Obwalden, also Obwald (german: (Kanton) Obwalden, ), is one of the forming the . It is composed of seven municipalities and the seat of the government and parliament is in . It is traditionally considered a "", the other half being . Obwalden lies in and contains the . It is bordered by the canton of to the north, the canton of Nidwalden and to the east and the canton of to the south. The canton is essentially in the valley of the south of , with an enclave around . It is one of the smallest cantons. The largest town is , followed by and . Together with Nidwalden, Obwalden was part of the forest canton of , one of the three participants in the , named in the of 1315 with Uri and Schwyz. The division of Unterwalden into two separate territories, Nidwalden and Obwalden, appears to develop over the course of the 14th and 15th centuries.


Obwalden is one of the two valleys, along with Nidwalden, that make up Unterwalden. Throughout its history, the political situation and the extent of its independence have varied widely. Between 1291 and 1309, Unterwalden joined the nascent Swiss Confederation. During that time Obwalden was known as ''Unterwalden ob dem Kernwald'' and Nidwalden was ''Unterwalden nit dem Kernwald''. Unterwalden's votes in the were split between the two valleys. Between 1798 and 1803 it became the District of Sarnen in the . From 1803 until 1999 it was the half-canton of Obwalden. In 1999, the new Federal Constitution eliminated the half-canton designation and made Obwalden a full canton, though they still shared representation in the and only had half a vote. Due to the complex history of Obwalden there will be some overlap between the histories of Obwalden, Nidwalden, and Unterwalden.


The earliest archaeological traces in Obwalden is a stone knife from the 8th millennium BC, which was found in Brand by Lungern. Two sites from the 4th millennium BC have been found in the Canton. An ax and two bone blades were found in Giswil and a hammer-ax was found in Wilen. It appears that the valleys in Obwalden were at least temporarily inhabited during this time, but no evidence of agriculture or permanent settlements have been found. An Early grave in Foribach in Kerns implies that there was a settlement in the surrounding area between 2000 BC and 1700 BC. There may have also been a settlement along the shores of during the same period. Between 1500 and 1100 BC there were several other settlements, including houses in the and high alpine herding camps above the pass. Many of the place names in the canton have or roots. In 1914-15 a estate was unearthed in Alpnach. The estate was built in the late 1st century AD and remained in operation until a fire destroyed the main building in 270. Around 700, the began to migrate into Obwalden. They initially settled around the lakes while the Gallo-Romans lived up on the plateau. The Alamanni influence is noticeable around Lake Sarnen and the Kerns plateau where many place name end in -ingen, -wil and -hofen. The Gallo-Romans remained around , the Giswilerstock and in the Melch valley. During the 8th to 11th centuries, the two populations intermarried and eventually all became Germanized. By the 9th century it was part of the . It became part of the following the winter military campaign of 1032-33 by . Obwalden was given to the from Aargau. The counts built a castle on Landenberg hill to help them control the land.

Early middle ages

During the , much of the land in Obwalden was controlled by monasteries (especially Murbach-Lucerne and Beromünster Abbey). The monasteries began to spread their authority and es into Obwalden during this time. St. Peter's Church in Sarnen was first mentioned in 1036, but was built on top of an 8th-century church. St. Mary's Church of Alpnach was probably built in the 8th or 9th century. The churches in Kerns, Sachseln, and Giswil all became es by the 12th century and a church was mentioned in Lungern in 1275. During the 14th century, began to acquire rights over the parishes in Obwalden. By 1415 the Abbey had control over the appointment of parish priests in the entire valley. In 1460, this became authority over all the parishes in the valley. In the early 12th century the Counts of Lenzburg granted a large part of their lands in Obwalden to their monastery at Beromünster. In 1210 the Lenzburg castle at Landenberg was abandoned. However, in the 13th century, several small castles were built for the minor nobles. The Kellner of Sarnen ( of the main family) lived in the Lower Castle in Sarnen. In Giswil the Lords of Hunwil lived in Hunwil Castle while the Meier of Giswil, a (unfree knights in the service of a overlord) family, lived in Rosenberg Castle. In Lungern, the Lords of Vittringen had a castle. The political community of Sarnen (de Sarnon locorum homines) were first mentioned in a in 1247, when they and the citizens of Schwyz were for supporting against their ruler, Rudolf of Habsburg-Laufenburg. In 1257, the Habsburgs had to grant their landlord rights in Obwalden to several of their s, all minor nobles. During the 13th century, Obwalden was home to a unified local political organization with enough autonomy to act against the best interests of their nominal rulers. The nobility in the canton were all minor nobles with limited power. This changed on 16 April 1291 when bought the Unterwalden (containing both Obwalden and Nidwalden) from . This made him the chief landowner, the count, and the emperor over the valley. Fearing a loss of their freedoms, on the 1 August 1291 Nidwalden (Obwalden is not named in the text of the document, though it is named on the seal appended to it) formed the with Uri and Schwyz. This alliance is considered the beginning of the and modern Switzerland.

