Cantons of Switzerland
Schweizer Kantone (German)
Cantons suisses (French)
Cantoni Svizzeri (Italian)
Chantun svizra (Romansh)
|Also known as:
|Number||26 cantons (as of 1979)|
|Populations||15,778 (Canton of Appenzell Innerrhoden) – 1,421,895 (Canton of Zürich)|
|Areas||36 km2 (14 sq mi) (Canton of Basel-Stadt) – 7,105.5 km2 (2,743.43 sq mi) (Canton of Graubünden)|
|Government||List of cantonal executives of Switzerland|
|Subdivisions||Districts and communes|
The 26 cantons of Switzerland (German: Kanton, French: canton, Italian: cantone, Romansh: chantun) are the member states of the Swiss Confederation. There were Eight Cantons during 1353–1481, and Thirteen Cantons during 1513–1798. Each canton or Stand ("estate") was a fully sovereign state with its own border controls, army, and currency from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848. From 1833, there were 25 cantons, which became 26 after the secession of the Canton of Jura from Bern in 1979.
The term canton, now also used as English term for administrative subdivisions of other countries, originates in French usage in the late 15th century, from a word for "edge, corner" (recorded in Fribourg in 1475). After 1490, canton was increasingly used in French and Italian documents to refer to the members of the Swiss Confederacy. English use of canton in reference to the Swiss Confederacy (as opposed to the heraldic sense) dates to the early 17th century.
In German, the term Ort ("place, location") was in use from the early 15th century as a generic term uniting the city and rural cantons previously named separately as Städte and Länder. It was increasingly replaced by Stand (plural Stände) "estate" after 1550. The French canton was not adopted into German usage prior to 1648, and after that only in occasional use.
Only with the Act of Mediation of 1803 did German Kanton become an official designation, retained in the Swiss Constitution of 1848 The term Stand remains in synonymous usage (in French état) and is reflected in the name of the upper chamber of the Swiss Parliament, the Council of States (Ständerat, Conseil des États).
Some cantonal constitutions provide for a longer formal name of the state. Most of Romandy's cantons (Geneva, Jura, Neuchâtel, Valais and Vaud) and Ticino call themselves "republics" officially, at least within their constitutions. For example, the Canton of Geneva refers to itself formally as the République et canton de Genève ("Republic and Canton of Geneva").
In the 16th century, the Old Swiss Confederacy was composed of 13 sovereign cantons, and there were two different kinds: five rural cantons – Uri, Schwyz (which became eponymous of the confederacy), Unterwalden, Glarus, Appenzell – and eight urban cantons – Zürich, Bern, Luzern, Zug, Basel, Fribourg, Solothurn, Schaffhausen.
Though they were technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, they had become de facto independent when the Swiss defeated Emperor Maximillian in 1499 in Dornach. In the early modern period, the individual cantons came to be seen as republics; while the six traditional cantons had a tradition of direct democracy in the form of the Landsgemeinde, the urban cantons operated via representation in city councils, de facto oligarchic systems dominated by families of the patriciate.
The old system was abandoned with the formation of the Helvetic Republic following the French invasion of Switzerland in 1798. The cantons of the Helvetic Republic had merely the status of an administrative subdivision with no sovereignty. The Helvetic Republic collapsed within five years, and cantonal sovereignty was restored with the Act of Mediation of 1803. The status of Switzerland as a federation of states was restored, at the time including 19 cantons (the six accessions to the early modern Thirteen Cantons being composed of former associates and subject territories: St. Gallen, Grisons, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud). Three additional western cantons, Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva, acceded in 1815.
