The Alpine region of Switzerland, conventionally referred to as the Swiss Alps (German: Schweizer Alpen, French: Alpes suisses, Italian: Alpi svizzere, Romansh: Alps svizras), represents a major natural feature of the country and is, alongside with the Swiss Plateau and the Swiss portion of the Jura Mountains, one of its three main physiographic regions.
SWISS ALPS LANDSCAPES THEMED WEB SEARCH
The Swiss Alps extend over both the Western Alps and the Eastern Alps, encompassing an area sometimes called Central Alps. While the northern ranges from the Bernese Alps to the Appenzell Alps are entirely in Switzerland, the southern ranges from the Mont Blanc massif to the Bernina massif are shared with other countries such as France, Italy, Austria and Liechtenstein.
The Swiss Alps comprise all the mountains of Switzerland over 2,000 metres above sea level and almost all the highest mountains of the Alps, such as Monte Rosa (4,634 m), the Dom (4,545 m), the Lyskamm (4,527 m), the Weisshorn (4,506 m) and the Matterhorn (4,478 m). The other following major summits can be found in List of mountains of Switzerland.
Since the Middle Ages, transit across the Alps played an important role in history. The region north of the St. Gotthard Pass became the nucleus of the Swiss Confederacy in the early 14th century.
The Alps are usually divided into two main parts, the Western Alps and Eastern Alps, whose division is along the Rhine from Lake Constance to the Splügen Pass. The western ranges occupy the greatest part of Switzerland while the more numerous eastern ranges are much smaller and are all situated in the canton of Graubünden. The latter are part of the Central Eastern Alps, except the Ortler Alps which belong to the Southern Limestone Alps. The Pennine, Bernese and Bernina Range are the highest ranges of the country, they contain respectively 38, 9 and 1 summit over 4000 metres. The lowest range is the Appenzell Alps culminating at 2,500 metres.
The north side of the Swiss Alps is drained by the Rhône, Rhine and Inn (which is part of the Danube basin) while the south side is mainly drained by the Ticino (Po basin). The rivers on the north empty into the Mediterranean, North and Black Sea, on the south the Po empty in the Adriatic Sea. The major triple watersheds in the Alps are located within the country, they are: Piz Lunghin, Witenwasserenstock and Monte Forcola. Between the Witenwasserenstock and Piz Lunghin runs the European Watershed separating the basin of the Atlantic (North Sea) and the Mediterranean Sea (Adriatic and Black Sea). The European watershed lies in fact only partially on the main chain. Switzerland possesses 6% of Europe's fresh water, and is sometimes referred to as the "water tower of Europe".
Since the highest dams are located in Alpine regions, many large mountain lakes are artificial and are used as hydroelectric reservoirs. Some large artificial lakes can be found above 2,300 m, but natural lakes larger than 1 km² are generally below 1,000 m (with the exceptions of lakes in the Engadin such as Lake Sils, and Oeschinen in the Bernese Oberland). The melting of low-altitude glaciers can generate new lakes, such as the 0.25 km² large Triftsee which formed between 2002–2003.
Switzerland enjoys a 62,000-km network of well-maintained trails, of which 23,000 are located in mountainous areas. Many mountains attract a large number of alpinists from around the world, especially the 4000-metre summits and the great north faces (Eiger, Matterhorn and Piz Badile). The large winter resorts are also popular destinations in summer, as most of aerial tramways operate through the year, enabling hikers and mountaineers to reach high altitudes without much effort. The Klein Matterhorn is the highest summit of the European continent to be served by cable car.
The major destinations for skiing and other winter sports are located in Valais, Bernese Oberland and Graubünden. Some villages are car-free and can be accessed only with public transports such as Riederalp and Bettmeralp. Zermatt and Saas-Fee have both summer ski areas. The ski season starts from as early as November and runs to as late as May; however, the majority of ski resorts in Switzerland tend to open in December and run through to April. The most visited places are: Davos - Klosters, Zermatt (car-free village), St. Moritz, Grindelwald - Mürren - Wengen (car-free villages), Adelboden - Lenk, Verbier - Nendaz, Gstaad, Flims - Laax, Lenzerheide - Arosa & Crans Montana to name but a few.
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