The Old Swiss Confederation

Initially, the Eternal Alliance was a mutual defense pact between the three cantons, each of which was independently ruled. In 1304 the two valleys of Obwalden and Nidwalden were joined together under the same local deputy of the count. In 1309 confirmed to Unterwalden all the liberties granted by his predecessor, though the exact terms are unknown. The Emperor also granted the valleys which placed Unterwalden on an equal political footing with Uri and Schwyz. In 1314, Duke Louis IV of Bavaria (who would become ) and , a prince, each claimed the crown of the . The Confederates supported Louis IV because they feared the Habsburgs would annex their countries as Habsburg property. War broke out over a dispute between the Confederates of Schwyz and the Habsburg-protected monastery of regarding some pastures, and eventually, the Confederates of Schwyz conducted a raid on the monastery. In support of their allies, Unterwalden joined the Confederates in the and drove back an invasion of the . After the decisive Confederation victory over the Habsburgs, Unterwalden renewed the Eternal Alliance in the . During the 14th century, the communities in Obwalden grew increasingly powerful at the expense of the nobility. The formerly powerful Kellner of Sarnen family retired from politics after 1307. The mentions the conquest of the Lower Castle in Sarnen, the home of the family, which may explain why they left politics. The Strättligen and Ringgenberg families married into the Lords of Hunwil and used the power of the dynastic marriages to reduce Habsburg power to a vague suzerainty in the 1330s and 40s, though the Habsburg still owned some land in Obwalden. During the early 14th century, an organization of livestock farmers developed in the Hunwil lands. Throughout the century, their political power grew as they acquired more land and grew wealthy. The organization eventually became an alternative political structure and following conflicts between the organization and the Hunwil nobles, in 1382 the excluded the Hunwils from holding political or court offices. During the 13th and 14th century Obwalden established its own local governance, despite having had a joint assembly with Nidwalden up to around 1330. During the 14th century, Obwalden participated in several other wars with the Swiss Confederation, including the in 1386 and the war in 1375. It peacefully acquired Alpnach in 1368 and Hergiswil in 1378. In 1403 Obwalden joined Uri to invade the area (today located in the canton of ) to establish new markets for cheese and cattle. They conquered the in 1410. In 1419 the Confederation bought . Milan attacked the city three years later in 1422 after an offer to buy Bellinzona was rejected by the Swiss Confederation. The troops from Uri and Obwalden were quickly driven from the city and later defeated at the on 30 June 1422. This defeat drove the Confederates out of Bellinzona and the Val d' Ossola and Leventina. An attempt to pull the Entlebuch region away from ended with the Obwalden supported Entlebuch leader Peter Amstalden arrested, tried and executed in 1478. In 1500, Nidwalden, Schwyz, and Uri conquered Ticino again and ruled until 1798. While Obwalden participated in the conquests of (1415), (1460), and Locarno, (1512), and in the temporary occupation of the Val d' Ossola (1410–14, 1416–22, 1425–26, 1512–15) it was never able to incorporate any captured territory or grow. During the (1474–77) Unterwalden, like the other Forest cantons, hung back through jealousy of Bern, but came to the rescue in time of need. Following the Swiss victories in the Burgundian Wars the Old Swiss Confederation was nearly torn apart by internal conflict when the city cantons insisted on having the lion's share of the proceeds since they had supplied the most troops. The country cantons resented this and the ''Tagsatzung'' or leadership of each of the cantons met in in Nidwalden in 1481 to resolve the issues. However, they were unable to resolve the issues and war seemed inevitable. A local hermit, from Obwalden, was consulted on the situation. According to legend he requested that a message be passed on to the members of the ''Tagsatzung'' on his behalf. The details of the message have remained unknown to this day, however, it did calm the tempers and led to the drawing up of the '. As part of the ''Verkommnis'' and were admitted into the confederation.

