Brienz.
The Interlaken Monastery was first mentioned in 1133 when Lothair III, Holy Roman Emperor took it under his protection. By 1247, there were also women at the monastery. During the 13th century the monastery’s influence spread throughout the neighboring area and into the Aare and Gürbe valleys. They eventually had authority over two dozen churches along with a number of villages and farms and became the largest religious landholder in the region.
Despite the emphasis on tourism, a parquet factory operated from 1850 until 1935 and a wool weaving factory opened in 1921. In the late 20th century a woolen thread and a metal products factory opened in Interlaken. Since 1988, Interlaken has been connected to the A8 motorway.
Lucerne, a compact city in Switzerland known for its preserved medieval architecture, sits amid snowcapped mountains on Lake Lucerne. Its colorful Altstadt (Old Town) is bordered on the north by 870m Museggmauer (Musegg Wall), a 14-century rampart. The covered Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), built in 1333, links the Aldstadt to the Reuss River’s right bank.
Owing to its location on the shores of Lake Lucerne (German: Vierwaldstättersee) and its outflow, the river Reuss, within sight of the mounts Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists. One of the city’s landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (German: Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century.
The official language of Lucerne is German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect, Lucerne German.
Lucerne’s status as a fashionable destination led to it becoming one of the first centres of modern-style tourism. Some of the city’s most recognisable buildings are hotels from this period, such as the Schweizerhof Hotel (1845), Grand Hotel National (1870), and Château Gütsch (1879). It was at the National that Swiss hotelier César Ritz would establish himself as manager between 1878 and 1888.
Lake Geneva is a resort city on Geneva Lake in southeastern Wisconsin. The lakeside Shore Path is dotted with Gilded Age mansions, many built by wealthy Chicagoans. Nearby, the 19th-century Black Point Estate and Gardens was the summer home of Chicago beer magnate Conrad Seipp. The Queen Anne–style house has Victorian furnishings. Local beaches include Big Foot Beach State Park, which has trails and picnic areas.
Yacht racing is a popular sport, and high-performance catamarans have been developed specifically for the lake. The design of the Alinghi 5, the defender of the 2010 America’s Cup, was influenced by those racing catamarans. The best-known event, the “Bol d’Or” (not to be confused with other events having the same name) runs from Geneva to the end of the lake and back.
The Tour du Lac rowing event also takes place on Lake Geneva. Competitors row once around the entire lake, making this 160-kilometre (99 mi) event the longest non-stop rowing regatta in the world.
Lake Geneva is the largest body of water in Switzerland, and greatly exceeds in size all others that are connected with the main valleys of the Alps. It is in the shape of a crescent, with the horns pointing south, the northern shore being 95 km (59 mi), the southern shore 72 km (45 mi) in length. The crescent form was more regular in a recent geological period, when the lake extended to Bex, about 18 km (11 mi) south of Villeneuve. The detritus of the Rhône has filled up this portion of the bed of the lake, and it appears that within the historical period the waters extended about 2 km (1.2 mi) beyond the present eastern margin of the lake. The greatest depth of the lake, in the broad portion between Évian-les-Bains and Lausanne, where it is just 13 km (8.1 mi) in width, has been measured as 310 m (1,020 ft), putting the bottom of the lake at 62 m (203 ft) above sea level. The lake’s surface is the lowest point of the cantons of Valais and Vaud. The culminating point of the lake’s drainage basin is Monte Rosa at 4,634 metres above sea level.
St. Moritz is a luxury alpine resort town in Switzerland’s Engadin valley. It has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, has the Cresta Run, a world-championship bobsled run made of natural ice, and an outdoor Olympic ice rink. Its frozen lake hosts polo, cricket and even horse racing on ice. Ski and snowboard areas include Corviglia, Diavolezza and Corvatsch, and there are well-groomed cross-country ski trails.
The village was named after Saint Maurice, an early Christian saint from southern Egypt said to have been martyred in 3rd century Roman Switzerland while serving as leader of the Theban Legion.
Pilgrims traveled to Saint Mauritius, often to the church of the springs, where they drank from the blessed, bubbling waters of the Mauritius springs in the hopes of being healed. In 1519, the Medici pope, Leo X, promised full absolution to anyone making a pilgrimage to the church of the springs. In the 16th century, the first scientific treatises about the St. Moritz mineral springs were written. In 1535, Paracelsus, the great practitioner of natural remedies, spent some time in St. Moritz.
Bern is also the capital of the canton of Bern, the second-most populous of Switzerland’s cantons. The official language is German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect, Bernese German. In 1983, the historic old town (in German: Altstadt) in the centre of Bern became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is notably surrounded by the Aare, a major river of the Swiss Plateau.
Although fortified settlements were established since the antiquity, the medieval city proper was founded by the Zähringer ruling family, probably in 1191 by Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen. Bern was made a free imperial city in 1218 and, in 1353, it joined the Swiss Confederacy, becoming one of its eight early cantons. Since then, Bern became a large city-state and a prominent actor of Swiss history by pursuing a policy of sovereign territorial expansion. Since the 15th century, the city was progressively rebuilt and acquired its current characteristics. Bern was made the Federal City in 1848. From about 5,000 inhabitand in the 15th century, the city passed the 100,000 mark in the 1920s.
The medieval city is a foundation of the Zähringer ruling family, which rose to power in Upper Burgundy in the 12th century. According to 14th-century historiography (Cronica de Berno, 1309), Bern was founded in 1191 by Berthold V, Duke of Zähringen.
Lake Lugano lies on the Swiss/Italian border in Ticino, Switzerland’s only official Italian-speaking canton, and offers a tantalizing taste of the Mediterranean. Citrus, figs, palms, and pomegranates flourish in the mild climate here–even as snowcapped peaks beckon in the distance.
In the towns around Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore to the west, the feel of Italy is unmistakable in the architecture, the piazzas, and the passion for fine food, which spills over the Italian borders from the south, east, and west.
There are various mountains and tourist destinations on the shores of the lake including Monte Brè to the east, Monte San Salvatore west of Lugano, and Monte Generoso on the south-eastern shore. The World Heritage Site Monte San Giorgio is situated south of the lake. Also located to the south is the Cinque Vette Park.
The lake is drained by the Tresa, which empties into Lake Maggiore, the latter being drained by the Ticino and the Po.
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