Flag of Switzerland


KEYWORD: Flag of Switzerland
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Flag of Switzerland

The flag of Switzerland is most recognizable for its striking red square background with a bold, white cross of equal lengths splashed at its center. There are actually only two square sovereign-state flags: the flag of Switzerland and the flag of the Vatican City. That rectangular flag of Switzerland that you sometimes see is only a civil and state ensign used mainly by Swiss ships and boats.

Although the red background of the flag of Switzerland is traditionally square, no such traditional connotations accompanied the white cross. In fact, it wasn't until 1889 when the dimensions of the cross were formally established: 'The coat of arms of the federation is, within a red field, an upright white cross, whose arms of equal length are a sixth longer than their width.' However, since the time of the Old Swiss Confederacy, the flag of Switzerland bore a white cross, albeit with much details than the plain white cross of today.

So how did the flag of Switzerland develop into what it is now? To answer that, we need to take a look at the history of the Swiss people.

The Forest Cantons

The so-called forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden were the founding members of the Old Swiss Confederacy of 1291. According to history, Emperor Frederick II of the German Empire granted the canton of Schwyz the privilege of carrying a white cross, a holy sign, on its banner in 1240. Documents and records reveal that the original white cross was asymmetrical and drawn in great detail with the body of Christ.

The white cross is a symbol of the Emperor as protector of Christianity. The red flag, on the other hand, was a sign of his power over life and death. When the Emperor granted the right to carry these two important symbols to Schwyz, he was granting the three cantons special honor, which included privileges like direct immediacy, as recognition for its resistance against the Habsburg aggression of King Rudolf I.

The Confederacy

Other cantons soon joined the Confederacy, with each one carrying their own flag and banners. However, to identify the allied troops in battles, what we know now as the flag of Switzerland was worn in tunics or as armbands by Swiss soldiers, a custom that is carried on to modern times.

Modern Times

Since 1848, the red flag with the white cross has been used as the national flag of Switzerland. This is largely due to the initiative of General Dufour, who rose to prominence when Switzerland was transformed into the present Confederation from what were previously a mere loose federation of different cantons.

A reversed version of the flag of Switzerland is the flag used by the International Red Cross, an organization founded by Genevan Henri Dunant. The adoption of the red cross on a white background is a commemoration of the organization's founder.


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