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Switzerland's native population belongs to several ethnic groups and there are four national languages. A clear distinction of individual origins is almost impossible, however, because 2000 years of common history in a small area have had a "melting-pot"-effect.

The oldest known ethnic groups to settle in Switzerland were the Celtic Helvetians in western Switzerland, the Celtic Rauracians in northwestern Switzerland and the Rhetians in southeastern Switzerland.

The Celtic population lived in the Swiss midlands and was subjected by the Romans in 58 B.C. This historical event has been recorded in some detail by the Roman commander in charge of the operation, C. Iulius Cesar. Roman veterans and merchants settled in Switzerland and a "Gallo-Roman" culture was establish. There are hardly any traces left of the original Celtic culture.

The origins of the Rhetians are not known, they have adopted Latin language and culture before there is any written account of them. Since they live in the peripheral alpine region of southeastern Switzerland, their culture was not too much influenced from outside. Their language Rumantsch has devoloped from Latin in a similar, but independent way as Italian or Spanish did. Rumantsch is the fourth national language of Switzerland - however less than 1% of Switzerlands population do speak it.

During the Migration of Nations in the 5th century two Germanic tribes settled in Switzerland: the Burgundians (in western Switzerland and in Burgundy, eastern France) and the Alamannen (in northern Switzerland and southwestern Germany). Today's frontiers of Switzerland do not at all reflect the territory of these tribes - but the language border between French and German that runs through Switzerland does. While the Burgundians were keen to adopt the Gallo-Roman culture they found, learned Latin and forgot their German language, the Alamannen infiltrated Switzerland in little groups, settled far from the Roman towns in small villages and stuck to their German language and mentality.

When the French kings persecuted the French protestants (Huguenots), in the 17th century, a great number of them fled to French-speaking Switzerland. During the time of the Industrialisation (19th century) there was an increasing amount of migration in central Europe, a lot of people emigrated from Switzerland to neighboring countries or even overseas (USA, Canada, Latin America) while others immigrated from neighboring Germany, Austria, Italy and France.

After World War II immigration to Switzerland has increased. Today more than 20% of the population are foreigners. While immigrants in the 1950's and 1960's predominantly came from southern Europe and did have a similiar cultural background, the situation has changed radically. First there has always been a cultural gap between Europe and other continents (for example concerning religion). But there is also a change within western Europe society since 1968 that widens this gap between cultures further. The so-called multicultural society has become a reality with all its benefits (cultural enrichment) and problems (diverging basic values). Integration of immigrants has become a more challenging job for teachers and welfare workers - and for everybody!

Multilinguism among the native population of Switzerland is not a question of everyday life for a broad majority. The four national languages do all have their distinct regional territories and there are only two mid-sized cities (Biel/Bienne, 50,000 inhabitants and Freiburg/Fribourg, 32,000 inhabitants) and a few smaller towns that are truely bilingual.

For the Rumantsch minority (35,000 persons) the economical base is too small and their natural economic relations are with the German speaking part of Switzerland, so they are all forced to speak, read and write German perfectly. There is a similar tendency for the Italian speaking minority, but to a lesser extent. Italian is perfectly sufficient to communicate within the region, but there is for example no university in Italian speaking Switzerland. While French speaking people in Switzerland do use "standard French" instead of "patois" [rural French dialects] the contrary is true for German, Italian and Rumantsch in Switzerland. Standard German is used almost only in written form (the Swiss German term for standard German is "written German") or if the occasion is very formal (speeches, news on radio and television) or if a part of the audience is not able to understand Swiss German dialect (like French or Italian speaking or foreign team members).