Back to Switzerland Page►
General Background and History
The total land mass of Switzerland is about 41,300 Kilometers. Switzerland is a landlocked country and borders Germany, Italy, France and Austria. Switzerland is a beautiful country with Mountains known as the Alps. These mountains which go through the country from east to west cover more the half of Switzerland. Another mountain range, The Jura range runs north to south covering another tenth of the country.
The Swiss Confederation was founded on August 1, 1291 with the joining of the cantons of Unterwalden, Uri and Schwyz. The cantons of Luzern, Zürich and Bern joined making a much more powerful confederation. Switzerland was officially recognized as an independent nation in the year 1648 with the Treaty of Westfalia. It became a federal state in 1848 at which time they also adopted a constitution. During the two World Wars, Switzerland remained neutral.
Switzerland saw the beginnings of Calvinism and the Zwingli reformation period of the 16th century. About half of the population is Roman Catholic with the remaining belonging to many different Protestant faiths. There is a very small Jewish population.
Duke Berthold V. of Zähringen founded Bern in 1191 and according to some sources called the city after the German name of Verona. In 1218 Bern became a “Reichsstadt” or Imperial City. During the “Interregnum” Bern joined Savoy. In the struggle against the Burgundian and Austrian nobility, Bern was assisted in the Laupen War by the Waldstätte (the original Swiss states) with which it concluded 1353 an eternal alliance. The city began territorial expansion; in the 14th century, Bern brought most of the surrounding cities and areas into its possession. In 1415 it conquered Aargau; it made treaties with Lucerne in 1421 and with Zürich in 1423. In 1475 together with Freiburg it conquered Vaud and led 1476/77 the Swiss Confederates into the war against Charles the Bold of Savoyen Vaud and made a treaty with Geneva which was threatened by Savoy. Because of the patrician government and the growing disparity between city and country, several insurrections occurred, such as the Peasant War in 1653, 1723, and Insurrection attempt by Major Davel, 1749 Henvi Conspiracy. However, the power of the patricians was not shaken. In 1798 French troops occupied Bern and elevated the Oberland, Aargau in 1803. As compensation of the separated cantons of Aargau and Vaud, bern received a large part of the secularized bishopric of Basel in 1815. To find a time line of General Swiss history, click here:
Cantonal population 994,000. German speakers: 80.5%; French speakers: 14.4%, Protestants: 79.9%. It is the second largest canton in Switzerland: 2,657 square miles.
The Family History Libary has some books regarding the history of Switzerland. Helpful titles include:
Bonjour, E., Offler, H.S. and Potter, G.R. A Short History of Switzerland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1974. FHL call number 949.4h2b 1974.
Ammann, Hektor and Schib, Karl. Historischer Atlas der Schweiz/Atlas Historique de la Suisse/Atlante storica della Svizzera. Aarau: Verlag H.R. Sauerländer & Co. 1951. FHL call number Q949.4 E3a. This atlas contains good historical maps for various time periods.