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History of Switzerland

Modern Swiss history begins in about 400 when the invading Germanic tribes took over the lands from Roman control. In the 500s the Franks took over the region, and in 1032 the Holy Roman Empire took over, but left most of the country alone until the Hapsburgs gained control and forced high taxes on the people of the region.

In 1291 the local leaders in modern-day Switzerland united, signed a pact to never submit to foreign rule or law, and created the Swiss Confederation. As the Hapsburgs fought to gain the land, the Swiss Confederation won battles due to their knowledge of the land and a growing sentiment from neighbors, many of whom joined the confederation over the next couple hundred years until they gained full independence from the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. Once they grew and claimed the lands of those wishing to be a part of their confederation, they lost a battle and claimed neutrality in 1515.

Neutrality in Switzerland, along with their fairly diverse population (primarily German, French, and Italian) has saved the country, prevented invasions, and prevented internal discourse. The people have worked with their fellow Germans, French, and Italians outside of Switzerland to prevent these foreign nations from invading. Even with the Reformation, the Counter Reformation, and Napoleon's French invasion failed to break up the unity. In 1798 Napoleon invaded, but in 1803 he granted them a great deal of autonomy, although not full independence.

At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 Switzerland was recognized as an independent country and their neutrality was guaranteed by the powers of Europe as more "cantons" were added to their territory. After a brief civil war in 1847, the country unified as particular individual powers shifted from local to national and vice versa.

During World War I, the only Swiss involvement was the role the Red Cross took in providing medical treatment to injured soldiers. In World War II much of the same occurred and the country was not bombed nor truly destroyed as the country vowed only to defend itself.

Throughout the rest of the 20th century and into the 21st century, Switzerland has been a model of peace, unity, and industrial thinking. The country's name has become synonymous with quality craftsmanship (clocks), quality food (chocolate), and incredible beauty in the Alps. Their focus on economics and peace has allowed them to become a world leader in banking, healthcare, and are home to numerous international organizations like the Red Cross. It has also strongly held on to its neutrality and refused to join the United Nations until 2002 and is still not a member of the European Union (although it joined the Schengen zone in 2005).

This page was last updated: March, 2013