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Switzerland is a country in Western Europe that has a population of over 7.5 million people. It is surrounded on all sides by land and has many mountains and lakes. Switzerland has long had a history of staying neutral in times of war and is known as one of the world's richest countries. Its capital is the city of Bern but its two largest cities are Zurich and Geneva.
Switzerland has an area of 15,355 square miles. It is home to some of the highest mountains in the Alps, with its tallest mountain being the Dufourspitze at 15,203 feet. The most famous mountain in the country is called the Matterhorn, a 14,600 foot peak that has seen many mountain climbers die in an attempt to reach its summit. Lake Geneva, which actually is also partly in France, is Switzerland's largest lake and one of the largest in all of Europe.
Switzerland is bordered by France to the west, Germany to the north, Austria and tiny Liechtenstein to the east, and Italy to the south. The majority of the country is mountainous plateau, with the Swiss Alps to the south and the Jura Mountains on the northwest border with France. In its mountains there are many glaciers, passes, waterfalls and valleys. The northern sections have open hilly lands with some forests. The Rhine River flows into Switzerland and the Rhone into Lake Geneva. The climate of Switzerland varies from region to region, with warmer conditions to the south, glacial climates in the mountains, and a temperate climate in the north.
Most Swiss citizens speak German, with 64 percent fluent in that language. One fifth speaks French and 7 percent Italian. The ethnicity of Switzerland resembles those numbers, with 65 percent of the people of German descent, 18 percent French, and 10 percent Italian. Roman Catholicism is the majority religion, with 42 percent of Switzerland's population Catholic; 35 percent are Protestants and 4 percent are Muslims.
Switzerland originally was made up of various regions under the rule of the Romans, but in 1648 it achieved its independence from the Holy Roman Empire. It was briefly invaded by Napoleon in the late 1700s and in 1815 the Congress of Vienna recognized Switzerland as independent. In 1848 Switzerland adopted a constitution that closely resembled that of the U.S., but instead of states Switzerland is divided into cantons. Switzerland's policy of neutrality allowed it to prosper, with its banking system being a haven for international accounts. The country stayed carefully neutral during both World Wars, but finally became a member of the United Nations in 2002.
Zurich is Switzerland's largest city. It is the country's major commercial as well as cultural center. It is frequently listed as the wealthiest city in all of Europe, and also as the city having the highest quality of life on the entire planet. Zurich is located in the northern center of Switzerland, while Bern, the capital, is found midway between north and south in the western half of the country.