Switzerland is a small European country known for its beautiful, snow-capped mountains and freedom-loving people. Switzerland lies in the middle of Europe. It shares borders with France on the west, Italy on the south, Germany on the north, and Austria on the east. Bern is the capital of Switzerland, but Zurich is its largest city.
Mountains cover more than half of Switzerland. The Alps are the largest mountain range in Europe. Snow covers the region for three to five months a year. Forests cover much of the Alps.
A high, flat piece of land called a plateau stretches across the middle of the country. The plateau has some hills and many beautiful lakes.Switzerland’s best farmland is in this area. Most of its large cities and factories are located there, too.
The climate in Switzerland varies with the height of the land. Higher places have cooler weather and more rain and snow. In summer, the plateau is warm and sunny.
The Swiss have a long tradition of freedom. About 700 years ago, people in what is now central Switzerland agreed to help one another stay free from rule by outsiders.Gradually, people in nearby areas joined them. Their group came to be known as the Swiss Confederation. Each group in the confederation kept its own languages and ways of life. Today, various Swiss groups still speak different languages. Switzerland has three official languages—German, French, and Italian. Another language, called Romansh, is spoken only in the mountain valleys of the canton, or state, of Graubunden. Most of Switzerland’s people live in cities and towns.
The Swiss are proud of their nation’s long independence. Switzerland has no regular army, but almost all the men take part in yearly military training. They keep their weapons and military uniforms at home, so that they are always ready to defend their country in an emergency.
Resources and products
Switzerland is one of the world’s wealthiest countries, though it has few natural resources. Switzerland has little farmland and buys much of its food from other countries. Raising livestock is Switzerland’s most important farming activity. Milk from Swiss cows is used to make cheeses that the Swiss sell to other countries. Rushing mountain rivers are Switzerland’s greatest natural resource. The fast-moving water is used to make electricity.
Even with so few natural resources, Switzerland has many successful factories and businesses. The Swiss buy materials from other countries and use them to make high-quality products.These products include electrical equipment, machine tools, and watches. Swiss factories also make chemicals, chocolate, and medicines.
Since the early 1800′s, large numbers of tourists, or visitors, have traveled to Switzerland every year. They come to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and clean mountain air and to ski in the Alps. Water sports on Switzerland’s many lakes are also popular.
In the 1200′s, the region that is now Switzerland was controlled by a royal family called the Habsburgs. The leaders of some Swiss areas feared the growth of the Habsburgs’ power. So in 1291, they signed an agreement to defend one another against foreign rulers. This agreement was the start of the Swiss Confederation. Over the next 100 years, other areas joined the confederation. Switzerland had a strong army during the 1400′s and fought against the Habsburgs and other groups. Switzerland won its independence in 1499.
The Swiss fought battles to take control of more land, but they had great losses against the French in 1515. As a result, Switzerland decided that from then on, it would be neutral, which meant that Switzerland would no longer fight or take sides in any war. During World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945), almost all the nations of Europe took part in the bloody battles. But Switzerland remained neutral.
Because it was neutral, Switzerland could provide banking services to people of countries throughout the world, where banks were less safe. The League of Nations, an organization that worked for peace during the 1920′s and 1930′s, was based in the Swiss city of Geneva. Today, various United Nations agencies and other international organizations have their headquarters in Geneva.
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