The Reformation

The Landsgemeinde of Obwalden stood firmly against the . When attempts to resolve the conflicts between the Protestant and Catholic cantons in the Tagsatzung and during the disputation of Baden (1526) were unsuccessful, Obwalden adopted an aggressively pro-Catholic stance. In 1528, they sent troops over the Brünig Pass to try to force the ese region to hold the old faith. The Obwalden invasion and the Bernese response, which drove them out of Bern, were part of the general unrest leading to the in 1529. While the First War of Kappel ended in a peace treaty without loss of life, two years later the ended in the death of reformer and a victory for the Catholic side. However, since about half of the Confederation remained Protestant, the Catholic cantons began to make alliances with neighboring Catholic leaders including France and Spain. Most of the leading political families in Obwalden became pro-French.

Under the Helvetic Republic

During the , Obwalden still had a strongly pro-French government. The von Flüe had grown wealthy and politically powerful in mercenary service in France. The clergy saw France still as supporters of the Catholic Church. On 1 April 1798, Obwalden became the first of the original Swiss cantons to accept the . However, it was then forced by its neighbors to reject the new Republic and resist the French. When the French armies crushed the rebellion, the old Forest Cantons were merged into the single . Obwalden became the district of Sarnen in this new Canton. The leadership of the new district were supporters of Helvetic Republic and the French army. After the collapse of the Helvetic Republic, the of 1803 dissolved Waldstätten and in the 15th section specifically divided Unterwalden into the half-cantons "ob dem Wald" and "nid dem Wald". The leading "Helvetiker" or supporters of the Republic lost the favor of their fellow citizens. However, a large portion of the councilors before 1798 were also civil servants under the Republic and were re-elected by the Landsgemeinde in 1803. While the politicians remained the same, there were several important changes in the half-canton. The major change was that every resident of the canton gained equal rights, where before there had been citizens and resident aliens each with different rights. Other changes included raising the voting age from 14 to 20 and requiring military service at age 20.

From the Helvetic Republic to the founding of the Federal State

In 1815 the monastery of and the municipality of the same name joined Obwalden. The cantonal constitution documents of 19 and 24 November 1815 partially guaranteed the traditional rights of the Abbey and its surrounding community. Then, in 1816, the constitution was altered to include Engelberg as a municipality in the canton. During the the government began to roll back many of the reforms of the Helvetic Republic. In the 1830s and 40s, Nikodem Spichtig began to expand the power of his office. In 1840, a coalition of liberals and radicals gained the majority in the Federal Diet. They introduced a number of reforms and proposed a new constitution that included many radical reforms. In response to this radical government, the Catholic and conservative cantons, including Obwalden, formed the ''Sonderbund'' or separate alliance in 1843. When the radicals attempted to dissolve this separate alliance in 1847, they started the . Though Obwalden participated in the War, the Sonderbund council surrendered before the Federal army reached the Canton. After the Sonderbund War, the old government was replaced with a liberal government. In response to the wide-ranging powers that Landammann Spichtig had held, the new government eliminated some levels of government and replaced lifetime appointments to Landammann with term limits. Spichtig was seen as having pulled Obwalden into the Sonderbund, and he was driven out of office and politics.

Modern Obwalden

In 1850, the Catholic Church was recognized as the only cantonal religion. However, in 1867 the cantonal constitution was completely rewritten. It changed the organization of the government and allowed the churches some rights, including the right to run their own schools. The 1867 constitution also weakened many of the special privileges that the Landmann held. In 1902 the constitution was rewritten again and it allowed citizens to demand a referendum on any law. In the following years a number of initiatives and referendums were submitted, some of which succeeded. In 1909, an initiative was approved which allowed 1,200 citizens to demand a secret vote on constitutional revisions. In 1922, the power of the Landsgemeinde was weakened further with the introduction of secret ballots on constitutional, legal and tax laws. The last complete revision of the cantonal constitution was in 1968. This revision addressed a number of small issues and clarified a number of laws, but there were no major changes. In 1972, women were first allowed to vote in cantonal elections and in 1983 the voting age dropped to eighteen. The Landsgemeinde was finally abolished in 1998.


