Switzerland: History

A summer and winter sports paradise

Switzerland History

Celtic tribes entered Switzerland around 500 BC. The Helvetians had the territory from Lake Geneva to Zurich and their name still lives on today – on Swiss coins and stamps the word Helvetia can be found – even the Swiss domain name .ch stands for Confederation Helvetica, the Latin version of Swiss Confederation. The Romans invaded Switzerland and controlled its land until about AD 400.

Switzerland in 1291 was a league of cantons in the Holy Roman Empire. Built around the three German forest districts of Schwyz, Uri, and Unterwalden, the Swiss Confederation slowly added new cantons. In 1648 the Treaty of Westphalia gave Switzerland its independence from the Holy Roman Empire.

French revolutionary troops occupied Switzerland in 1798 and named it the Helvetic Republic, but in 1803 Napoléon restored Switzerland’s federal government. By 1815, the French- and Italian-speaking peoples of Switzerland had been granted political equality.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna guaranteed the neutrality and recognised the independence of Switzerland. In 1847, the Catholic cantons of Switzerland seceded and organised a separate union called the Sonderbund, but they were defeated and rejoined the federation.

In 1848, the new Swiss constitution established a union modelled on that of the US. The federal constitution of 1874 established a strong central government but gave major powers of control to each canton. National unity and political conservatism grew as the country prospered from its neutrality. Its banking system became the world's leading repository for international accounts.

Switzerland maintained strict neutrality in both world wars. Surprisingly, for such a liberal-thinking country, women in Switzerland were not given the right to vote or to hold office until 1971. Ruth Dreifuss became Switzerland's first woman president in 1999. On Sept 10, 2002, Switzerland abandoned its long-held neutrality to become the 190th member of the UN.