hidden europe 32

Switzerland beyond the Alps

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Zürich cityscape (photo © Ron Sumners / dreamstime.com).


Switzerland is a country of extraordinary variety, complexity and uncertainty. Jung was probably spot-on when he asserted that Switzerland's total preoccupation with itself was the only thing that precluded the country's engagement in wider European conflicts. We take a look at the other Switzerland - the country beyond the cliché images of Alps and cuckoo clocks.

The Alps are an integral part of the Swiss script. If the tale the Swiss tell of the origins of their confederation is true, then the Alps were there on Day One. Just for the record that was 1 August 1291, when representatives of three communities (Uri, Unterwalden and Schwyz) gathered in a field at Rütli and swore allegiance to one another. Those early pioneers of Swiss solidarity would surely never have chosen Rütli for their famous oath had it not been for the lovely lakeside setting and the magnificent backdrop of the snow-covered Alps.

Seven centuries after Rütli, the Alps are still as essential an element as ever of the Swiss psyche, even if more Swiss now live in Zürich apartment blocks than on farms in remote Alpine valleys. The myth of the Dörfli under the shadow of an alp is a very powerful image, and many Swiss folk who live in cities still claim that their hearts lie in a small village in the hills. Many of these townies have little idea of course how benighted a spot the mountain village can be in mid-winter when for months the sun never rises over the alp that casts a great shadow over the valley.