Switzerland Information - Page 2
The first evidence of human activity in Switzerland dates back to the Palaeolithic (20,000 to 4,000 BC), where tools believed to be Neanderthal in origin have been found in the Cotencher cave in the Canton of Neuchatel. Evidence of farming settlements have also been found and are thought to be Neolithic in age (4,000-3,000 BC. Bronze and Iron Age, people carved trade routes through the mountains and the first coins appeared around 1000-800 years BC. The Helvetians, a Celtic tribe, migrated from Germany into central Switzerland in the first century BC. The Roman era of Swiss History started when the Helvetians were defeated by Julius Caesar during his Helvetic Campaign in 58 BC.
The Helvetians rapidly and relatively peacefully became part of the Roman Empire and what was to become Switzerland enjoyed a period of peace and stability for nearly 250 years during which many fine towns, roads and passes through the mountains were constructed.
Switzerland's dark ages began early with the invasion by the tribe Alemannian (Altemanni) from Germany in 260 AD, which resulted in continual conflict until Rome could no longer protect the territory and withdrew in 400 AD.
The major migrations throughout Europe during the years 400-900 were ultimately responsible for the cultural mix found in today's Switzerland. The Alemannians, by far the largest invaders, settled the North and East of the country. The Christian, Latin speaking Burgundians settled the West from Eastern France and the Lombard tribes, similarly Latin speaking, settled peacefully in the South. The only area surviving the collapse of Roman rule was in the East, Rhaetia, which the Alemannians failed to conquer. This eventually led to the preservation of the Rheto-Roman, or Romanch language in the high valleys of Grisons in the East of modern Switzerland. The Franks conquered the Burgundians and Alemannians in the 6th century, which was then again broken up in 880 with the partitioning of Charlemagne's Frankish Empire and Switzerland became part of the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century.
Until the 13th century the rule of the Holy Roman Empire did not really extend into much of Switzerland and many cities (Zurich and Berne), mountain and lake communities (the Waldstatte or Forest Cantons of Lake Luzern) were almost autonomous. This ended when the Hapsburgs, the rising power within the Holy Roman Empire, tried to exert direct rule on the Swiss territories and thus began what is popularly perceived as the formation of the Swiss Conferederation by Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden. In 1291 an alliance was formed "to last, if God will, forever". It was from this period that the legend of William Tell and his defiance of Bailiff Gessler was founded.
The Swiss Confederation continued to grow throughout the 14th and 15th centuries with the cantons and cities of Luzern (1332), Berne, Glarus, Zug and Zurich (all in 1353) combining to form the Confederation of Eight Cantons. During this time many battles were fought to preserve independence internally and externally, notably the defeat of the Hapsburgs in the Battle of Morgarten in 1315 and the Duke of Burgundy at the battles of Grandson and Murten in 1476.
Finally the expansion of the Confederation suffered a setback when in 1515 it was defeated by the French and Venetians at Marignano. It was following this defeat the Confederation first declared its neutrality.
The focus of history turned to religion in the 16th century, and Switzerland played an important role in the Reformation. Ulrich Zwingli, a Zurich priest, first spoke out against the power of the Roman Catholic Church and was killed in 1531 during the internal conflict between Protestant and Roman Catholic Cantons. John Calvin published his rejections of the Roman Catholic Church in Geneva (which had allied with the Confederation the same year) in 1536. The Religious wars and persecution which followed the Reformation led to civil wars and migrations of religious refugees throughout Europe and to the New World of the Americas. The last tie between Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire was severed in 1648 after the Thirty Years' War.
Switzerland again enjoyed a period of stability and growth during which its industrial development began. Then in 1798 a civil war began, inspired in part by the French Revolution and parts of the Confederation changed hands with France until 1815 when the Congress of Vienna restored Swiss independence, lost territory and established a permanent guarantee of Swiss neutrality.
