Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in western Europe, where it is bordered by Germany to the north, France to the west, Italy to the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km.
The institution of the Old Swiss Confederacy dates to the late medieval period, resulting from a series of military strikes against Austria and Burgundy. Swiss independence from the Holy Roman Empire was formally recognized in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The country has a history of armed neutrality going back into the Reformation; it has not been at a state of warfare internationally since 1815 and didn’t join the United Nations until 2002. Regardless, it pursues an active foreign policy and is often involved in peace-building procedures around the world. Along with being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to many international associations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association, but notably not part of the European Union, the European Economic Area or the Eurozone. However, it engages in the Schengen Area and the European Single Market through bilateral treaties.
Spanning the intersection of Germanic and Romance Europe, Switzerland contains four main linguistic and cultural regions: French, German, Italian and Romansh. Although the majority of the people are German-speaking, Swiss national identity remains rooted in common historical history, shared values such as federalism and direct democracy, and Alpine symbolism. On stamps and coins, Latin (frequently shortened to “Helvetia”) can be used instead of the four living languages.
Switzerland is among the most developed nations on earth, with the greatest nominal wealth per adult and the eighth-highest per capita gross domestic product based on the IMF. Switzerland ranks at or near the top worldwide in several metrics of national performance, including government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, economic competitiveness, and individual growth. Zürich and Geneva have each been rated among the best cities in the world about the standard of living, with the prior ranked second globally, according to Mercer.