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Switzerland TravelSwitzerland guide / Switzerland geography
 

Switzerland geography

Switzerland is a landlocked country in central Europe. It has the highest elevations in the Alps - the mountain range it shares with southwestern Austria, northern Italy, and southeastern France
Switzerland is a landlocked country in central Europe. It has the highest elevations in the Alps - the mountain range it shares with southwestern Austria, northern Italy, and southeastern France. Located to the north of Italy, east of France, south of Germany, and west of Austria and Liechtenstein, it shares geographic features with all these countries. The total area of Switzerland is 41,290 square kilometers, which consists of 39,770 square kilometers of land, and 1,520 square kilometers of water.

Switzerland is mostly mountainous, with the Alps in the south of the country, and the Jura in the northwest. Switzerland also has a central plateau composed of lakes, plains, and rolling hills. The lowest point in Switzerland is Lake Maggiore at an elevation of 195 meters, and the highest point in the country is Dufourspitze, at 4,634 meters. The Swiss plateau forms a spine along the east to west axis of the country. Most of the population lives on the hills and plains of the plateau. Part of the northern border between Switzerland and Germany follows the Rhine River. The eastern border with part of Germany and part of Austria goes through Lake Constance, and part of the southwestern border with France goes through Lake Geneva.

There's not a very high percentage of arable land - less than 10%, and permanent crops are only on about 1/2 of 1% of the arable land. Natural hazards mostly consist of avalanches, flash floods, and landslides.

The plateau, where most of the population of Switzerland lives, averages 580 meters in altitude. It takes up one-third of the land, but contains two-thirds of the population of Switzerland. Most of the largest lakes in Switzerland are located on the plateau too. Lake Constance and Lake Geneva are shared with Germany and France, respectively, and the largest lake that is totally in Switzerland is Lake Neuchatel, which is also located on the plateau. Three great river valleys cross the Swiss Plateau: the Rhone, the Rhine, and the Aar. The smaller Thur valley also crosses the plateau. The headwaters of all four of these rivers are in the Alps, and they cut across the plateau between the Alps in the southeast and the Jura in the northwest. The valleys of the Aar and the Thur are wide and lazy, while the deeper trenches created by the Rhone and the Rhine make a bigger slash across the country. The Rhine River passes near a town called Schaffhausen, which is where Rhine Falls, the largest waterfall in Europe is located. Rhine Falls is about 25 meters tall and 150 meters wide.

The population density averages between 400 and 500 people per square kilometer. Around Lake Zurich, Lake Geneva, and other cities, the population is greater than 1,000 people per square kilometer. In addition to holding most of the population, the plateau is home to much of Swiss industry, farming, and manufacturing. Farms are generally small, with a few meadows and fields with crops and various types of orchards.

The Jura in the northwest run from Lake Geneva to the Rhine. They account for 12% of the land area in Switzerland. At an elevation of around 700 meters above sea level, the mountains are made up of limestone highlands with deep river valleys cut through. The area is home to numerous fossils and dinosaur tracks. Near the villaged called Courtedoux, more than 1,500 dinosaur footprints were discovered just from the period of 2002 to 2004. Scientists estimate that there are several thousand more yet to be found. The Jura's highest peak is Le Cret de la Neige, which has an elevation of 1,720 meters.

The average altitude in the Alps is 1,700 meters. The range covers nearly two-thirds of the surface area of Switzerland. The Alps have 48 mountains that exceed 4,000 meters in altitude. They are the watershed of all of Western Europe. The Rhine and its tributaries (the Aar and Thur) drain about two-thirds of the water in the North Sea. The Ticino and the Rhone drain about 18% of the water into the Mediterranean. The Swiss Alps are home to many of central Europe's glaciers - some 1,800 all told. Glaciers cover 1,200 square kilometers.

Most people associate Switzerland with the Alps, which attract huge numbers of tourists. The Matterhorn is perhaps the most recognizeable symbol of Switzerland, and is the seventh highest Alp. It is also photographed more than any other Swiss mountain. Another geographical feature of Switzerland is its system of alpine passes. For as long as people have traveled between southern and northern Europe, these mountain passages have been known and well used. If you plan to drive one of them, you should check the road conditions online first. A few of the passages are open year-round, but it is still a good idea to call ahead before setting out.

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