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Communes of Switzerland
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Communes of Switzerland

Map of Switzerland showing municipal boundaries (2012)

Communes ( / / / ), also known as municipalities, are the smallest government division in Switzerland, numbering 2,596 ().[1] While many have a population of a few hundred citizens, the largest cities such as Z rich or Geneva also have the legal status of municipalities. The area of the municipalities varies between 0.28 km (Ponte Tresa, Ticino) and 430 km (Glarus S d, Glarus).

Each canton defines the responsibilities of its constituent communes. These may include providing local government services such as education, medical and social services, public transportation, and tax collection. The degree of centralization varies from one canton to another.

Communes are generally governed by a council (sometimes called Municipality) headed by a mayor as executive and the town meeting as legislature. Most cantons leave the option to larger municipalities to opt for a city parliament. In some cantons, foreign persons that have dwelled for a certain time in Switzerland are also allowed to participate in the municipal politics.

Swiss citizenship is based on the citizenship of a municipality. Every Swiss is citizen of one or several municipalities (known as the place of origin, lieu d'origine, or Heimatort). As on the cantonal and federal level, citizens enjoy their political rights, including the direct democratic ones, in their municipality.

Communes are financed through direct taxes (such as the income tax), with rates varying more or less within a framework set by the canton. As among the cantons, there is a tax transfer among the communes to balance various levels of tax income.

Many municipalities are having difficulties maintaining the civil services they need to perform the duties they are required to do. In an effort to reduce expenses, some municipalities are combining together (through mergers or the creation of special-purpose districts). This restructuring is generally encouraged by the cantonal governments and the rate of these unions is increasing.

"Cities" (villes or St dte) are the municipalities with more than 10'000 inhabitants, or smaller places which had medieval town rights. There is no specific designation for smaller communities such as "village" or "town".

Population Number of municipalities in 2004 (%)[2]
>20,000 30 (1.1%)
10,000 19,999 89 (3.2%)
5000 9999 180 (6.6%)
1000 4999 1025 (37.4%)
500 999 555 (20.3%)
<500 861 (31.4%)
Total 2740 (100%)

Communes are numbered by the Swiss Federal Office for Statistics (see Community Identification Number). One or more postal codes (PLZ/NPA) can by assigned to a municipality or shared with other municipalities.

See also: List of cities in Switzerland


Lists of communes by canton

See cantons of Switzerland for the number of municipalities per canton.

List of communes by population

Largest municipalities
City C. Pop.

Z rich ZH 376,815

Geneva GE 185,726

Basel BS 167,365

Bern BE 128,041

Lausanne VD 129,273

Winterthur ZH 100,000

St. Gallen SG 74,538

Lucerne LU 57,890

Lugano TI 56,719

Biel/Bienne BE 50,852

Thun BE 42,319

K niz BE 38,098

La Chaux-de-Fonds NE 37,023

Schaffhausen SH 33,527

Fribourg FR 33,008

Chur GR 34,915

Neuch tel NE 32,389

Vernier GE 32,038

Uster ZH 28,770

Sion VS 27,697

Emmen LU 27,274

Smallest municipalities ()
Rank Municipality C. Pop.

1. Portein GR 22

2. Corippo TI 23

3. Mulegns GR 25

4. Bister VS 26

5. Martisberg VS 28

6. Goumoens-le-Jux VD 30

6. Largario TI 30

8. Clugin GR 35

9. Cauco GR 36

9. Monible BE 36

11. St. Martin GR 37

12. Gresso TI 38

12. Montfavergier JU 38

14. Vaugondry VD 39

15. Arrissoules VD 40

15. Romairon VD 40

15. Selma GR 40

18. Ausserbinn VS 41

18. Linescio TI 41

18. Mauraz VD 41

18. Steinhaus VS 41

nb. Corippo has now taken place as smallest city/municipality in Switzerland with only 17 inhabitants. (2004 Census)