The process of "Restoration", completed by 1830, returned most of the former feudal rights to the cantonal patriciates, leading to rebellions among the rural population. The Radical Party embodied these democratic forces calling for a new federal constitution. This tension, paired with religious issues ("Jesuit question") escalated into armed conflict in the 1840s, with the brief Sonderbund War. The victory of the radical party resulted in the formation of Switzerland as a federal state in 1848. The cantons retained far-reaching sovereignty, but were no longer allowed to maintain individual standing armies or international relations. As the revolutions of 1848 in Western Europe had failed elsewhere, Switzerland during the later 19th century (and with the exception of the French Third Republic, until the end of World War I) found itself as an isolated democratic republic, surrounded by the restored monarchies of France, Italy, Austria-Hungary and Germany.
Each canton has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts. Most of the cantons' legislatures are unicameral parliaments, their size varying between 58 and 200 seats. A few legislatures are general assemblies known as Landsgemeinden. The cantonal governments consist of either five or seven members, depending on the canton. For the names of the institutions, see List of legislative and executive councils of the Cantons of Switzerland.
The Swiss Federal Constitution declares the cantons to be sovereign to the extent that their sovereignty is not limited by federal law. The cantons also retain all powers and competencies not delegated to the Confederation by the Constitution. Most significantly, the cantons are responsible for healthcare, welfare, law enforcement and public education; they also retain the power of taxation. The cantonal constitutions determine the degree of autonomy accorded to the municipalities, which varies but almost always includes the power to levy taxes and pass municipal laws. The areas of the cantons vary from 37 km2 to 7,105 km2; the populations vary from 15,471 to 1,244,400.
As on the federal level, all cantons provide for some forms of direct democracy. Citizens may demand a popular vote to amend the cantonal constitution or laws, or to veto laws or spending bills passed by the parliament. General popular assemblies (Landsgemeinde) are now limited to the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. In all other cantons democratic rights are exercised by secret ballot.
The cantons are listed in their order of precedence given in the federal constitution.[Note 1] This reflects the historical order of precedence of the Eight Cantons in the 15th century, followed by the remaining cantons in the order of their historical accession to the confederacy.
|Code||Canton||Since||Capital||Population[Note 2]||Area (km2)||Density
(per km2)[Note 3]
|No. munic.||Official languages|
|OW||Obwalden||1291 or 1315 (as part of Unterwalden)||Sarnen||36,834||491||66||7||German|
|NW||Nidwalden||1291 (as Unterwalden)||Stans||42,080||276||138||11||German|
|BS||Basel-Stadt||1501 (as Basel until 1833)||Basel||197,634||37||5,072||3||German|
|AR||Appenzell Ausserrhoden||1513 ||Herisau[Note 4]||54,064||243||220||20||German|
|SG||St. Gallen||1803||St. Gallen||495,824||2,026||222||77||German|
|GR||Graubünden||1803||Chur||195,886||7,105||26||114||German, Romansh, Italian|
|CH||Switzerland||Bern||8,237,666||41,285||174||2,289||German, French, Italian, Romansh|
The two-letter abbreviations for Swiss cantons are widely used, e.g., on car license plates. They are also used in the ISO 3166-2 codes of Switzerland with the prefix "CH-" (Confœderatio Helvetica—Helvetian Confederation—Helvetia having been the ancient Roman name of the region). CH-SZ, for example, is used for the canton of Schwyz.
Six of the 26 cantons are traditionally, but no longer officially, called "half-cantons" (German: Halbkanton, French: demi-canton, Italian: semicantone, Romansh: mez-chantun), reflecting a history of mutual association or partition.
The half-cantons are identified in the first article of the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1999 by being joined to their other "half" with the conjunction "and":
The People and the Cantons of Zürich, Bern, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden, Glarus, Zug, Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden, St. Gallen, Graubünden, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, Geneva, and Jura form the Swiss Confederation.— Article 1 of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (underlining not in original)
The 1999 constitutional revision retained this distinction, on the request of the six cantonal governments, as a way to mark the historic association of the half-cantons to each other. In contrast, the first article of the 1848 and 1874 constitutions constituted the Confederation as the union of "twenty-two sovereign cantons", referring to the half-cantons as "Unterwalden (ob und nid dem Wald [‘above and beneath the woods’])", "Basel (Stadt und Landschaft [‘city and country’])" and "Appenzell (beider Rhoden [‘both Rhoden’])". While the older constitutions referred to these states as "half-cantons", a term that remains in popular use, the 1999 revision and official terminology since then use the appellation "cantons with half of a cantonal vote".