Moves towards further federalisation caused another outbreak of civil war in 1845-47, with contributing factors of severe economic problems due to the downturn in the textile industry and the potato blight which struck throughout Europe. The Sonderbund, a coalition of conservative and Catholic Cantons formed to resist federalisation, was defeated by the army of the Confederation in 1847 and in 1848 a new Federal Constitution was created. The new Constitution ended decades of internal conflict and Switzerland became the most heavily industrialised country in Europe, after Great Britain. The debate over the rights of the population had not finally ended. In the 1860s and 1870s further liberalisation was driven by groupings of peasants and artisans leading to another new constitution which required a government elected by the people and all bills through parliament to be subject to a vote by the people. In 1864 the Red Cross was founded by Henri Dunant.
Industrialisation in the 19th century, aided by significant investment into building a rail network, meant chemicals and machine building became major Swiss exports. The Gotthard tunnel through the Alps was built in 1880, with German and French financial support and the clock and watch making industries, the seeds of modern Switzerland's luxury exports, began to grow in importance.
The First World War had a fundamental impact on Switzerland, despite its neutrality, as with the rest of Europe. Whilst Swiss industry profited from the war, most of the population had to contend with massive price rises and shortages of food and basic materials. Switzerland almost violated its neutrality when pro-German German-Swiss passed military secrets to the Germans. Hermann Hoffmann, a pro-German politician, had to resign when his plan to negotiate a separate peace between Germany and Russia was discovered. In November 1918 martial law was declared in Zurich following a general strike, but the situation was resolved without conflict and proportional representation, a 48 hour week and additional social security were the benefits of the strike.
Between the wars Switzerland enjoyed slow but stable growth and the emphasis of the Swiss economy turned towards services, although the manufacturing and chemical industries remained strong. The League of Nations, a forerunner to the, United Nations began meetings in Geneva in 1920.
During the Second World War, after France surrendered, Switzerland was surrounded by the Axis powers. In order to retain their neutrality, certain accommodations had to be made by the Swiss, which included limiting the amount of refugees accepted and allowing Axis rail transport through the Swiss controlled mountain passes. The Swiss press was also censored by the government in order to prevent unfavourable coverage of the Axis regimes. Ironically, some casualties suffered by the Swiss people were from Allied bombing raids straying over the border with Germany. Although neutral, the Swiss were prepared to fight to retain their independence as the Swiss people were mobilised and armed in the event of any invasion. Switzerland still requires men between the ages of 19 and 35 to spend time every year doing military service.
In the years immediately after the war, Switzerland faced a period of diplomatic and economic isolation as a result of the compromises made with the Axis. This has not prevented however, Switzerland becoming the wealthiest country in Europe through years of internal and external stability and the non-confrontational and hardworking culture of the Swiss workforce. Although host nation to many international organisations and an active participant, Switzerland has never joined the United Nations for fear of violating its neutrality.
The Switzerland of the 1990s suffered with the rest of Europe as a result of the world recession, and in a referendum the Swiss people elected not to join the European Union, in part because its strong economy flourishes through the lack of government intervention. New challenges are facing the Swiss in the form of pressure for increased integration with the rest of Europe, the collapse of communism, the Balkan conflicts bringing a tide of refugees and the controversy over compensation for victims of the Holocaust during the Second World War.
Switzerland is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe in terms of income per head. There are many contributing factors to this: the stable history, excellent industrial relations between employers and the workforce and a very highly skilled labour force and the almost complete lack of interference from Government.
Today the major contributors to the Swiss economy are services, like banking and tourism, manufacturing, particularly of precision machinery and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. The currency of Switzerland is the Swiss Franc, which is stable and strong in the global financial markets.
In October 2008 the Swiss government decided to strengthen its largest bank, UBS, when governments in Europe acted quickly to recapitalize their banking systems hit by the global financial crisis.
Anonymous numbered Swiss bank accounts are well known through films and media. In fact Swiss law and banking practice has been changed so that investors can be identified if the account or deposit is the subject of a criminal investigation under Swiss law. Many dormant, numbered accounts are believed to belong to Holocaust victims and in 1998 US$125,000m was paid to Jewish organisations by some of the larger Swiss banks to protect the Swiss banking system from lawsuits.
The Swiss watch industry fulfils a significant percentage of the world's demand for precision watches and includes famous brands like Rolex and Tissot. The watch and precision instrument industry is the major employer in some regions of Switzerland and most of products are exported.