The beginnings of the modern municipality system date back to the Helvetic Republic. Under the Old Swiss Confederacy, citizenship was granted by each town and village to only residents. These citizens enjoyed access to community property and in some cases additional protection under the law. Additionally, the urban towns and the rural villages had differing rights and laws. The creation of a uniform Swiss citizenship, which applied equally for citizens of the old towns and their tenants and servants, led to conflict. The wealthier villagers and urban citizens held rights rights to forests, common land and other municipal property which they did not want to share with the "new citizens", who were generally poor. The compromise solution, which was written into the municipal laws of the Helvetic Republic, is still valid today. Two politically separate but often geographically similar organizations were created. The first, the so-called municipality, was a political community formed by election and its voting body consists of all resident citizens. However, the community land and property remained with the former local citizens who were gathered together into the B rgergemeinde. During the Mediation era (1803 1814), and especially during the Restoration era (1814 1830), many of the gains toward uniform citizenship were lost. Many political municipalities were abolished and limits were placed on the exercise of political rights for everyone except the members of the B rgergemeinde. In the Regeneration era (1830 1848), the liberal revolutions of the common people helped to restore some rights again in a few cantons. In other cantons, the B rgergemeinden were able to maintain power as political communities. In the city of Zurich it wasn't until the Municipal Act of 1866 that the political municipality came back into existence.[3]

The relationship between the political municipality and the B rgergemeinde was often dominated by the latter's ownership of community property. Often the administration and profit from the property were totally held by the B rgergemeinden, leaving the political municipality dependent on the B rgergemeinde for money and use of the property. It wasn't until the political municipality acquired rights over property that served the public (such as schools, fire stations, etc.) and taxes, that they obtained full independence. For example, in the city of Bern, it wasn't until after the property division of 1852 that the political municipality had the right to levy taxes.[3]

It wasn't until the Federal Constitution of 1874 that all Swiss citizens were granted equal political rights on local and Federal levels. This revised constitution finally removed all the political voting and electoral body rights from the B rgergemeinde. In the cities, the percentage of members in the B rgergemeinde in the population was reduced as a result of increasing emigration to the cities. This led to the B rgergemeinde losing its former importance to a large extent. However, the B rgergemeinde has remained, and it includes all individuals who are citizens of the B rgergemeinde, usually by having inherited the B rgerrecht (citizenship), regardless of where they were born or where they may currently live. Instead of the place of birth, Swiss legal documents, e.g. passports, contain the B rgerort (place of citizenship). The B rgergemeinde also often holds and administers the common property in the village for the members of the community.[3]

Other types of communes

In addition to the political communes or municipalities, a number of other communes exist in Switzerland. These include:

  • B rgergemeinde (also: Burgergemeinde, Ortsgemeinde, Ortsb rgergemeinde, Tagwen, bourgeoisie, commune bourgeoise, vischnanca burgaisa), a statutory corporation that includes everyone who is a citizen of a commune and has the Heimatrecht (home right) in that commune regardless of where they may currently live. Until the 19th Century this Heimatrecht included rights to use the commons, which were administered by the B rgergemeinde. Modernly, some B rgergemeinden may still control common property, but the Heimatrecht and associated Heimatort is used just as place of birth in other countries.
  • Gemischte Gemeinde (mixed communes), found in the Canton of Jura and portions of the Canton of Bern, a combination of a B rgergemeinde and a political commune.
  • Korporationsgemeinde, a legally recognized cooperative in Central Switzerland that controls some land and is responsible for its members support.
  • Kirchgemeinde, a parish for members of a large church (generally Roman Catholic or Swiss Reformed. There may be two or more Kirchgemeinden in a single municipality.
  • Schulgemeinde, similar to a School district.
  • B uert, in the Berner Oberland or Graub nden) a small farming community. It is a type of agricultural cooperative with shared equipment and land.[4]
  • Degagna, in the Leventina valley in the Canton of Ticino. It manages shared pastures, fields and woods as well as maintaining roads that cross the common land.[5]

See also


External links

als:Gemeinden der Schweiz ast:Comunes de Suiza de:Politische Gemeinde es:Comunas de Suiza eo:Komunumo (Svislando) fa: fr:Communes de Suisse it:Comuni della Svizzera nl:Zwitserse gemeente ja: nn:Kommunar i Sveits pt:Comunas da Su a ru: zh:

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