With their mutual association a purely historical matter, the half-cantons are since 1848 equal to the other cantons in all but two respects:
- They elect only one member of the Council of States instead of two (Cst. art. 150 par. 2).
- In popular referendums about constitutional amendments, which require for adoption a national popular majority as well as the assent of a majority of the cantons (Ständemehr / majorité des cantons), the result of the half-cantons' popular vote counts only one half of that of the other cantons (Cst. arts. 140, 142). This means that for purposes of a constitutional referendum, at least 12 out of a total of 23 cantonal popular votes must support the amendment.
The reasons for the association between the three pairs of half-cantons are varied:
- Unterwalden never consisted of a single unified jurisdiction. Originally, Obwalden, Nidwalden, and the Abbey of Engelberg formed distinct communities. The collective term Unterwalden remains in use, however, for the area that partook in the creation of the original Swiss confederation in 1291 with Uri and Schwyz. The Federal Charter of 1291 called for representatives from each of the three "areas".
- The canton of Appenzell divided itself into an "inner" and "outer" half (Rhoden) as a consequence of the Reformation in Switzerland in 1597: Appenzell Innerrhoden (Catholic) and Appenzell Ausserrhoden (Protestant).
- The canton of Basel was divided in 1833 after the Basel countryside (now the canton of Basel-Landschaft) declared its independence from the city of Basel (now the canton of Basel-Stadt), following a period of protest and armed conflict about the under-representation of the more populous countryside in the canton's political system.
In the 20th century, some Jurassic separatists suggested a new canton of Jura to be divided into half-cantons of North Jura and South Jura. Instead, North Jura became the (full) canton of Jura while South Jura remains in the canton of Bern as the region of Bernese Jura.
Names in national languages
The name of each canton in its own official language is shown in bold.
|Abbr||Common English||Other English forms||German||French||Italian||Romansh|
|AI||Appenzell Innerrhoden||Appenzell Inner-Rhodes||Appenzell Innerrhoden (help·info)||Appenzell Rhodes-Intérieures||Appenzello Interno||Appenzell dadens|
|AR||Appenzell Ausserrhoden||Appenzell Outer-Rhodes||Appenzell Ausserrhoden (help·info)||Appenzell Rhodes-Extérieures||Appenzello Esterno||Appenzell dador|
|SZ||Schwyz||-||Schwyz (help·info)||Schwyz (or Schwytz)||Svitto||Sviz|
|SG||St. Gallen||St. Gall||St. Gallen (help·info)||Saint-Gall||San Gallo||Son Gagl|
Admission of new cantons
The enlargement of Switzerland by way of the admission of new cantons ended in 1815. After a failed attempt of Vorarlberg to join Switzerland in 1919, the idea of resuming Swiss enlargement was revived in 2010 by a parliamentary motion that would allow the accession of regions bordering on Switzerland.
- List of legislative and executive councils of the Cantons of Switzerland
- Data codes for Switzerland#Cantons
- List of cantons of Switzerland by elevation
- Flags of Swiss cantons
- Cantonal bank, a commercial bank (at least partially) owned by the canton
- Municipalities of Switzerland
Notes and references
- This is the order generally used in Swiss official documents. At the head of the list are the three city cantons that were considered preeminent in the Old Swiss Confederacy; the other cantons are listed in order of accession to the Confederation. This traditional order of precedence among the cantons has no practical relevance in the modern federal state, in which the cantons are equal to one another, although it still determines formal precedence among the cantons' officials (see Swiss order of precedence).
- as of 5 April 2009[update]
- Per km2, based on 2000 population
- Seat of government and parliament is Herisau, the seat of the judicial authorities is Trogen
- Seat of parliament half-yearly alternates between Frauenfeld and Weinfelden
- Cantons of Switzerland in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland, 2016.
