Switzerland (officially the Swiss Confederation; in Latin: Confoederatio Helvetica, hence its abbreviation CH), is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities, the so-called Bundesstadt ("federal city").
The country is situated in Western and Central Europe, where it is bordered by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north, and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east. Switzerland is a landlocked country geographically divided between the Alps, the Swiss Plateau and the Jura, spanning an area of 41,285 km2. While the Alps occupy the greater part of the territory, the Swiss population of approximately 8 million people is concentrated mostly on the Plateau, where the largest cities are to be found; among them are the two global and economic centres of Zürich and Geneva.
The establishment of the Swiss Confederation is traditionally dated to 1 August 1291, which is celebrated annually as Swiss National Day. The current Federation was established on 12 September 1848. A system of single weights and measures was introduced and in 1850 the Swiss franc became the Swiss single currency.
The country has a long history of armed neutrality - it has not been in a state of war internationally since 1815 - and did not join the United Nations until 2002. Nevertheless it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. In addition to being the birthplace of the Red Cross, Switzerland is home to numerous international organizations, including the second largest UN office. On the European level, it is a founding member of the European Free Trade Association and is part of the Schengen Area - although it is notably not a member of the European Union, nor the European Economic Area (and thus does not use the Euro currency).