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Switzerland, officially named the Swiss Confederation, is located in western central Europe. It is a landlocked country bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. It is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, or member states, and the city of Bern, which is the seat of the federal government. It has no capital per se, and its largest city is Zurich. It has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh.

The Roman Empire, led by Caesar Augustus, annexed what it now Switzerland in about 15 BC. They built fortified farmsteads, arenas and theaters and improved the water supply as well as roads. They also introduced new vegetables, plants, and fruits brought in from the south. Despite he fact that the Roman Senate tried to keep wine from being grown north of the Alps, grapevines were introduced there. Christianity began spreading during the 4th century with the establishment of the first bishoprics.

Around 260 AD, with the fall of the Roman Empire, the first Germanic invasions took place. The various tribes settled in different parts of the area. The Alemannis settled in the north forcing the Celtic-Romans to move to the mountains, while the Burgundians settled in the west. In 534, Burgundy became part of the kingdom of the Franks, and in 536, the Alamanni Dukedom joined them. Only a few small and isolated Christian communities remained, and it took Irish monks to re-introduce the Christian faith in the 7th century.

After centuries of being shuffled around from country to country, the Old Swiss Confederacy, the precursor of the current Swiss Confederation, was established after the Reformation. This confederacy was a loose confederation within the Holy Roman Empire. It was successful for more than a century, both politically and militarily, for more than a hundred years.

In 1647, the confederacy declared itself to be neutral, and in 1648, the independent state of Switzerland left the Holy Roman Empire. During the Swiss Reformation, the confederacy was divided into Catholic and Reformed parties, which ended up fueling conflicts for two centuries. During Franc's battles with Austria in the French Revolutionary Wars, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Swiss Confederacy in 1789, overwhelming the Swiss, resulting in the French renaming Switzerland the Helvetic Republic.

In 1803, Napoleon issued his Act of Meditation which abolished the Helvetica Republic and re-established the Swiss Confederation, partly returning sovereignty of the Swiss cantons. Swiss independence was fully re-established in 1815 by the Congress of Vienna of 1815.

In 1848, the Swiss Confederation became a federal state with nearly autonomous cantons, and have remained this way ever since, which makes them one of the world's oldest surviving republics.

The country remained neutral, though it was an armed neutrality, during World War I. The Swiss Army had close to a half million soldiers and supporting troops which most certainly helped to stay neutral. It soon became obvious that both the Allies and the Central Powers would respect their position, the number of troops began to drop. By 1916, there were about 38,000 in the military, and after a proposed French attack was discovered in the winter of 1916-17, it grew back to more than 100,000. Then, when the attack failed to materialize, it dwindled back o 12,500.

There were large numbers of Swiss who favored one side or the other, but overall, Switzerland stayed out of the war. The war and Switzerland's geographically central location allowed the county to maintain a banking boom, and for many of the same reasons, the nation became a safe haven for revolutionaries as well as refugees.

In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, the Swiss government mobilized immediately in anticipation of an invasion. The whole country was mobilized in less than three days. At its peak, 850,000 soldiers were mobilized. Although countless invasion plans were created by the Germans, Switzerland was never attacked, though its airspace was repeatedly violated by Germany and other violations took place. During the Invasion of France, German planes violated Swiss airspace nearly 200 times. The Swiss shot down 11 Luftwaffe planes in less less than 40 days.

During the Cold War, the Swiss government mulled over the possibility of the construction of a nuclear bomb for their defense, however, economic difficulties precluded that avenue. Those plans were dropped, though not until 1988.

The Swiss government signed a free trade agreement with the European Economic Community in 1972, but it has vociferously resisted becoming a full member of the EU.on.


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