The Swiss Flag
Swiss flags are among the most distinctive flags in the world. They depict a white cross on a red field, and unlike the vast majority of national flags, they are squares. Switzerland flags today are typically made in the more common rectangle proportions for uniformity when displayed in groups. The white cross emblem dates back to the 14th century, but the red field is significantly more modern.
The flag of Switzerland consists of a red flag with a bold, equilateral white cross in the center. It is one of only two square sovereign-state flags, the other being the flag of the Vatican City. (The civil and state ensign, used by Swiss ships and boats, has more traditional proportions of 2:3.)
Only the dimensions of the cross are formally established since 1889: "The coat of arms of the federation is, within a red field, an upright white cross, whose [four] arms of equal length are a sixth longer than their width." The size of the cross in relation to the field is not formally established except on the naval ensign. A relation of 2:3 or 7:10 to the span of the flag is usual.
Use of the white cross as a military ensign (attached to the cantonal flags in the form of strips of linen) has been used in the Old Swiss Confederacy since the 14th century, but the modern design of a white cross suspended in a square red field was introduced only after the end of the Napoleonic period, in 1815, and was introduced as official national flag in 1889.
- Capital of Switzerland: Bern
- Area of Switzerland: 39,770 sq. km
- Languages used in Switzerland: German (official), French (official), Italian (official), Serbo-Croatian, Albanian, Portuguese, Spanish, English, Romansch
- Religions in Switzerland: Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, other Christian, Muslim
Medieval Origins of the Swiss Flag
It is difficult to determine where the white cross originated because there are several competing legends about it. Some sources connect it to the story of the Theban Legion, a Roman military unit that converted to Christianity and was martyred in the area. Other stories associate the symbol with the story of Christ's martyrdom. Others trace it back to the war banner of the Holy Roman Empire, which dates to the 12th century at the latest and also featured the red field that would become part of most future Swiss flags. Regardless of the emblem's origin, the symbol was certainly used to distinguish Swiss soldiers from their enemies in the Battle of Laupen in 1339, and it may have been used as a Swiss symbol even earlier than that. The white cross was used on a red field in battle to represent the united cantons of Switzerland in 1422, although it was not used for civil purposes until significantly later.
The Swiss Confederation only used the flag in battle, which was a very rare occasion due to the nation's policy of neutrality. That only changed during the Napoleonic Wars, when the nation briefly gained a national tricolor flag due to a French attempt to turn it into a puppet state. That flag was quickly abandoned, and people started to use the white and red flag of the modern era afterwards. The government responded a few years later by adopting it as the nation's federal flag in 1848, and accepting it as the national flag in 1889.