58% of the Swiss state territory are situated in the middle part of the Alps. 100 mountain peaks are nearly 4,000 meters high or even higher. The highest mountain in Switzerland is the Dufour peak (see picture) with its 4,634 meters above sea level in the canton of Valais.
The development of the Alps started about 300 Million years ago (Paleozoic) and continues even today. The many elevations, erosions, folds and plates gave the Alps their variety with their many valleys, terraces, passes, ranges and peaks.
The many mountain passes in the Swiss Alps have always been ideal ways of crossing the mountains. During the ice age, the glaciers found their way through the mountain ranges and created broad depressions for the passes.
Nearly all the mountain passes are closed in winter. Only few are kept open. San Bernadino (Chur-Bellinzona) and Gotthard (see picture) are open in winter due to road tunnels. The large Alpine road makes a crossing a spectacular natural experience when the weather is nice.
In Switzerland 140 glaciers with a total surface of 1,556 km square were left over after the ice age. The three largest ones are situated in the Valais: the Aletsch glacier (Europe's longest glacier) the Gorner glacier above Zermatt and the Fiescher glacier.
Especially characteristic for Switzerland are the valley glaciers which run over various terraces and partly nearly reach 1,000 meters (lower Grindelwald glacier). Like everywhere in Europe, the Swiss glaciers are also diminishing.
Switzerland has a lot of culture to offer. Foreign artists have always settled in Switzerland while Swiss artists have provided important stimulus for the international scene of art.
In Switzerland there are over 700 museums and public collections. The most important institutions are the Swiss Regional Museum Zurich and the museums of art in the cities of Basel, Berne, Geneva and Zurich. Especially popular is the Fondation Gianadda in Martigny.
History of art
Switzerland's history of art is as varied as its landscape. Switzerland has always been open for art and culture which is why influences from neighboring cultures (German, Austrian, Italian and French) can be recognized.
This is why the thousands of monuments do not really reveal typical national Swiss art. Typical Swiss works of art can mainly be found within the communities, in the valleys or the regions. Christianity above all and later on the Protestants influenced many cultural buildings. Around 820 the famous plan of the monastery in St Gallen was developed. The monastery library with its magnificent interior architecture and its precious treasures has been declared world cultural heritage.
The art of construction and living
The Swiss art of construction and living shows a lot of independence. There are not only differences between urban and rural areas but also between the different regions. Picturesque villages developed through joined buildings in lanes and roads but also through uniform quarters.
Switzerland's most individual constructionn culture is that of farm buildings. First of all it orientates itsself by climatic conditions and practical needs. The picture shows a typical Bernese farm with a hip roof.