Canton of Uri

Uri is one of the 26 cantons of Switzerland and is located in the central region of the country. On the maps of Switzerland, the canton appears as if it is holding the whole of Switzerland together, and if history is anything to go by, this may be true in some ways. The canton covers an area of approximately 1076 sq km and is home to a small population of some 36,000 people. The city of Altdorf is the capital of the canton, which is surrounded by steep valleys. The canton of Uri is partly covered in glaciers and forests, which makes it a great location for tourists. The rather unassuming canton hides a lot of interesting facts that may not be known to many. Here is all you need to know about the canton of Uri.

What does Uri mean?

If you go to the town hall in the capital city of Altdorf, you will find an old war banner with the image of a bull head on it. Even the blazon of the coat of the arms for the canton is a bull’s head. It is said that the name Uri is derived from the German word, auerochs, which translates to wild ox. This is the most commonly accepted theory as the bull’s head has been a symbol of the canton of Uri across war flags, and in seals.

The First Mention

The first ever mention of the canton of Uri appears in 732AD. It is said that the abbot of Reichanau, Eto was banished to Uri. He was banished by the Duke of Alamannia. In fact, there is proof of the Alemannic settlements in the area right around the beginning of the seventh century.

The Founding Member

Signatory to the Federal Charter of Switzerland, the canton of Uri is, in fact, one of the founding members of Switzerland. The canton signed the charter in the early part of August in 1291. The main reason behind signing the charter was the death of King Rudolf of Habsburg at the age of 73 and the imminent threat from Austrian powers. To protect the peace in the region, the canton signed this alliance with the other two forest cantons of Schwyz and Unterwalden. The three cantons pledged their loyalty to each other and also to forever maintain the Eternal Alliance.

The Origin of the Rutli Vow

Feasts, bonfires and speeches are a commonplace across Uri on the 1st of August. You can see small bonfires illuminating the hilltops on this day. The National Day, as it is called, commemorates the founding day of the Swiss Confederation. This is the very day the representatives from the three cantons met to form the Eternal Alliance. They sealed their promise of fighting the Austrians together by the Rutli Vow in a meadow. Rutli is the name of a meadow in the mountains by the Lake Lucerne. The popular Rutli Vow gets its name from this meadow. Everyone in Switzerland is familiar with this significant piece of their history.

The Story of William Tell

Arguably the most important story in the history of Uri, and perhaps, the entire Switzerland, is that of William Tell. Whether Tell is a mythical character or a legend who walked the Earth at some point in time is not clear. However, this “minor” technicality cannot spoil the joy of the story. He was a peasant from a place called Bürglen that is part of the Uri canton. He is the heroic figure who became a symbol of individual freedom and political freedom. He was forced to shoot an apple from his son’s head, following which he was arrested. William Tell is a man who is seen as an inspiration for the people of Uri to fight for their freedom. His heroic deeds have been commemorated by a bronze statue that stands in the middle of the capital city, Altdorf.

A well-known German artist, Friedrich von Schiller has made Tell an ever bigger hero by creating a play in 1840 called Wilhelm Tell. The play is still performed in the canton to honor the legend. For those interested in these performances, they can visit the city from June to August during the Tell Festival.

The Tough Terrain

Since Uri is surrounded by glaciers and tough mountain terrain, half of the area in the canton is deemed unproductive. Almost one-fifth of the unproductive land in the canton is covered with glaciers. To the northern side of the Furka Pass is the highest point in the canton of Uri, the Dammastock Mountain. Take some time out to visit the 2km long Damma glacier in the Urner Alps in the canton.

Furka Pass is just one example of the many passes of the Swiss Alps that fall in the canton of Uri. There is the Oberalp Pass that connects Uri to the canton of Graubünden. Klausen Pass is another one of such passes that provides a path to move between the cantons of Uri and Glarus. Susten Pass connects Uri to Bern and Wassen, while Saint Gotthard provides a way to travel to Göschenen, Airolo, Ticino, from the canton of Uri.

Traverse the Swiss Path

Swiss Path is the name given to a national path that was opened to the public in 1991. It was built to mark the 700 years of the Swiss Confederation, which was formed in 1291. The Swiss Path traverses through all the important locations that are significant to the constitution of the Swiss Confederation. Of course, it starts where the Swiss Confederation was founded – on the Rutli Mountain in the canton of Uri. The Swiss Path traverses a total distance of 35kms, and leads up to Platz der Auslandschweizer in Brunnen.

The path is really well-constructed and offers you incredible views at all times. You will see Beroldingen’s little castles, the old Axen Street, the Tell Chapel, and many other buildings and places of historical importance during the entire journey.

