In this article, we touch upon the most important events of Swiss history from the beginnings of Switzerland to the current day. At the end of this article, you will have a rough overview of the history of Switzerland as well as have learnt a few Swiss German words.

The origins of Switzerland millions of years ago

The Swiss Alps
The Swiss Alps

In the „Ahfang“ (en:beginning), was the collision of the African with the European continent. This collision is what caused the Alps to form over millions of years. The Alps are a natural barrier between the Mediterranean area and the Northern parts of Europe. This is where many of the largest rivers in Europe originate.

„D Alpe“ (en: the Alps) were regularly crossed by the Romans and other peoples, although, as Caesar noted, an indigenous population lived there already.

The birth of the first Swiss confederation

In time, the various peoples in the valleys banded together in communities based on convenience and need. These communities served to preserve the self-rule that was in place for hundreds of years. When some settlements in their community were threatened by power hungry aristocrats such as the Counts of Habsburg, they joined together to defend their autonomy. The Charter of 1291, a document called the “Bundbrief”, is still in existence and scientific studies have proven that the document is over 700 years old. What has not been historically proven is that the oath sworn at the Rütli really took place and „d Exischtenz“ (en: the existence) of the first freedom fighter Wilhelm Tell. For many generations of Swiss students, though, the studying of the Tell saga written by Schiller is harsh reality.

As allegiance to the confederation grew, more cities such as ZurichBern and Lucern decided to join. The strong rivalry between the pope, the Kaiser and the counts lead to the confederation territories being added to the imperial ban, thus ensuring the first special status that Switzerland enjoyed.

Religious and political crises in Switzerland the Reformation

The first real test of the confederation was the Reformation. In Switzerland, the Reformation was spearheaded by Zwingli in Zurich in 1523 and Calvin in Genf in 1536. The differing world and spiritual views lead to conflicts between the bourgeois cities and Central Switzerland; these conflicts even escalated „zumene Bürgerchrieg“ (en: to a civil war). Through this war, the small-scale thinking, still prevalent today in our federalism, was promoted on a cantonal level.

The Helvetic revolution

Napoleon Bonaparte‘s influence in Switzerland
Napoleon Bonaparte‘s influence in Switzerland

Just as there was a revolution in France, there was one in Switzerland which was supported by the French. This Helvetic revolution lead to the founding of a centralist Helvetic republic. The experimental republic failed because of the unrealistic „Erwartige“ (en: expectations) of the rural population and the revolutionaries. Some ideas, though, fell on fertile „Bodä“ (en: ground). One such idea, the idea of public schooling, took root and the availability of elementary education lead to the next generation of Swiss being open to democracy.

Under the guise of mediation, Napoleon dictated the writing of a federalistic constitution for Switzerland in 1803. The cantons of Aargau, St. Gallen, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud and the Grisons became equal members of the confederation. „Glichzittig“ (en: at the same time) the francophone cantons of Geneva, Valais and the Jura were annexed by France. After Napoleon’s fall and a brief period of independence, these annexed cantons became equal cantons of Switzerland.

The federal constitution modern Switzerland

These new ideas of democracy were implemented step by step. In 1830, some cantonal constitutions were adjusted and lead to the introduction of more civil rights. In Central Switzerland, particularly in Lucerne, some few liberal powers prevailed. In response, influential Catholics formed an alliance and turned to Austria as a strong ally against the liberal cantons. Due to the stubborness „vo beidne Site“ (en: of both sides), the “Sonderbundskrieg” was started and ended with the defeat of the conservative factions. This, in turn, paved the way to a modern federal state which culminated, in 1848, in the federal constitution which is still valid today. The constitution underwent full revisions in 1874 and 1999 and has been added to over the years, but is basically the same as it was when first implemented.

The 20th centurySwitzerland as an island of peace

Switzerland, a small neutral country in the centre of Europe, was spared from any direct involvement in the large wars of the 20th century. After the 1st World War, Geneva became the seat of the League of Nations and, later on, the home to the many institutions of the United Nations.

Swiss clockwork – known for precision and quality
Swiss clockwork – known for precision and quality

The current situation

The current situation in Switzerland can be compared to the last century. Switzerland is still neutral, stands for excellence and has a strong currency in the form of the Swiss Franc.

Switzerland holds out promise and hope to many, which is why a large number of foreigners are drawn to it and contribute to the prosperity of the country with „ihrem harte Ihsatz“ (en: their hard work).

Our vision

We at Learn Swiss German would like to contribute to the process of integration with our language course. Much positive feedback has strengthened our resolve to make it easy for immigrants to learn the Swiss dialect.


Vocabulary list

Swiss German English
1 Ahfang beginning
2 D Alpe the Alps
3 D Exischtenz the existence
4 Zumene Bürgerchrieg to a civil war
5 Erwartige expectations
6 Bodä ground
7 Glichzittig at the same time
8 Vo beidne Site of both sides
9 Ihrem harte Ihsatz their hard work


The history of Switzerland – an Overview
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