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Artificial and natural boundaries

With respect to the specification of the national border, a distinction is made between artificial and natural boundaries.

Taking the topography of Switzerland into account, the national border passes through cities (Geneva, Basel, Constance, Chiasso), over solid terrain (717 km), through lakes, rivers and streams (472 km) as well as across mountainous areas (746 km). Depending on the topography, the national boundary follows natural conditions or has been artificially defined.  

Artificial boundaries

The segments along the terrain are indicated by 7132 markers – mostly artfully carved stones – connected through straight lines.

The boundary stones

The boundary stones of the national border are listed and maintained by swisstopo. swisstopo ensures that they remain identifiable and in good condition. However, the inscriptions are no longer repainted in order to avoid excessive wear of the stones.

Numbering of border points

The numbering of the border points, visible on the national map 1:25000 and the digital map 1:10000, was determined between the various historically successive states on both sides of the border, some even before the emergence of modern Switzerland.

Several points have the same number, as each country had its own numbering system. Since these numbers are mentioned in a large number of still valid international treaties, it is not possible today to set up a new numbering system at the level of Switzerland.excessive wear of the stones.

Natural boundaries

Lakes, rivers and mountains are natural boundaries without specific markers in the terrain.

Lakes and rivers

In lakes and rivers the boundary usually runs through the middle of the body of water. The Lake of Geneva constitutes the boundary with France, the Rhine River with Germany, and the Inn River with Austria. Exceptions to this rule are the Doubs River in the Canton of Jura, where the boundary is defined by the Swiss river bank and the Morge River in St-Gingolph, where the upper edge of the Swiss river bank defines the boundary.

These exemptions have historical roots and reflect the power relations of the participating states at the time the borders were defined. The border definitions there are still laid down in international treaties today.

Lake Constance is a special case since the three riparian states of Switzerland, Germany and Austria have never defined a legal boundary. Only a technical boundary has been defined between the three States. The lake is considered a condominium under the sovereignty of the three countries bordering it. All matters relating to its border are dealt with by written agreements between these countries.

It is in Biaufond that the Franco-Swiss border crosses from the middle of the Doubs to the Swiss bank. The boundary stone marking this point is numbered 606 and 1 because it is located at the junction of two numbering systems. It is located in Lake Biaufond due to the construction of the Refrain dam in 1909.

In the mountains

In the mountains the water divide (i.e. the respective mountain ridge) is defined as a natural boundary and is not marked in the terrain. On glaciers and firn the boundary moves and follows the course of the morphological changes.

In principle, regular crossing points are marked out, while places that are difficult or impossible to access are defined by a natural border. The Col du Grand Saint-Bernard is a good example

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern
+41 58 469 01 11


Relevant authority

Geodesy and Federal Directorate of Cadastral Surveying

Federal Office of Topography swisstopo

Seftigenstrasse 264
P.O. Box
3084 Wabern

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