- Jura (Canton) in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
- Constitution du Canton du Valais: "Le Valais est une république démocratique, souveraine […] incorporée comme Canton à la Confédération suisse."
- Constitution du canton de Vaud: "Le Canton de Vaud est une république démocratique [… qui] est l'un des États de la Confédération suisse."
- Constitution de la République et Canton du Tessin: "Le Canton du Tessin est une république démocratique [… qui] est membre de la Confédération suisse et sa souveraineté n'est limitée que par la constitution fédérale."
- "Switzerland". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26. 1911. p. 251. Retrieved 11 November 2008.
- The canton of Zug was the exception in this, in being an urban cantons and still holding a Landsgemeinde. Jackson Spielvogel, Western Civilization: Volume I: To 1715, (Cengage 2008), p. 386[clarification needed]
- Cantons, In the Federal State since 1848 in German, French and Italian in the online Historical Dictionary of Switzerland.
- Swiss Government website with links to each cantonal government, accessed 11 November 2008
- "Regional Portraits: Cantons". Neuchâtel, Switzerland: Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 2011. Retrieved 2015-12-21.
- founding forest-canton, foundation date traditionally given as either 1307, 1304 or 1291 (see Foundation of the Old Swiss Confederacy).
- part of Basel until 1833/1999
- part of Appenzell until 1597/1999
- Act of Mediation, formed out of the Canton of Säntis and the northern half of the Canton of Linth.
- Act of Mediation; formerly the Canton of Raetia, comprising the earlier Three Leagues.
- coterminous with the canton of Thurgau of the Helvetic Republic (1798), formerly a condominium.
- combining the former cantons of Bellinzona and Lugano; see Ennetbirgische Vogteien.
- Act of Mediation, formerly Canton of Léman.
- Restoration, formerly the Simplon département
- claimed by Frederick William III of Prussia until the Neuchâtel Crisis of 1856–1857.
- seceded from Berne
- Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation of 18 April 1999, SR/RS 101 (E·D·F·I), art. 1 (E·D·F·I)
- Felix Hafner / Rainer J. Schweizer in Ehrenzeller, Art. 1 N 2; Häfelin, N 966.
- Twenty-three after the creation of the Canton of Jura in 1978.
- Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft vom 29. Mai 1874, Bundesverfassung der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft vom 12. September 1848 (German); author's translation.
- Felix Hafner / Rainer J. Schweizer in Ehrenzeller, Art. 1 N 10; Häfelin, N 963
- Häfelin, N 963, 967
- Häfelin, N 950
- Pacte fédéral du 1er août 1291] sur Admin.ch "vallée inférieure d'Unterwald" signifie Nidwald.
- Pacte fédéral du 1er août 1291 sur Cliotexte
- Réforme catholique, Contre-Réforme et scission Article du dictionnaire historique de la Suisse
- Bassand, Michel (1975). "The Jura Problem". Journal of Peace Research. Sage Publications. 12 (2: Peace Research in Switzerland): 139–150: 142. doi:10.1177/002234337501200206. Retrieved 18 July 2015. (subscription required (. ))
- Bernhard Ehrenzeller, Philipp Mastronardi, Rainer J. Schweizer, Klaus A. Vallender (eds.) (2002). Die schweizerische Bundesverfassung, Kommentar (in German). ISBN 3-905455-70-6. . Cited as Ehrenzeller.
- Häfelin, Ulrich; Haller, Walter; Keller, Helen (2008). Schweizerisches Bundesstaatsrecht (in German) (7th ed.). Zürich: Schulthess. ISBN 978-3-7255-5472-0. Cited as Häfelin.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cantons of Switzerland.|
- Swissworld.org – The cantons of Switzerland
- GeoPuzzle – Assemble cantons on a Swiss map
- Badac – Database on Swiss cantons and cities (French) (German)
|Wikisource has the text of a 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article about The History of Switzerland.|