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Culture of Switzerland


Switzerland bears many similarities to the cultures of its neighbours. However, in the course of years a distinct culture with strong regional variations developed.Because of the strong regionalism, it is sometimes difficult to consider homogenous Swiss culture, especially with strong French, German and Italian influences. In the eastern mountains of Switzerland, the Rhaeto-Romanic culture still flourishes.


In the past, many Swiss artists decided to move abroad for better economic opportunities.

Some professions, such as in architecture, indeed offered promising prospects outside Switzerland, while in the fields of medicine, finance and watch-making, Switzerland imported foreign experts.

The neutral status of Switzerland has attracted many artists from all over the world. In times of war, Switzerland provided political asylum for many artists.

Many Italian, Austrian and German writers found refuge in Switzerland during the Fascism of the 1930s and 40s, including Herman Hesse, Thomas Mann, Stefan George and Ignazio Silone.

The traditions of folk art are kept alive in many organisations throughout Switzerland. Folk art in the country is best represented by its poetry, music and dance, embroidery and wood carving. Yodeling is also stereotypical of Switzerland.

However, it is limited only to some of the mountain regions and not so widely spread as assumed.

The accordion bears the same stigma; sometimes misunderstood as a Swiss musical instrument. However, the alphorn, or alpenhorn, is a traditional symbol of Swiss music, used mainly in mountainous areas and said to be the perfect form of a wind instrument.

The types of melodies of Swiss folk music vary in different regions. In pastoral environments, melodies are wide ranging and floating. In the southern and inner Alps, the music represents more of a song, of limited range.

Some of the traditional themes in the songs speak of the homeland and love, others are more pastoral and patriotic, as well as some dedicated to hunting.

The Swiss are generally not considered a musically inclined nation. However, in the 20th Century, the country produced a number of internationally recognised composers, such as Othmar Schoeck, Frank Martin and Arthur Honegger.

The city of Lucerne hosts festivals throughout the year, including the Lucerne Festival for Classical music. However the best-known annual festival is the Montreux Jazz Festival, held on the Lake Geneva shoreline.

Swiss Alpine folk culture is also characterised by such impressive dances as the Schuplattler, an energetic sequence of hopping and jumping. Small music ensembles can be found in the French speaking part of Switzerland.

Another traditional aspect of Swiss folk culture is wood and chip carving, used mainly for decorating objects of everyday life, such as for wooden spoons, milking stools, walking sticks and neckbands for bells.

Woodcarvings of figures is common, as seen ornately decorated on the front of houses and especially widespread in Bernese Oberland.

Embroidery is also a traditional element in Swiss folk culture, common on women’s clothing, hats, scarves and cuffs. In the past, embroidery used to be a home industry in the east and northeast of Switzerland. Today, Swiss embroidery is only part of tourism, as traditional clothes became obsolete.

Architecture has strong traditions in Switzerland. The cathedrals of Basel, Chur, Sion, Lausanne and Geneva were erected in the traditional Romanesque style of the 12th Century.

This opulent style can be seen today on many well-preserved fortresses and castles throughout Switzerland.

The Gothic style is present in the cathedrals of Zug, Zurich and Schaffhausen, while Baroque-style churches exist in Ensiedeln and St Gallen.

During the Renaissance, architectural masters offered their talents to Italy, many of whom originated from the southern canton of Ticino.

Works of the Ticino masters include the Bridge of Sighs, the facades of the Royal Palace, the Lateran Palace, San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Widdman and Rezzonico Palaces, the Filippini monastery and the gallery of the Palazzo Spada.

In Russia, the Oldelli and Giliardi families, from Ticino, set up architecture firms. The Orphanage in Moscow was built by Giovanni Giliardi, while his son Domenico Giliardi rebuilt many public buildings in Moscow.

Domenico Trezzini erected many places in St Petersburg under the orders of Peter the Great. Le Corbusier was one of the most creative architects who worked outside Switzerland in the 20th Century and influenced many trends in buildings in the Western hemisphere.

The visual arts in the 16th Century in Switzerland were greatly influenced by Protestantism, but the Italian and French Renaissance did not influence Swiss art so much.

A number of Swiss artists have gained international fame, such as Alberto Giacometti, Jean Tinguely and Paul Klee. The Dada movement arose in Switzerland in the 1910s.

Significant museums can be found in Basel, Zurich and Geneva and also in such smaller towns as Martigny, Winterthur and Schauffhausen.