The Valais (also known in German as Wallis) is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland in the south-western part of the country, in the Pennine Alps around the valley of the Rhone River from its springs to Lake Geneva.
The canton of Valais is located in the south of Switzerland. To its south lies Italy, to the southwest France. To the north the canton is bounded by the Swiss cantons of Vaud and Bern; the cantons of Uri and Ticino 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 Mattertal valley lies Zermatt, a pretty tourist village dominated by views of the Matterhorn (4,477 m). Fifty of the mountains exceed 4,000m and there are numerous glaciers.
The Rhone drains the main valley from east to west up to Martigny, then in a right angle north to its mouth in the Lake Geneva. After the small town of Saint-Maurice, the northern banks of the river belong to the canton of Vaud. The main valley is bound by the Bernese Alps in the north and the Pennine Alps in the south. Only about half of the total area is considered productive.
Location of the canton
- North of the Rhone River
- Dalatal (Leukerbad)
- South of the Rhone River:
- Val d'Anniviers
- Val d'Hérens
- Val de Bagnes
- Val d'Entremont
- Val d'Illiez
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 Sion in 999, making him Count of the Valais. The count-bishops then struggled to defend the area against the dukes of Savoy.
The Valais resisted Protestantization during Reformation. On March 12, 1529, Valais became an associate member (Zugewandter Ort) of the Swiss Confederation. 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), but chose not to fight the troops of the confederation in 1847 and submitted to the federal forces.
Wine production and tourism are some of the main industries of the canton. The Matterhorn near Zermatt is one of the biggest touristic attractions in the Swiss mountains, but other parts of the mountains of the canton are popular, too.
Apart from tourism, agriculture is still important, particularly cattle breeding in the mountains and dairy farming in the plains. The vine industry of the canton is the largest in Switzerland. There are also a large number orchards in the area. The European Graduate School, focusing primarily on media and communications, is located in the canton of Valais.
The world’s tallest gravity dam is located at Grande Dixence in the canton. Hydroelectric power plants from the canton produce about a quarter of the Swiss electricity.
Near Visp there is a large plant of aluminium manufacturing. Other metal products and chemicals are produced around Visp and Sierre. There is an oil refinery in the canton.
A small airport is located at Sion, 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 Simplon and the Great St Bernhard. Many of the road passes are well known, such as the Grimsel Pass.
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.
Valais is predominantly French speaking. The eastern part of the canton Upper Valais, however, speaks German. The French speaking population makes up about two thirds of the total population
The whole canton is thinly populated. The largest towns are the capital Sion (Sitten), Sierre and Visp. There is no major city located in the canton. Over 90% of the population are Roman Catholic.
Towns and villages
The following are the municipalities of the canton, by district.
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