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The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the member states of the federal state of Switzerland. Each canton was a fully sovereign state[1] with its own border controls, army and currency from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) until the establishment of the Swiss federal state in 1848. The most recently created canton is the Canton of Jura, which separated from the Canton of Bern in 1979.[2]

The name is derived from the French language word canton meaning corner or district (from which the term Cantonment is also derived).


Main article: Thirteen Cantons

In the 16th century, the Old Swiss Confederacy was composed of 13 sovereign cantons, and there were two different kinds: six land (or forest) cantons and seven city (or urban) cantons. Though they were technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, they had become de facto independent when the Swiss defeated Emperor Maximillian in 1499.[3] The six forest cantons were democratic republics, whereas the seven urban cantons were oligarchic republics controlled by noble families.


Each canton has its own constitution, legislature, government and courts.[4] Most of the cantons' legislatures are unicameral parliaments, their size varying between 58 and 200 seats. A few legislatures are general assemblies known as Landsgemeinden. The cantonal governments consist of either five or seven members, depending on the canton.[5] For the names of the institutions, see List of legislative and executive councils of the Cantons of Switzerland.

The Swiss Federal Constitution declares the cantons to be sovereign to the extent their sovereignty is not limited by federal law.[4] The cantons also retain all powers and competencies not delegated to the Confederation by the Constitution. Most significantly, the cantons are responsible for healthcare, welfare, law enforcement and public education; they also retain the power of taxation. The cantonal constitutions determine the degree of autonomy accorded to the municipalities, which varies but almost always includes the power to levy taxes and pass municipal laws. The sizes of the cantons vary from 37 km² to 7,105 km²; the populations vary from 15,471 to 1,244,400.

Direct democracy

As on the federal level, all cantons provide for (half-) direct democracy. Citizens may demand a popular vote to amend the cantonal constitution or laws, or to veto laws or spending bills passed by the parliament. General popular assemblies (Landsgemeinde) are now limited to the cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus. In all other cantons democratic rights are exercised by secret ballot.


The cantons are listed in the order given in the federal constitution.[1]

Coat of
Abbr Canton Since Capital Population[2] Area (km²) [3] Density (per km²) [4] No. munic.[5] Official languages
ZH Zurich 1351 Zurich 1,406,083 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 701 171 German
BE Bern 1353 Bern 992,617 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 158 383 German, French
LU Lucerne 1332 Lucerne 386,082 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 233 87 German
UR Uri 1291[6] Altdorf 35,693 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 33 20 German
SZ Schwyz 1291[6] Schwyz 149,830 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 143 30 German
OW Obwalden 1291[6] or 1315 (as part of Unterwalden) Sarnen 36,115 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 66 7 German
NW Nidwalden 1291[6] (as Unterwalden) Stans 41,584 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 138 11 German
GL Glarus 1352 Glarus 39,369 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 51 3 German
ZG Zug 1352 Zug 116,559 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 416 11 German
FR Fribourg 1481 Fribourg 291,395 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 141 167 French, German
SO Solothurn 1481 Solothurn 259,836 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 308 122 German
BS Basel-Stadt 1501 (as Basel until 1833/1999) Basel 194,090 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 5,072 3 German
BL Basel-Landschaft 1501/1833[7] Liestal 277,973 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 502 86 German
SH Schaffhausen 1501 Schaffhausen 77,955 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 246 27 German
AR Appenzell Ausserrhoden 1513 [8] Herisau[6] 53,438 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 220 20 German
AI Appenzell Innerrhoden 1513[8] Appenzell 15,717 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 87 6 German
SG St. Gallen 1803[9] St. Gallen 486,981 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 222 85 German
GR Graubünden 1803[10] Chur 193,920 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 26 180 German, Romansh, Italian
AG Aargau 1803 Aarau 627,893 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 388 220 German
TG Thurgau 1803[11] Frauenfeld[7] 254,528 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 229 80 German
TI Ticino 1803[12] Bellinzona 341,652 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 110 157 Italian
VD Vaud 1803[13] Lausanne 734,356 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 188 339 French
VS Valais 1815[14] Sion 321,732 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 53 143 French, German
NE Neuchâtel 1815/1857[15] Neuchâtel 174,554 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 206 53 French
GE Geneva 1815 Geneva 474,169 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 1,442 45 French
JU Jura 1979[16] Delémont 70,942 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 82 64 French
CH Switzerland Bern 7,968,705 [" must be a number">convert: invalid number]]] 174 2,596 German, French, Italian, Romansh

The two-letter abbreviations for Swiss cantons are widely used, e.g., on car license plates. They are also used in the ISO 3166-2 codes of Switzerland with the prefix "CH-" (Confœderatio Helvetica—Helvetian Confederation—Helvetia having been the ancient Roman name of the region). CH-SZ, for example, is used for the canton of Schwyz.

Ticino is the only Italian-speaking canton. Yet, Italian is included among French and German as an official language of Switzerland.


Six of the 26 cantons are traditionally, but no longer officially, called "half-cantons" (German: Halbkanton, French: demi-canton, Italian: semicantone), reflecting a history of mutual association or partition.

