The actual foundation of Switzerland dates back to the Middle Ages. Struggling against oppression and tyranny, the representatives of the original cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden decided to take action and on the Ruetli meadow, located on Lake Lucerne, swore to help each other against anyone attempting to subject them, an act which went down in history as the Ruetli Oath. To guarantee the oath, the agreement was recorded in the so-called Federal Charter on 1 August 1291. Later, the Swiss declared 1 August to be a national holiday – meanwhile, between 1332 and 1513 Lucerne, Bern, Zug, Zürich, Glarus, Fribourg, Solothurn, Schaffhausen, Basel and Appenzell became part of the Federation.
When Napoleon invaded the country in 1798, he made his own mark on Switzerland and founded the Helvetic Republic, a Unitarian state based on the French model. But the centralised government did not survive for long and in 1803 Napoleon issued the so-called "acte de médiation" (Mediation Act). This resulted in the creation of a federal state consisting of 19 cantons. Following the defeat of Napoleon Switzerland ended its alliance with France and demanded that the great European powers acknowledged its independence and neutrality – a wish that was granted at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
Switzerland is known as an Alpine country: the Alps and the Jura mountains account for 60% of the surface area of Switzerland. The altitude differences, ranging from 193m to 4,545m above sea level, lead to a large variety of attractive landscapes – majestic mountains, neat rolling farmland, glaciers and valleys. Many famous rivers rise in central Switzerland and meander their way through the hills and countryside until their outflow into different seas – the Rhine into the North Sea, the Rhône into the Mediterranean, the Maira and Ticino into the Po and then the Mediterranean, and the Inn into the Danube and all the way to the Black Sea.
Area: 41,293 sq km / 15,936 sq mi
North to South 220 km / 137 mi.
East to West 348 km / 216 mi.
Length of frontier:
1,881 km 1,168 mi.
Switzerland borders France in the West, Germany in the north, Austria and the principality of Liechtenstein in the east and Italy in the south.