Tourism is both a major contributor to the economy and one of the larger employers, although many non-Swiss work in the tourism industry. Agriculture now only employs a small percentage of the population and this decline in the number of people working the land has led to strong subsidies to the sector.
The most important issue affecting the Swiss economy is Switzerland's relationship with the European Union. The Swiss people voted not to establish closer links with the EU through the European Economic Area in a referendum in 1992. In 1999 however, a bilateral agreement was signed with the EU which allows, among other things, the free movement of labour, payment of state benefits to non-Swiss and a considerable increase in freight traffic. Given the generally conservative nature of the Swiss people and that full membership of the EU would make Switzerland a large net contributor it is likely that future relations will remain in the form of bilateral agreements. (2008)
Switzerland's artistic tradition has focused more on hosting visiting talent rather than the nurture of indigenous creative Swiss, with a few notable exceptions. Voltaire, Byron, Shelley, James Joyce, Holbein the Younger and Charlie Chaplin all chose to work in Switzerland.
The few examples of Prehistoric art include findings of jewellery in tombs. Little evidence of the art of the early residents of Switzerland remains. Roman settlements like the remains of the colony of Augusta Raurica at Basel give examples of Roman art, like mosaics and jewellery.
More recent Swiss artists include Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) a 19th century Art Nouveau painter, and Paul Klee (1879-1940). Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966), a 20th Century Swiss painter and sculptor was a surrealist best known for his bronze sculptures.
Switzerland has many museums with extensive collections, and a thriving contemporary art scene.
Great Swiss thinkers and scientists include Carl Gustav Jung the psychologist, Jean Piaget, a scientist, psychologist and sociologist, and Daniel Bernoulli and Leonhard Euler, both mathematicians. Albert Einstein although born in Germany, took Swiss nationality and did much of his work on the theory of relativity in Zurich.
Swiss writers include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famous for his political writings which helped spark the French Revolution and Johann David Wyss who wrote Swiss Family Robinson.
Switzerland is best known for its winter sports, such as skiing. However the Swiss are keen on a wide variety of sports, including football, cycling, tennis, skating and many others. Most of the larger cities have professional football teams and there are three football league divisions.
Curling is a sport played on ice with two teams of four players. The purpose of the game is to slide a heavy granite stone closer to the centre of a target than the other team. The players guide the stones by sweeping the ice ahead of the stone, which can influence speed and direction.
Walking, hiking and mountaineering for the more adventurous are popular. In most of Switzerland it is possible to go for a walk somewhere in the mountains as a day trip. In winter a day out skiing is very popular, rather than a week holiday!
The Swiss are very much into their holidays and festivals. Any excuse, historical, religious, sporting, business or just a party! The main Swiss National Holiday is Swiss National Day, 1st August every year. This has been chosen as Switzerland's Birthday. Nearly every Swiss city, town or community celebrates Swiss National Day with processions, fireworks, street parties and formal events like dinners or banquets. The event typically includes a celebration of the creation of the first Federated Cantons in 1291. One particular feature of Swiss National Day is that on the mountain slopes towering above the many lakes beacons, or bonfires, are lit and the night sky is full of fire.
February in Switzerland is carnival time or Fasnacht. Cities like Luzern, Basel and Zurich party for several days. In Luzern each day of the carnival can start at five o'clock in the morning with marching bands playing their music. Throughout the day processions walk through the streets of the city and many Luzerners and visitors put on fancy dress. In the evenings there are bonfires and fireworks in the city's parks. Religious festivals are important holidays but which ones are celebrated depends on whether the Canton is Roman Catholic or Protestant. The traditional festival of Christmas is celebrated.
Famous art and culture festivals include the Montreux Music Festival, the Locarno Film Festival and the music festivals of Luzern.
The media in Switzerland is as varied as the culture. There are national and regional newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations in German, French, Italian, Romanche and English. There are also news and review magazines and online newswires for the many Swiss living abroad.
The main regional newspapers include the Berner Zeitung, Basler Zeitung, Neue Luzerner Zeitung, Neue Zuricher Zeitungand the Tribune de Geneve. The Tages-Anzeiger is popular in the German Cantons.
The latest news from Switzerland is available from Newslink.
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