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Switzerland is geographically divided among the Swiss Plateau, the Alps and the Jura; the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, whereas the Swiss population of approximately 8.7 million is concentrated mostly on the plateau, where the largest cities and economic centres are located, including Zürich, Geneva and Basel.
Switzerland originates from the Old Swiss Confederacy established in the Late Middle Ages following a series of military successes against Austria and Burgundy. The Federal Charter of 1291 is considered the country's founding document. Since the Reformation of the 16th century, Switzerland has maintained a policy of armed neutrality. Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was formally recognised in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Switzerland has not fought an international war since 1815. It joined the United Nations only in 2002, though it pursues an active foreign policy, including participation in frequent peace-building processes worldwide. Switzerland is the birthplace of the Red Cross, one of the world's oldest and best-known humanitarian organisations, and hosts the headquarters or offices of most major international institutions, including the WTO, the WHO, the ILO, FIFA, and the United Nations. It is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), but not part of the European Union (EU), the European Economic Area, or the Eurozone; however, it participates in the European single market and the Schengen Area through bilateral treaties.
Switzerland is a federal republic composed of 26 cantons, with federal authorities based in Bern. It has four main linguistic and cultural regions: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Although most Swiss are German-speaking, national identity is rooted in a common historical background, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism. This identity transcends language, ethnicity, and religion, leading to Switzerland being described as a Willensnation ("nation of volition") rather than a nation state.
Due to its linguistic diversity, Switzerland is known by multiple native names: Schweiz (German); Suisse (French); Svizzera (Italian); and Svizra (Romansh). On coins and stamps, the Latin name, Confoederatio Helvetica — frequently shortened to "Helvetia" — is used instead of the spoken languages.
Switzerland is one of the world's most developed countries. It has the highest nominal wealth per adult of any country and the eighth-highest gross domestic product per capita. Switzerland ranks first in the Human Development Index since 2021 and performs highly also on several international metrics, including economic competitiveness and democratic governance. Cities such as Zürich, Geneva and Basel rank among the highest in terms of quality of life, albeit with some of the highest costs of living.
The English name Switzerland is a portmanteau of Switzer, an obsolete term for a Swiss person which was in use during the 16th to 19th centuries, and land. The English adjective Swiss is a loanword from French Suisse, also in use since the 16th century. The name Switzer is from the Alemannic Schwiizer, in origin an inhabitant of Schwyz and its associated territory, one of the Waldstätte cantons which formed the nucleus of the Old Swiss Confederacy. The Swiss began to adopt the name for themselves after the Swabian War of 1499, used alongside the term for "Confederates", Eidgenossen (literally: comrades by oath), used since the 14th century. The data code for Switzerland, CH, is derived from Latin Confoederatio Helvetica (Helvetic Confederation).
The toponym Schwyz itself was first attested in 972, as Old High German Suittes, perhaps related to swedan ‘to burn’ (cf. Old Norse svíða ‘to singe, burn’), referring to the area of forest that was burned and cleared to build. The name was extended to the area dominated by the canton, and after the Swabian War of 1499 gradually came to be used for the entire Confederation. The Swiss German name of the country, Schwiiz, is homophonous to that of the canton and the settlement, but distinguished by the use of the definite article (d'Schwiiz for the Confederation, but simply Schwyz for the canton and the town). The long [iː] of Swiss German is historically and still often today spelled y rather than ii, preserving the original identity of the two names even in writing.
The Latin name Confoederatio Helvetica was neologised and introduced gradually after the formation of the federal state in 1848, harking back to the Napoleonic Helvetic Republic. It appeared on coins from 1879, inscribed on the Federal Palace in 1902 and after 1948 used in the official seal (e.g., the ISO banking code "CHF" for the Swiss franc, and the country top-level domain ".ch", are both taken from the state's Latin name). Helvetica is derived from the Helvetii, a Gaulish tribe living on the Swiss Plateau before the Roman era.
Helvetia appeared as a national personification of the Swiss confederacy in the 17th century in a 1672 play by Johann Caspar Weissenbach.