Districts of Switzerland

Districts of Switzerland are a political subdivision for cantons. In the federally constituted Switzerland, each canton is completely free to decide its own internal organisation. Therefore, there exists a variety of structures and terminology for the subnational entities between canton and municipality, loosely termed districts. Most cantons are divided into Bezirke (German for districts, singular Bezirk). They are also termed Ämter (Lucerne, singular Amt), Amtsbezirke (Bern, Amtsbezirk), district (in French) or distretto (Ticino and part of Graubünden). The Bezirke generally provide only administration and court organization. However, for historical reasons districts in cantons Graubünden and Schwyz are their own legal entities with jurisdiction over tax and often have their own Landsgemeinde.

Map of Switzerland showing cantonal, districts and municipal boundaries (April 2021).
Swiss cantons
Schweizer Kantone  (German) Cantons suisses  (French)
Cantoni Svizzeri  (Italian) Chantuns svizras  (Romansh)
  • Also known as:
  • Stände, États, Stati
CategoryFederated state
LocationSwitzerland
Found inCountry
Created
  • 13th century
Number26 cantons (as of 1979)
Populations16,003 – 1,487,969
Areas37 km2 (14 sq mi) – 7,105 km2 (2,743 sq mi)
Government
Subdivisions

Seven of the 26 cantons – Uri, Obwalden, Nidwalden, Glarus, Zug, Basel-City and Geneva – have always existed without the district level of government. An eighth one, Appenzell Innerrhoden, uses no intermediate level either, but calls its lowest-level subdivisions Bezirke, although they are functionally equivalent to municipalities elsewhere.

A further number of cantons are considering (or have already decided) an abolition of the district level in the future. Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Schaffhausen, Lucerne, St. Gallen and Schwyz voted in 2006 on its abolition; some voted in favour of keeping the division, some with modifications. Bern in 2006 decided a reduction of its 26 districts to ten administrative regions, which took effect in 2010. St. Gallen, Solothurn and Lucerne removed the administrative role, but retained districts for elections. In 2008 Vaud decided on a reduction from 19 to 10 districts, followed by Thurgau which combined eight into five in 2012. In 2017 Graubünden replaced the 11 districts with 11 regions. In 2018 Neuchâtel eliminated the district level.


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