Switzerland ( ; ; ; or ), officially the Swiss Confederation (hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western and Central Europe, where it is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of . While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found. Among them are the two global cities and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva.
The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as Swiss National Day. It has a long history of armed neutrality—it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815—and did not join the United Nations until 2002. It pursues, however, an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. Switzerland is also the birthplace of the Red Cross and home to a large number of international organizations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Area – although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area. Switzerland comprises four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and the Romansh-speaking valleys. Therefore the Swiss, although predominantly German-speaking, do not form a nation in the sense of a common ethnic or linguistic identity; rather, the strong sense of identity and community is founded on a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism.
Switzerland has the highest wealth per adult (financial and non-financial assets) in the world according to Credit Suisse and eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product on the IMF list. Swiss citizens have the second-highest life expectancy in the world on UN and WHO lists. Switzerland has the top rank in Bribe Payers Index indicating very low levels of business corruption. Moreover for the last five years the country has enjoyed highest economic and tourist competitiveness according to Global Competitiveness Report and Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report respectively, both developed by the World Economic Forum. Zürich and Geneva have been ranked among cities with highest quality of life in the world with the former coming second globally according to Mercer.
How places in Switzerland are organized
All places in Switzerland
Further information on historical place organization in Switzerland
Two useful websites for those searching for Swiss kin. Each takes a little getting used to, but it's worth the trouble:
--Hh219 07:14, 15 April 2007 (MDT)