It takes a total of two to three days to complete a hiking trip across the path. Some parts of the path are wheel-chair accessible. You can also take a ship or a train to parts of the trail. There are good arrangements for boarding and lodging along the way, which is essential for an overnight hiking trail like this.

Visit the Reuss

Reuss is the fourth largest river in Switzerland and flows for a length of 164kms. The upper part of the river is responsible for carving out the valley in the canton of Uri. The first settlements in the region came to be on either side of this river. The river is home to the biggest hydroelectric projects in the canton.

In addition to serving as a source of water for the settlements, Reuss also provides beautiful views to the visitors. The clean blue water surrounded by the mountains is indeed a sight to behold.

The Forests Of Uri Provide

Most part of Uri does not have a friendly terrain, which makes it very difficult to use the land for agriculture. But, it is not just the glaciers that cover the Uri landscape. There is a huge forest cover in the canton, and it provides opportunity for other types of economic activities. There are many rubber and cable factories in Altdorf that source their raw material from these forests.

The Languages of Uri

Uri is a largely German canton. More than 80% of the people in the canton speak German as their first language. The second most spoken language is Serb-Croatian. Italian, French and Romansh are also spoken by some people in the canton. It is not necessarily one of the most diverse cantons in Switzerland, with roughly 10% of the population made up of foreign nationals.

Focus on Clean Energy

Though the canton of Uri has a rather small population, there is an immense focus on clean energy. The authorities in the canton attach a lot of importance to the development of infrastructure for the generation of hydroelectric power.


Tourism is a big deal in the canton of Uri, which is home to thousands of hotels ready to tend to the guests at all times. Good roads have made it easier for the travelers to reach the various peaks via bikes or other vehicles. The visitors can also take the many cable cars that connect the lower altitude areas to the mountain peaks. Apart from this, there are ample ski slopes, bike trails, and cross-country tracks that make Uri an ideal destination for adventure seekers as well.

Religious Beliefs

Over 85% of the population residing in Uri, Switzerland follows the Roman Catholic Church. This is hardly surprising considering that Uri was one of the few cantons that did not leave the Catholic Church during the Reformation period. The majority of the rest of the population follows the Swiss Reformed Church, the Christian Catholic Church, or the Orthodox Church. A very small number of people living in the canton follow any religion other than Christianity.

Education in Uri

In terms of education, Uri lags behind (by Switzerland’s standards that is) the other cantons. Only 34.4% of the population completes its upper secondary education, which is the next step after the mandatory module of the education system. Only a minor 8% have successfully graduated from a university.

Have Some Summer Fun

Cycling and hiking are one of the most beloved pastimes of the Swiss people in Uri. You can start one of the many mountain tours that are on offer. Go through the journey of a lifetime, take in the beauty of the Alps, and rejoice as you scale a mountain in the mighty Alps. The farmers on these trails are happy to invite you in their farms. If you are lucky, they may even offer you some fresh milk and the world-famous cheese from Uri. Nothing can beat the magnificent view from the top of a mountain when crisp and clean mountain air is blowing on your face.

For the Cold Winter Adventure

If you happen to visit Uri during the winters, then you should visit the small and picturesque hamlet of Eggberge. This is a serene paradise sitting above the Lake Lucerne. You can enjoy the winter hikes and great skiing trails. It is a family-friendly area, so it will be easy for you to bring your family along. You can easily find all the facilities required by the adults as well as the children who love to ski.

Tonart Festival

The Tonart Festival or the Tonality Festival is a musical extravaganza that you simply cannot miss if you are in Antdorf in the month of March. The festival is held in the Uri Theater in the center of Altdorf. The festival is primarily dedicated to jazz, but it is not closed to other styles of music either.

Alpine Sounds is another major music festival that celebrates modern music. This festival takes place in the month of August.

Folk Music Festival

If you want to take the traditional route, and are curious to know more about the traditional music of the region, then the Folk Music Festival is a good place for you to be. It is organized in the month of May. This festival provides the visitors a great snapshot of the folk music scene in Central Switzerland in general, and Uri, in particular.

Cheese Soup

It is no secret that Switzerland is home to some of the best cheese varieties in the world. But, what is less known is that Uri has a traditional dish called “Urner Chäässuppä”, which means Uri cheese soup. A bowl full of melted cheese – who would not like that?

It used to be a peasant dish. But, today, it is served in the best of restaurants with the traditional sides of salted potatoes and stewed prunes. It is a nice sweet and sour play of flavors and is delectable.