The Swiss canton of Aargau runs along the lower part of the Aare River, which is where its name derives from. It is located in the northerly part of Switzerland. In medieval times the area was the subject of a border dispute between the duchies of Burgundy and Alamannia. The area was ruled by the Habsburgs for many years until 1415, and there are castles from that era still intact.
The Habsburgs started many monasteries, a few of which still stand. French forces occupied the Aargau region for part of 1798, and after that, the canton was divided between the Bernese and the Canton of Baden. In the year 1803, the two pieces were reunited into the canton of Aargau.
The Swiss government's closing of the Habsburg-built monasteries in 1841 was one of the reasons for the Sonderbund War, the Swiss civil war of 1847. Swiss Confederates governed parts of the canton, including the city of Baden as "subject lands."
For 200 years, the two villages of Lengnau and Endingen were the only places where Jews in Switzerland were allowed to live. They could not own their own houses, and they could not live with Christians. Though a few Jewish families were known to have lived in the area in the middle ages, from the middle of the 17th to the middle of the 19th century, the two villages were the only permanent Jewish settlement in all of Switzerland.
Jewish people were allowed to participate in markets, were allowed to trade horses and cattle, and were allowed to broker estates (even though they could not own their own houses). Until the year 1798 Aargau Jews had to pay special taxes. At that time the Helvetic Republic stepped in and abolished the taxes. The canton authorized the emancipation of the Jews in 1862, but popular sentiment caused the canton to repeal the act. It wasn't until 1878 that the Swiss parliament intervened and gave Jews full rights of citizenship. The number of Jews in the canton dwindled steadily throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to around 300 in the year 2000.
The Canton of Aargau is to the south of the German border. The three cantons of Bern, Solothurn, and Basel-Landschaft border Aargau to the west. To the south is Lucerne, and Zug and Zurich border Aargau to the east. Aargau forms part of the plateau to the north of the Alps and east of the Jura. There are low hills, along with verdant valleys nourished by the river Aar and those that flow into it. More than 30% of the canton is wooded, and almost 50% is farmed.
The canton of Aargau is known for hot sulphur springs in Schinznach and Baden. Rheinfelden is known for its saltwater springs. The remains of ancient settlements can be found around the city of Brugg, including ruins of the Habsburg castle, a convent, and a Roman settlement.
The canton has a population of nearly 600,000. Some 20% of residents are foreigners. Roman Catholics and Protestants together make up about 80% of the population. Most people in Aargau speak German. Farming, industry, and nuclear power plants are major parts of Aargau's economy. The rivers that run through the canton provide water for hydroelectric power plants, too, making Aargau the leading canton in Swiss electricity generation. Favored industries in the canton include iron, cement, steel, and precision instruments.
Just across the canton border is the city of Zurich, and many Aargau residents commute to the financial district there. Aargau brings in tourists with the sulphur springs and ancient ruins. The canton is also home to many museums, and is a popular place for hillwalking.
The capital of the canton of Aargau is the city of Aarau. It is a German speaking, Protestant city on the Swiss plateau on the right bank of the Aar River. It is west of Zurich and rests at the southern edge of the Jura mountain range. Though it is the capital of the canton, Aarau is the third largest city, after Baden, the second most populous, and Wettingen, the most populous city.
Aarau and neighboring cities of Rohr, Buchs, Suhr, and Kuutigen, among others, have grown together into an interconnected conglomeration of urban areas. In Aarau, artifacts have been found from the Neoithic period and the Bronze age. A Roman road once passed through the area, including a bridge of seven meters wide that dates from late Roman times. Aarau grew in population until 1960, when the population reached 17,045. In 2005, the population of Aarau was 15,619.