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The Valais (German: ) is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland in the southwestern part of the countrymarker, around the valley of the Rhône from its headwaters to Lake Genevamarker, separating the Pennine Alpsmarker from the Bernese Alpsmarker. The canton is one of the drier parts of Switzerland in its central Rhône valley. Paradoxically it is also one of most well-watered parts, having large amounts of snow and rain up on the highest peaks found in Switzerland. The canton of Valais is probably best known for the Matterhornmarker and ski resorts such as Zermattmarker or Verbiermarker.


The Romans called the area Vallis Poenina (Upper Rhône Valley). From 888 onwards the lands were part of the kingdom of Jurane Burgundy.

King Rudolph III of Burgundy gave the lands to the Bishop of Sionmarker in 999, making him Count of the Valais. The count-bishops then struggled to defend their area against the dukes of Savoy, so that the medieval history of the Valais is inextricably linked with that of the diocese of Sion.

The Valais resisted the Protestant Reformation, remaining faithful to the Roman Catholic Church. On March 12, 1529, Valais became an associate member (Zugewandter Ort) of the Swiss Confederationmarker. In 1628 the Valais became technically a republic, the République des Sept Dizains / Republik der Sieben Zehenden under the guidance of the prince-bishop of Sion and the bailli. The bishop remained in power until 1798 when Napoleon's troops invaded the Valais and declared a Revolutionary République du Valais (March 16) which was swiftly incorporated (May 1) into the Helvetic Republic until 1802 when it became the independent Rhodanic Republic. In 1810 the Rhodanic Republic was annexed by Napoleonic France as the département of Simplon. Independence was restored in 1813, and on August 4, 1815 the Valais finally entered the Swiss confederation as a canton. In 1845, the Valais joined the Catholic separatist league (Sonderbund) which led to what is called the Sonderbund War. 99,000 Swiss Federal troops under General Henri Dufour were faced by 79,000 Separatists, but secession was prevented when the Valais chose not to fight.


A view of the Lötschental valley
The canton of Valais lies in the southwest of Switzerland. To its south lies Italymarker, to the southwest Francemarker. To the north the canton is bounded by the Swiss cantons of Vaudmarker and Bernmarker; the cantons of Urimarker and Ticinomarker lie to its east.

The wide, glacial Rhône valley dominates the area. There are many side valleys which branch off the main valley. These vary from narrow and remote to reasonably populous and popular. At the head of the Mattertalmarker valley lies Zermattmarker, a pretty tourist village dominated by views of the Matterhornmarker (4,478 m). Fifty of the mountains exceed 4,000 m with the highest, Monte Rosamarker, reaching to , and there are numerous glaciers from among which the largest in the Alps.

The Rhône drains almost the entire canton and flows in the main valley from east to west up to Martignymarker, then in a right angle north to its mouth in the Lake Genevamarker. After the small town of Saint-Mauricemarker, the northern banks of the river belong to the canton of Vaudmarker. However two regions are located on the south side of the Alps and are drained by the Po rivermarker: the valley south of the Simplon Passmarker and (of very limited extend) the area south of the Great St. Bernard Passmarker. The main valley is bound by the Bernese Alpsmarker in the north and the Pennine Alpsmarker in the south. Other ranges situated partially in Valais are the Chablais Alpsmarker, the Mont Blanc Massif, the Urner Alps and the Lepontine Alpsmarker. Only about half of the total area is considered productive.

Political subdivisions


Districts in Valais
Valais is divided into 14 districts:


There are 143 municipalities in the canton ( )..


Valais is predominantly French- and Arpitan-speaking. The eastern part of the canton Upper Valais, however, speaks Walliser German. The French-speaking population makes up a little bit more than two thirds of the total population.

The whole canton is thinly populated. The population of the canton is 298,580 of which 57,061 (or 19.1%) are foreigners. The largest towns are the capital Sionmarker (Sitten), Montheymarker, Sierremarker, Martignymarker and Brig. There is no major city located in the canton. 81% of the population is Roman Catholic while only 6% are Protestant.


Wine and fruit cognac, e.g. "Williamine" production and tourism are some of the main industries of the canton. The Matterhornmarker near Zermattmarker is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the Swiss mountains, as is its sister valley immediately east Saas Feemarker. Other parts of the mountains of the canton further west are popular as well, such as the more French-speaking resorts near Verbiermarker and the Evolenemarker and Arollamarker region. The resorts on the north side of the main Rhône river valley are popular, looking out southwards towards the Peninne Alpsmarker and still part of the southern slope of the Bernese Alpsmarker, such as the family-oriented resort of Crans-Montanamarker. The resorts in the Gomsmarker region are slightly less known, yet also receive attention during the summer hiking season and the winter ski season.

Apart from tourism, agriculture is still important, particularly cattle breeding in the mountains and dairy farming in the plains. The wine industry of the canton is the largest in Switzerland. There are also a large number orchards in the area, and saffron is also gathered here.

Europe's tallest gravity dam is located at Grande Dixencemarker in the canton. Hydroelectric power plants from the canton produce about a quarter of Swiss electricity.

The west part and the most industrial region of the canton is called Chablais. The area is very important for the economy. The lands from the Valais part of Lake Geneva to the town of St-Maurice are located in the Chablais. There are a lot of factories, the most important are the subsidiaries of Novartis and Syngenta, in Montheymarker. In the town of Collombey-Murazmarker, there is an oil refinery.

Near Vispmarker there is a large aluminium processing plant. Other metal products and chemicals are produced around Visp and Sierremarker.


A small airport is located at Sionmarker, but the main routes of transport are rail and road. Both networks are extensive and benefit from tourism. There are two major rail tunnels at the Simplonmarker (Simplon Tunnel) and Lötschberg (Lötschberg Tunnelmarker) and a road tunnel at the Great St Bernard. Many of the road passes are well known, such as the Grimsel Pass. The longest land tunnel in the world, the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, is in operation since late 2007, connecting by rail the town of Frutigenmarker in canton Bernmarker, with the town of Vispmarker in canton Valais/Wallis. This is to better allay car traffic in the highly scenic Kandertalmarker, and also to provide faster transport through the Bernese Alpsmarker from the populous Mittelland in the north to the southern canton of Valais. Cars may be loaded onto the trains as freight. The old train line will still likely have traffic though, as it has highly scenic sections in both cantons on either side of the old tunnel through the dividing ridgeline, yet is somewhat slower than the new route which has a much longer tunnel section.

Because of the tourism there are many mountain railways and cable cars in the mountains. The scenic rail route across the Furka Pass originates in the canton of Valais.

See also


External links

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