Switzerland is a federal republic located in west-central Europe. The country is land-locked and shares borders with Liechtenstein and Austria to the east, Germany to the north, France in the west, and Italy in the south. Switzerland has a mostly temperature climate, but there is a great deal of variation in the country’s mountainous regions, and in the many peaks and valleys they form. For the most part, summers are warm and winters are cool, with temperatures ranging between 18 and 28 degrees Celsius in the summer, and -2 to 7 degrees in the coldest months of winter.
Switzerland is well known as one of the world’s most developed countries, ranking at or near the top in terms of quality of life, human development, and economic performance, as well as transparency of government. The country also has pursued a policy of armed neutrality for two centuries, and having not been involved in international war since 1815. Despite this, Switzerland does actively participate in international peacekeeping operations.
Switzerland is also known as the country in which the Red Cross was created. This global humanitarian organisation’s mandate is to aid and protect victims of civil and international armed conflict, including prisoners, refugees, civilians, and people wounded in war.
Around 500 CE, a Celtic tribe—the Helvetii—were among the first known tribes to inhabit Switzerland. The Roman Empire colonised the area around 60 CE, withdrawing around the year 400. Over the next few centuries a succession of rulers—the Franks, Hapsburgs, and others—controlled the country. Delegates from various Swiss cantons eventually formed an alliance intended to oust the Hapsburgs, forming the Swiss Confederation in August 1291, and defeating the Hapsburg army in 1315.
Switzerland grew from strength to strength over the next few centuries, as more cantons—territories—joined the confederation, and as the country eventually began to adopt a policy of military neutrality in conflicts such as the Thirty Years War.
Switzerland maintained its neutrality throughout two world wars, although it was discovered in 1998 that Swiss banks had accepted looted Nazi gold during World War II.
Despite the country’s policy of neutrality it does participate in some international agreements, as a member of the Council of Europe and the Schengen Agreement.
Switzerland’s plant and animal life is both highly abundant and variable, due to the country’s wide range of elevations. The Swiss Alps, peaking at 4,600 metres, have a number of different vegetative zones with all manner of plants: forests of beech and oak are plentiful at 1,400 metres, while small trees at 1,800 metres give way to scrub and shrubs. Above 2,300 metres is a proliferation of colourful alpine flowers such as eidelweiss, glacier buttercup, and alpenrose, and at 3,200 metres very little grows at all, apart from hardy moss and lichen.
Many native mammal species once native to Switzerland were once extinct, but were reintroduced from other areas. These include the bear, wolf, lynx, and beaver. In the alps there are chamois and ibex, the latter of which is another reintroduced species.
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