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EXPLAINED: Where you can learn about Swiss history on August 1st

There are plenty of National Day activities held in practically all of Switzerland’s communities on August 1st, including brunches and barbecues. But none of them have much to do with the country’s history.

EXPLAINED: Where you can learn about Swiss history on August 1st
There many places where you can absorb the 'Swissness' on August 1st. Image by annca from Pixabay

If you are all brunched-out and can’t stomach yet another grilled cervelat, there are other activities you can do on Switzerland’s National Day.

For instance, unless you know everything about the country’s past — and not just the bit about the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden signing the Federal Charter on the Rütli meadow in 1291 — then August 1st may be a perfect time to learn about the defining moments in Switzerland’s history.

This is where you can explore Switzerland’s past.


The Federal Building in Bern, which is the seat of the Federal Council and both chambers of the parliament, will be opening its doors to visitors on August 1st from 8.30am.

During the day, the Council of States President Brigitte Häberli-Koller and National Council President Martin Candinas will be in the National Council Chamber for a moderated discussion with the public.

In Room 4, there will be showings of SESSION, a film documenting four MAGNUM photographers as they worked in the Parliament Building. At the same time, musicians will be playing at various locations in and around the Parliament Building.

This is a great opportunity to visit the place where all the legislative and executive political processes are happening on daily basis.

Parliament building in Bern will open to public. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Swiss National Museum(s)

Split between the German and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, the museums are located both in Zurich and in Prangins in canton Vaud.

Both have, aside from temporary displays from various artists, the permanent exhibit dedicated to Switzerland’s history. 

Aside from re-tracing the evolution and development of direct democracy, the exhibit also covers such topics as Swiss mercenaries of the Middle Ages, the role of women in Swiss society, and the history of immigration.

If you go to the Prangins site, located in an 18th-century castle overlooking Lake Geneva, you will also have the possibility of visiting the country’s largest historical kitchen garden on the museum’s land.

According to the museum’s website, the 5,500 sqquare-metre garden boats “almost 200 species and varieties of fruits, vegetables, aromatic and utilitarian plants that were present in the region in the 18th century are grown in accordance with organic farming principles.” 

Both national museums are open from 10 am on August 1st.
Tell Museum
Okay, so Switzerland’s most famous apple-shooter was not a real person — as far as we know.

But real or not, William Tell is a big part of Switzerland’s fight for its sovereignty, as he is credited in the legend.
The Tell Museum in Bürglen, a town located — appropriately enough, in Uri, one of the three founding cantons — explores the mystery of the Swiss folk hero.
The museum’s purpose is “collecting, storing and preserving documents, objects and historical, artistic and traditional depictions of Tell as well as of events connected to the founding history of the Swiss Confederacy,” its website indicates

It is opened from 10 am on August 1st.

Swiss folk hero, William Tell.Image by Marlon Trottmann from Pixabay

The Red Cross Museum
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, as it is officially called, is located, logically, in Geneva, because that is where the founder of the movement, Henri Dunant was from.

Both Dunant and the movement are therefore closely associated with Switzerland.

The museum documents the history of the world’s largest humanitarian movement.

Various exhibits remind visitors of the importance of international humanitarian efforts from the 19th century (when the Red Cross was born) to modern times.

Opened from 10 am.

The entrance of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Museum is seen with the ICRC headquarters as background. Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The vast, open-air museum in Ballenberg, Bern, features different facets of Switzerland’s architectural and folkloric traditions.

The old farmhouses you see while strolling around the huge park are original models, dismantled piece by piece in their villages, brought to Ballenberg, and carefully re-assembled.

There are also indigenous plants and crops that have been cultivated here, and over 200 native livestock species.

You can also see traditional handicrafts coming alive, including basket-weaving, braiding, and spinning.

All these museums will give different glimpses of Switzerland’s history, and that is what August 1st is all about..

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For members


What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Switzerland's Alpine pasture season has been included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But what makes it so special?

What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Why are Swiss Alpine pastures in the news?

On Wednesday, UNESCO announced it had inscribed 45 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its annual session held in Kasane (Republic of Botswana).

The list comprises cultural “practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.” 

Among this year’s new elements were two Swiss entries, one of which is the country’s popular Alpine pasture season.

What is Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season?

As an exemplary tradition of the Swiss mountain areas, the Alpine pasture season combines traditional skills, customs and rituals related to Alpine farming in Switzerland.

The Alpine pasture season takes place from around May to October in Switzerland when various cattle, sheep and goats are relocated to high-altitude pastures (between 600 metres and 2900 metres) to graze on fresh forage and herbs that thrive in the summer months.

The Alpine farmers, or Alpacists, then look after the livestock and their surroundings, produce different dairy products, and even invite visitors to observe the animals and farming practices.

“The practice contributes to the preservation of natural landscapes and creates economic and social ties between the local populations and the Alpine farmers. It has given rise to the knowledge and skills needed to maintain the sites, as well as to a variety of social and religious practices such as rituals, prayers and blessings, traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivities,” UNESCO writes.

Some of these practices also include “traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivals” like the Alpine cattle ascent (inalpe) and the Alpine cattle descent (désalpe) where – depending on the region – the most beautiful cow of the herd is crowned.

Festivals to celebrate the herd animals heading to their summer pastures play a vital role for farmers and locals as they highlight craft practices that are otherwise rarely observed in Switzerland.

“The knowledge, skills, and customs of the Alpine pasture season, including farming and cheesemaking, are often transmitted informally, within families and their seasonal employees or among members of Alpine societies and cooperatives. They are also transmitted through regional training centres, cultural events and tourism,” UNESCO says.

READ MORE: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

UNESCO also recognises Swiss irrigation technology

Switzerland’s cattle weren’t the only ones to join UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity this year.

Its centuries-old irrigation technology from Bern and Lucerne also made the cut.

The multinational agricultural technology was proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO list by Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, zentralplus reported.

According to UNESCO, traditional irrigation involves temporarily digging small ditches and channels to distribute water from as springs, rivers, streams, and glaciers to meadows.

This sustainable form of water supply, which serves to cultivate dry areas, also has a positive effect on biodiversity.

In Switzerland, this technology is celebrated with various social gatherings and other festivities to mark the start and ending of the water season.

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity also includes six other Swiss entries.

These include the Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics (2020), the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio (2019), Alpinism (2019), the Avalanche risk management (2018), Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques (2018), the Basel Carnival (2017), and the Winegrowers’ Festival in Vevey (2016).

Since 2020, the craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation – which include Switzerland – also joined UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and falls within the agency’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

READ MORE: The 13 world heritage sites in Switzerland you need to see