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  • Topic: Switzerland, Swiss franc, Cantons of Switzerland
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  • Published : November 8, 2005
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Switzerland, federal republic in west central Europe, bounded on the north by France and Germany, on the east b Austria and Liechtenstein, on the south by Italy, and on the west by France. The country has an area of 15,940-sq. mi. Its largest city is Zurich, and the capitol is Bern.

Switzerland is one of the most mountainous countries of Europe, with more than 70 percent of its area covered by the Alps, in the central and southern sections, and the Jura, in the northwest. The Swiss Alps are part of the largest mountain system in Europe, and famous for their jagged peaks and steep gorges. There are several ranges within the Alps, including the Pennine range, which has Switzerland's highest peak, the 15,203 ft. Dufourspitze of Monte Rosa. The Jura (Celtic for "forest") are much lower and smaller than the Alps, and are popular for cross-country skiing. The renowned Swiss watchmaking industry began in the Jura Mountains. Between these two mountain systems lies the Swiss Plateau, about 1300 ft. above sea level in average elevation and some 30 miles wide; it extends from Lake Geneva in the extreme southwest to the Bodensee (Lake of Constance) in the extreme northeast. The plateau is thickly studded with hills. Between the rages of the Alps and Jura also stretch long valleys connected by transverse gorges; one such valley is the Engadine along the Inn River in the southeast. Nearly every Swiss valley is traversed by streams, often interrupted by picturesque waterfalls, including the Staubbach Falls (about 950 ft.) in the canton of Bern. The Rhine and its tributaries form the principal river system. Other important rivers are the Rhone, Ticino, and Inn. However, the Swiss rivers are not navigable for any appreciable extent. Switzerland in famous for its many lakes, particularly those of the Alpine region, known for their scenic beauty. The most important include Lake Geneva, Bodensee, Lake Lugano, and Lake Maggiore (at which lies Switzerland's lowest point, 636 ft above sea level), which are not wholly within Swiss borders; and Lake Neuchatel, Lake of Lucerne, Zurichsee, Brienzersee, and Thunersee, which are entirely within Switzerland.

On the plateau and lower valleys of Switzerland a temperate climate prevails, with a mean annual temperature of about 50 F. The temperature decreases about 3 F for every additional 1000 ft. of elevation. Precipitation also varies considerably according to elevation. Precipitation on the plateau and in the lower valleys is about 36 in. annually; the higher regions generally receive more precipitation. Much of the precipitation occurs during the winter in the form of snow; the peaks of most mountains about 9000 ft. or higher are snow-covered throughout the year. Large glaciers are at higher elevations, especially in the Alps. The bise, a cold, northerly wind, predominates in the winter, and the foehn, a warm, dry southeasterly wind, predominates during the rest on the year.

Waterpower is the chief natural resource of Switzerland. Granite, limestone, and other building stones and salt are the only abundant mineral resources; small deposits of iron and manganese ores are found. Agricultural resources are limited, as most of the soil is leached and stony.

Mediterranean plants and trees such as the palm, magnolia, chestnut, walnut, apple, pear, cherry, and almond grow in the lowlands and on the Swiss plateau. Highly productive forests cover 29 percent of the total land area, primarily at elevations between about 1800 and 6500 ft. Deciduous forests of beech, maple, and oak, are characteristic below about 4500 ft., and coniferous forests, primarily of pine and fir, flourish above that height. At higher elevations, the flora consists of Alpine species such as edelweiss, anemone, lily, and mugho and Swiss pines. Chamois and marmots inhabit the Alpine regions. The forests contain foxes and many species of birds, including woodpeckers and blue jays. Trout...
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