The half-cantons are identified in the first article of the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1999 by being joined to their other "half" with the conjunction "and":

The People and the Cantons of Zurich, Bern, Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, Obwalden and Nidwalden, Glarus, Zug, Fribourg, Solothurn, Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft, Schaffhausen, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden, St. Gallen, Graubünden, Aargau, Thurgau, Ticino, Vaud, Valais, Neuchâtel, Geneva, and Jura form the Swiss Confederation.
—Article 1 of the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation (underlining not in original)[17]

The 1999 constitutional revision retained this distinction, on the request of the six cantonal governments, as a way to mark the historic association of the half-cantons to each other.[18] In contrast, the first article of the 1848 and 1874 constitutions constituted the Confederation as the union of "twenty-two sovereign cantons",[19] referring to the half-cantons as "Unterwalden (above and beneath the woods)", "Basel (city and country)" and "Appenzell (both Rhoden)".[20] While the older constitutions referred to these states as "half-cantons", a term that remains in popular use, the 1999 revision and official terminology since then use the appellation "cantons with half a cantonal vote".[21]

With their mutual association a purely historical matter, the half-cantons are since 1848 equal to the other cantons in all but two respects:[22]

  • They elect only one member of the Council of States instead of two (Cst. art. 150 par. 2).
  • In popular referendums about constitutional amendments, which require for adoption a national popular majority as well as the assent of a majority of the cantons (Ständemehr / majorité des cantons), the result of the half-cantons' popular vote counts only one half of that of the other cantons (Cst. arts. 140, 142). This means that for purposes of a constitutional referendum, at least 12 out of a total of 23 cantonal popular votes must support the amendment.[23]

The reasons for the association between the three pairs of half-cantons are varied:

  • Unterwalden never consisted of a single unified jurisdiction. Originally, Obwalden, Nidwalden, and the Abbey of Engelberg formed distinct communities. The collective term Unterwalden remains in use, however, for the area that partook in the creation of the original Swiss confederation in 1291 with Uri and Schwyz. The Federal Charter of 1291 called for representatives from each of the three "areas".[24][25]
  • The canton of Basel divided itself as a consequence of a revolt of the Basel countryside in 1833, in order to promote equality among its citizenry, combating claims between rural and city residents over preferential status:[27] Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt.

Names in national languages

(Names appear in bold when corresponding to the cantonal official language)

Abbr Common English Other English forms German French Italian Romansh
AG Aargau Argovia ) Argovie Argovia Argovia
AI Appenzell Innerrhoden Appenzell Inner-Rhodes ) Appenzell Rhodes-Intérieures Appenzello Interno Appenzell dadens
AR Appenzell Ausserrhoden Appenzell Outer-Rhodes ) Appenzell Rhodes-Extérieures Appenzello Esterno Appenzell dador
BS Basel-Stadt Basle-City ) Bâle-Ville Basilea-Città Basilea-Citad
BL Basel-Landschaft Basle-Country ) Bâle-Campagne Basilea-Campagna Basilea-Champagna
BE Bern Berne ) Berne Berna Berna
FR Fribourg Friburg ) Fribourg Friborgo Friburg
GE Geneva - ) Genève Ginevra Genevra
GL Glarus Glaris ) Glaris Glarona Glaruna
GR Graubünden Grisons ) Grisons Grigioni Grischun
JU Jura - ) Jura Giura Giura
LU Lucerne - ) Lucerne Lucerna Lucerna
NE Neuchâtel - ) Neuchâtel Neuchâtel Neuchâtel
NW Nidwalden Nidwald ) Nidwald Nidvaldo Sutsilvania
OW Obwalden Obwald ) Obwald Obvaldo Sursilvania
SH Schaffhausen Schaffhouse ) Schaffhouse Sciaffusa Schaffusa
SZ Schwyz - ) Schwyz (or Schwytz) Svitto Sviz
SO Solothurn Soleure ) Soleure Soletta Soloturn
SG St. Gallen St. Gall ) Saint-Gall San Gallo Son Gagl
TG Thurgau Thurgovia ) Thurgovie Turgovia Turgovia
TI Ticino Tessin ) Tessin Ticino Tessin
UR Uri - ) Uri Uri Uri
VS Valais Wallis ) Valais Vallese Vallais
VD Vaud - ) Vaud Vaud Vad
ZG Zug - ) Zoug Zugo Zug
ZH Zurich - ) Zurich Zurigo Turitg

Admission of new cantons

The enlargement of Switzerland by way of the admission of new cantons ended in 1815. After a failed attempt of Vorarlberg to join Switzerland in 1919, the idea of resuming Swiss enlargement was revived in 2010 by a parliamentary motion that would allow the accession of regions bordering on Switzerland.

See also

Notes and references


  1. ^ This is the order generally used in Swiss official documents. At the head of the list are the three city cantons that were considered preeminent in the Old Swiss Confederacy; the other cantons are listed in order of accession to the Confederation. This traditional order of precedence among the cantons has no practical relevance in the modern federal state, in which the cantons are equal to one another, although it still determines formal precedence among the cantons' officials (see Swiss order of precedence).
  2. ^ as of 5 April 2009
  3. ^ km²
  4. ^ Per km², based on 2000 population
  5. ^ As of 31 December 2007,
  6. ^ Seat of government and parliament is Herisau, the seat of the judicial authorities is Trogen
  7. ^ Seat of parliament half-yearly alternates between Frauenfeld and Weinfelden



  • (German). Cited as Ehrenzeller.
  • Cited as Häfelin.

External links

  • – The cantons of Switzerland
  • GeoPuzzle – Assemble cantons on a Swiss map
  • Badac – Database on Swiss cantons and cities (French/German)

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