Switzerland is divided into 23 cantons (of which three in turn comprise two “half cantons” each; the cantons of Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft were merging in 1936):
With 98 residents per sq. km, Switzerland has a lower density than that of many European states, but nevertheless high if we consider that it is a state made up largely of high mountainous areas. In fact, the surface of the unproductive soil embraces about 22% of the total surface, and if we consider the population density on the productive soil, we obtain a value of 127 residents per sq. km. The most densely populated cantons (Basel city has a separate place, which includes only the urban area and therefore gives a very high value) are located in the area from the Prealps to the Jura: it is estimated that the Altipiano and the Jura welcome the 5 / 6 of the total population. A vast, completely uninhabited area includes the massifs of the Alps and the highest parts of the Prealps, almost coinciding with the area of eternal snow and ice (overall 37.9% of the total surface of the Alpine region); Below it lies, where more where less wide, a strip of territories inhabited only temporarily in summer (24% of the total surface). Areas inhabited only temporarily are also found in the Jura. The main physical factor affecting the distribution of the population is height: according to a calculation referring to 1920, 54.2% of the population of Switzerland lives below 500 m, 41.3% between 500 and 1000 m. and 4.5% above 1000 m.
But also in the area located below 1000 m. there are great differences in the distribution of the population. Human factors have strongly influenced it, mainly the modern development of industries and trade. The highest densities (over 200 and even over 400 residents per sq. Km.) Are found around the major centers; in a large area along the sub-Jurassic furrow with large appendages in the transverse valleys which here flow into the Aare; in the territory of Basel, and in the valleys of the Rhine, Lies and Birs; along the shores of major lakes. The plateau has fewer than 50 residents only in restricted areas. per sq. km. Instead, most of the Alpine region, even excluding uninhabited areas, has less than 10 residents per sq km: the major valleys are an exception, in which there are sometimes very densely populated areas, especially in the Valais and in the Rhine Valley beyond Chur (between 100 and 400 residents per sq. km) and the shores of the great pre-alpine lakes. In the Jura, the population thickens in the basins and major valleys.
Switzerland is divided into 3,118 municipalities, and of these 31 are “urban municipalities”, with more than 10,000 residents and they collect 30% of the population (1930). From 1850 to today the urban population has grown at a much more intense rate than in the other territories. But until 1900 Switzerland had no cities with more than 100,000 residents: in that year Zurich and Basel surpassed them: in 1930 the cities with more than 100,000 residents. there were 4 (Zurich, Basel, Geneva, Bern) and comprised 15% of the total population, another 3 (Lausanne, St. Gallen, Winterthur) exceeded 50,000 residents The phenomenon of urbanism therefore manifested itself very late: then, the modern development of industry and commerce had its effect and some centers had a very rapid growth: above all Zurich (35,466 residents in 1850, 249,820 in 1930), Basel (27.844 and 148.063), Geneva (37.724 and 124.121), Bern (29.670 and 111.783). A favorable geographical position especially with respect to communications (Basel, Geneva and also Zurich), a large increase in industry (especially in Zurich and Basel) have determined the development of these leading Swiss centers. Bern has a position of its own, due to its function as federal capital (since 1848).
The great majority of urban centers, considering as such those with more than 2000 residents, are concentrated in the plateau. The area where the largest cities are rented is centered in Zurich, which has around it a whole series of satellite cities, which wind along the two banks of the lake, in the Limmat valley, etc. A series of cities is found along the sub-Jurassic furrow; also the shores of the lakes and the major valleys have constituted areas of attraction for the cities; another area of choice is the one that gravitates around Basel.
The Jura has few cities and the Alps are even poorer: the urban centers are located on the edge of the Alpine region, on the shores of pre-Alpine lakes, or in the major valleys.