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History and Mentality

Switzerland has an exciting and unique past...

...a history marked by conflict and upheaval, as well as by cooperation and collaboration. This is a country of ancient myths and exciting legends.

Most of the territory of present-day Switzerland was inhabited during the Iron Age by the Celts. In the first century BC, the Helvetii were considered to be the most important Celtic tribe in the area. Later, in the 17th century, the Swiss Confederation named its personification of Switzerland, "Helvetia", after this proud and courageous people. By the 19th century, the Helvetii had become an important element of Swiss identity.

During the first century BC, Rome’s conquest of what is now present-day Switzerland, and of the Helvetii living there, resulted in the establishment of flourishing cities (Augst, Avenches are, amongst others, evidence of this to the present day). After the fall of the Roman Empire at the end of the 5th century, the Swiss territory was gradually settled by Germanic tribes who brought with them their own language. The tribes that settled in the northern and central parts of Switzerland retained their language, and these areas are now German speaking. In western and southern Switzerland and in the Romansh-speaking areas, the immigrant Germanic people adopted the language of the indigenous population.

Switzerland is home to a host of fascinating and famous legends. These include the story of William Tell, the liberation struggles against the Hapsburgs, and the Rütlischwur oath. The legend of the Rütlischwur set the date for the founding of the Confederation as 1291. In fact, the Confederation was not founded on a specific date, but developed gradually from a series of alliances. The Confederation has endured for centuries despite internal strife and splits (Reformation, Counter-Reformation).

Conquest by Napoleon in 1798 put an end to the Old Confederation. A new era had began - in 1848 the political arguments about the type of state lead to a pioneering, revolutionary constitution for Europe - a democratic federal state with 26 sovereign cantons, democratically elected authorities, a two-chamber system, a direct political say and equality of the four national languages and cultures.

The Swiss are a friendly and hospitable people. They are noted for their reliability, and for the way in which they foster their political culture and respect their traditions. They value security and stability. They can sometimes come across as being a bit reserved – but if you attend any of the many festivals and pageants that take place here every year, you may well be surprised at the party mood of the Swiss!

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