half cantons

Cantons of Switzerland

The 26 cantons of Switzerland are the states of the federal state of Switzerland. Each canton was a fully sovereign state with its own borders, army and currency 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 Berne in 1979.

In the 16th century, the Old Swiss Confederation was composed of thirteen 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. 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. Most of the cantons' legislatures are unicameral parliaments, their size varying between fifty-eight and two hundred seats. A few legislatures are general assemblies known as Landsgemeinden. The cantonal governments consist of either five or seven members, depending on the canton. 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. 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 14,900 to 1,244,400.

As on the federal level, all cantons provide for 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.

List and map

The cantons are listed in the order given in the federal constitution.

Flag Abbr Canton Since Capital Population¹ Area² Density³ № munic.¹ Official languages
ZH Zurich 1351 Zurich 1,228,600 1,729 701 171 German
BE Berne 1353 Berne 947,100 5,959 158 399 German, French
LU Lucerne 1332 Lucerne 350,600 1,493 233 107 German
UR Uri 1291 Altdorf 35,000 1,077 33 20 German
SZ Schwyz 1291 Schwyz 131,400 908 143 30 German
OW Obwalden (Obwald) 1291 Sarnen 32,700 491 66 7 German
NW Nidwalden (Nidwald) 1291 Stans 38,600 276 138 11 German
GL Glarus 1352 Glarus 38,300 685 51 28 German
ZG Zug 1352 Zug 100,900 239 416 11 German
FR Fribourg 1481 Fribourg 239,100 1,671 141 242 French, German
SO Solothurn 1481 Solothurn 245,500 791 308 126 German
BS Basel-Stadt (Basel-City) 1501 (part of Basel until 1833) Basel 186,700 37 5,072 3 German
BL Basel-Landschaft (Basel-Country) 1501 (part of Basel until 1833) Liestal 261,400 518 502 86 German
SH Schaffhausen 1501 Schaffhausen 73,400 298 246 34 German
AR Appenzell Ausserrhoden (Outer Rhodes) 1513 (part of Appenzell until 1597) Herisau / Trogen4 53,200 243 220 20 German
AI Appenzell Innerrhoden (Inner Rhodes) 1513 (part of Appenzell until 1597) Appenzell 15,000 173 87 6 German
SG St. Gallen (St. Gall) 1803 St. Gallen 452,600 2,026 222 90 German
GR Graubünden (Grisons) 1803 Chur 185,700 7,105 26 211 German, Romansh, Italian
AG Aargau (Argovia) 1803 Aarau 550,900 1,404 388 232 German
TG Thurgau (Thurgovia) 1803 Frauenfeld / Weinfelden5 228,200 991 229 80 German
TI Ticino 1803 Bellinzona 311,900 2,812 110 244 Italian
VD Vaud 1803 Lausanne 626,200 3,212 188 382 French
VS Valais 1815 Sion 278,200 5,224 53 160 French, German
NE Neuchâtel 1815 Neuchâtel 166,500 803 206 62 French
GE Geneva 1815 Geneva 414,300 282 1,442 45 French
JU Jura 1979 (previously part of Bern) Delémont 69,100 838 82 83 French
CH Switzerland   Bern 7,261,200 41,285 174 2,890 German, French, Italian, Romansh


  1. As of 31 December 2001, National Statistics
  2. km²
  3. Per km², based on 2000 population
  4. Seat of government and parliament is Herisau, the seat of the judicial authorities is Trogen
  5. Seat of parliament half-yearly alternates between Frauenfeld and Weinfelden

The two-letter abbreviations for Swiss cantons are widely used, e.g. on car license plates and in the ISO 3166-2 codes (with the prefix "CH-", i.e. CH-SZ for the canton of Schwyz).

The traditional half-cantons

Six cantons – Obwalden, Nidwalden, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel-City and Basel-Country – have traditionally been called "half-cantons" or "demicantons". This term is now deprecated by constitutional scholars, as the 1999 constitution lists 26 equal cantons. The appellation "cantons with half a cantonal vote" has recently come in use in official and legal texts.

The region of Unterwalden has, in the historical record, always been divided into the half-cantons of Obwalden and Nidwalden. The other four half-cantons have resulted from the division of a preexisting canton: The canton of Appenzell split into the half-cantons of Innerrhoden and Ausserrhoden in 1597 as a result of the Reformation. The canton of Basel was divided into the half-cantons of Basel-City and Basel-Country after a revolt of the Basel countryside in 1833.

The six half-cantons have the same institutional structure as well as the same rights and obligations as all the other cantons, with two exceptions. For one thing, they elect only one member of the Council of States instead of two. Also, in popular referendums that require not only a national popular majority but also the assent of a majority of the cantons (Ständemehr / majorité des cantons), such as constitutional amendments, the result of their cantonal vote counts half as much as that of other cantons. This means that a majority of the cantons is actually the majority of twenty-three cantonal votes.

Names in other languages

Abbr English French Italian German Romansh

AG Aargau (rare: 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-City or Basle-CityBâle-Ville Basilea-Città Basilea-Citad
BL Basel-Country, Basle-Country, or Basel-LandBâle-Campagne Basilea-Campagna Basilea-Champagna
BE Berne (Bern)Berne Berna Berna
FR Fribourg Fribourg Friburgo Friburg
GE Geneva Genève Ginevra Genevra
GL Glarus 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 Nidvaldo Sutsilvania
OW Obwalden Obwald Obvaldo Sursilvania
SH Schaffhausen (Schaffhouse)Schaffhouse Sciaffusa Schaffusa
SZ Schwyz Schwyz (or Schwytz) Svitto Sviz
SO Solothurn Soleure Soletta Soloturn
SG St. Gallen (St. Gall) Saint-Gall San Gallo Son Gagl
TG Thurgau (Thurgovia)Thurgovie Turgovia Turgovia
TI Ticino Tessin Ticino Tessin
UR Uri Uri Uri Uri
VS Valais Valais Vallese Vallais
VD Vaud Vaud Vaud Vad
ZG Zug Zoug Zugo Zug
ZH ZurichZurich Zurigo Turitg


See also

External links

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

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