Why Switzerland Has No Capital City

Sam Denby from Half as Interesting, in his distinctively manic manner, debunks the common fallacy that Bern is the capital of Switzerland. In fact, as Denby explains, Switzerland has no capital city due to how the country was originally formed.

Prior to establishing itself as a nation, Switzerland was made up of separate cantons (subdivisions) from different parts of the current-day borders where different languages were spoken. The cantons first agreed to make alliances with one another known as Confederations. Once the Confederations came to an agreement to declare themselves as a country, they found it important to maintain that no canton, city, or language take precedent over another, leaving Switzerland functioning as a highly decentralized nation with a variety of services.

Bern is believed to be the capital city because the Federal government lives there.

The truth is, Bern is inaccurately referred to as the capital because it is home to federal
government buildings. This is because while balancing power across a decentralized Switzerland was an idea that all the cantons could get behind, the nation still needed at least some sort of federal government, and they needed to put that government somewhere.

Although, other Federal functions operate elsewhere in the country.

Not all federal buildings are located in Bern, though. For those who have broken Swiss law…you’ll end up in the Federal Criminal Court, located in the Italian-speaking city of Bellinzona. If you’re less criminal, though, and more supreme, the Swiss Supreme Court is in the French-speaking city of Lausanne. So, while Bern gets the star and bold font on all the maps, federal government functions are spread across the country in order to maintain a balance of power.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.