Fact or Fiction: Bern is the Capital of Switzerland
Fact or Fiction: Switzerland is a scenic country in Europe that is consistently ranked among the most developed countries in the world. Along with the picturesque locations and high standard of living, Switzerland also boasts a rich cultural history.
Switzerland is a landlocked country surrounded by France in the west, Germany in the north, Italy in the south, and Austria and Liechtenstein in the east. Switzerland is a hotbed of several cultures and thus played a key strategic role in medieval times. It has a population of 8.7 million and is a member of the UN. Switzerland is also home to the famous cities Zurich, Geneva, and Bern, which is also called the federal city.
But do you know which city is the capital of Switzerland? If your answer is any one of Bern, Geneva, or Zurich, congratulations! You are among the majority. Most people believe Bern is the capital of Switzerland. Read on to find out if that is fact or fiction.
What is a capital city?
A nation’s capital is the city which serves as the seat of the government. It houses the country’s major leaders, offices, and courts. Even in history, kingdoms used to have a capital that was the point of political power or religious centre. A capital city symbolises the strength of a country and is often the most famous or culturally significant city as well. There are a few countries in the world that don’t have capital cities or have multiple ones. Some countries have even changed their capitals over time.
History and Politics of Switzerland
Switzerland is a confederation of states or cantons. There are 26 cantons in Switzerland, each of which used to be an autonomous state with its own borders, army, and currency. Even today, the country is called the Swiss Confederation. Each canton has its own capital and constitution. Hence, the government of Switzerland has always had to tread a thin line while making decisions to maintain unity.
What is the capital of Switzerland?
Switzerland doesn’t have an official capital. Bern is the de-facto (in effect but not formally recognized) capital and is referred to as the federal city. It is home to the president and the federal palace, which serves as the seat of the government and the parliament.
Zurich, on the other hand, is the financial capital of Switzerland. An economic powerhouse with one of the highest cost of living indexes in the world, Zurich is the most populous and famous city in Switzerland.
Another city that’s often confused for the capital of Switzerland is Geneva. Geneva is the second most populous city in Switzerland and is home to the head offices of the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Yet Geneva isn’t the capital of Switzerland either.
Why isn’t Bern the official capital?
The most famous or the largest cities are usually declared the capital cities of countries. But in the case of Switzerland, which is a mixed bag of French, German, and Italian cultures, diplomacy was important when choosing the site of the parliament.
When Switzerland became a federal state in 1848, Bern was chosen as the capital due to its tactical location between the German- and French-speaking parts of the country. Bern also promised to donate the land for the administrative buildings for free.
Also, while choosing the capital city of Switzerland, the politicians didn’t want to give weight to Zurich, lest there be too much concentration of power in a single city. Bern offered a prime location and free land and was thus chosen as the federal city. The Swiss parliament was constructed in Bern. However, nowhere in the Swiss constitution does it state that Bern or any other city is the capital of Switzerland.