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Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, federal republic situated in the Alps in central Europe.

Land and climate

Switzerland covers 15,943 sq mi (41,293 sq km). It is bounded by Germany on the north, Austria and Liechtenstein on the east, Italy on the south, and France on the west. Lying almost entirely within the western Alps, Switzerland has three main regions: the Jura Mountains of the western Alps, the Swiss Foreland or Plateau, and the Swiss Alps. The parallel ranges and narrow valleys of the Jura run southwest to northeast along the Swiss-French border from Lake Geneva to the Rhine River at Basel. The long, narrow Swiss Foreland or Plateau, between the Jura Mountains and the Swiss Alps, extends from Lake Geneva to Lake Constance. The plateau is Switzerland's major agricultural area. It contains most of Switzerland's large cities and important manufacturing centers, and is home to about 60% of the population. The outer ranges of the Swiss Alps stretch from Lake Geneva to Lake Thun. They are succeeded by much higher ranges culminating in the Perrine Alps in the south where Monte Rosa soars to 15,203 ft (4,634 m) and the Matterhorn rises to 14,701 ft (4,481 m). Covering more than half of Switzerland, the region contains less than 20% of the population. There are many lakes in the Alps, and both the Rhine and the Rhône have their sources in its mountains. There are great variations of climate in Switzerland, due mainly to differences in altitude. Much of the country has a typically Central European climate. Sheltered valleys in the south have hot summers and mild winters. Elsewhere winters are cold, with heavy snowfall. Among Switzerland's major cities are Zurich, Basel, and Geneva. The capital is Bern.


The four official language groups are German (74%), French (20%), Italian (5%), and Romansh, a Rhaeto-Roman dialect (1%). The Latin word for Switzerland, Helvetia, appears on Swiss currencies and postage stamps. The Swiss are divided almost equally between Protestant and Roman Catholic.


Highly industrialized and with plentiful hydroelectric power, Switzerland exports watches, jewelry, precision tools and instruments, textiles, and chemicals. Dairy cattle are raised. Cheese and chocolate are important exports, and tourism and international banking are major industries.


Rome conquered the Helvetii, the native Swiss, in 58 B.C. The area subsequently came under the Alemanni, the Burgundians, the Franks, and, in the 10th century, the Holy Roman Empire. Habsburg oppression led to the Perpetual Covenant among the cantons or states of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwald in 1291, the traditional beginning of the Swiss Confederation. Wars against Austria resulted in virtual independence in 1499. During the Protestant Reformation, the country was divided by religious civil wars, but it remained neutral throughout the Thirty Years' War and its independence was formally recognized in the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. French revolutionary armies imposed a centralized Helvetic Republic from 1798 to 1803. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna restored the Confederation. After a three-week civil war, a federal democracy was established in 1848. Switzerland remained neutral in both world wars and is not a member of the UN. As presently constituted, the republic is a federation of 20 cantons and 6 semi-cantons, with Bern as the federal capital. Women have had the right to vote on federal matters since 1971. In 1997 Switzerland participated in NATO's Partnership for Peace. In 1998, a number of Swiss banks were forced to reimburse money to the next of kin of Jewish Holocaust victims.


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