Highest elevation: (), 3238 m Lakes in the canton include: parts of (Vierwaldstättersee), (Sarnersee), (Lungerersee), , and . The total area of the canton is . , or about 40.2% of the canton is wooded. , or about 37.9% is used in agriculture. Of the rest of the area, or 3.2% is developed (structures and roads) and or 18.7% is classed as unproductive (rivers, mountains or glaciers).


Within the Obwalden is a half canton. This gives Obwalden all the rights and duties of full cantons, with the exception that the canton can only send one deputy to the . The small size of the canton allows a small government with only five members.

Federal elections

In the the most popular party was the which received 56.9% of the vote. The other party in the election was the with 43.1%. The CSP OW jumped from having no candidate or votes in 2007 to a majority in 2011.

Federal election results

: FDP before 2009, FDP.The Liberals after 2009 : "*" indicates that the party was not on the ballot in this canton. : No election held

Cantonal elections

In , on 7 March 2010, the maintained its dominance of the Cantonal Council. The lost three seats, but remained the largest party with 20. The gained five seats to the become the second largest party, while the retained 10 seats but dropped to the third largest. The remained steady with 6 seats and the lost two seats to have 8. The evolving party membership in the is shown in the following chart (for selected dates): Colors= id:lightgrey value:gray(0.9) id:darkgrey value:gray(0.8) ImageSize = width:550 height:400 PlotArea = top:10 left: 50 bottom:90 right:52 Legend = columns:3 left:60 top:70 columnwidth:160 AlignBars = justify DateFormat = x.y Period = from:0 till:55 TimeAxis = orientation:vertical AlignBars = justify ScaleMajor = gridcolor:darkgrey increment:25 start:0 ScaleMinor = gridcolor:lightgrey increment:5 start:0 Colors= id: CV value:orange legend: CVP id: FD value:blue legend: FDP id: CS value:rgb(0.0,0.60,0.60) legend: CSP-OW id: DE value:tan2 legend: Demokratisches_Obwalden id: SP value:red legend: SP id: SV value:teal legend: SVP id: AN value:tan1 legend: Other id: FR value:coral legend: Freie_Fraktion_Obwalden_(FFO) PlotData= bar:1974 from:start till:26 color:CV bar:1974 from:26 till:41 color:FD bar:1974 from:41 till:49 color:CS bar:1974 from:49 till:51 color:AN bar:1978 from:start till:26 color:CV bar:1978 from:26 till:39 color:FD bar:1978 from:39 till:46 color:CS bar:1978 from:46 till:51 color:AN bar:1982 from:start till:28 color:CV bar:1982 from:28 till:44 color:FD bar:1982 from:44 till:50 color:CS bar:1982 from:50 till:52 color:AN bar:1986 from:start till:25 color:CV bar:1986 from:25 till:37 color:FD bar:1986 from:37 till:46 color:CS bar:1986 from:46 till:52 color:AN bar:1990 from:start till:28 color:CV bar:1990 from:28 till:42 color:FD bar:1990 from:42 till:49 color:CS bar:1990 from:49 till:50 color:AN bar:1990 from:50 till:55 color:FR bar:1994 from:start till:27 color:CV bar:1994 from:27 till:41 color:FD bar:1994 from:41 till:51 color:CS bar:1994 from:51 till:55 color:DE bar:1998 from:start till:25 color:CV bar:1998 from:25 till:38 color:FD bar:1998 from:38 till:48 color:CS bar:2002 from:start till:21 color:CV bar:2002 from:21 till:32 color:FD bar:2002 from:32 till:40 color:CS bar:2002 from:40 till:48 color:SP bar:2002 from:48 till:55 color:SV bar:2006 from:start till:23 color:CV bar:2006 from:23 till:33 color:FD bar:2006 from:33 till:43 color:CS bar:2006 from:43 till:49 color:SP bar:2006 from:49 till:55 color:SV bar:2010 from:start till:20 color:CV bar:2010 from:20 till:30 color:FD bar:2010 from:30 till:38 color:CS bar:2010 from:38 till:44 color:SP bar:2010 from:44 till:55 color:SV


Obwalden has a population () of . , 12.9% of the population are resident foreign nationals. Over the last 10 years (2000–2010) the population has changed at a rate of 8.7%. Migration accounted for 5.7%, while births and deaths accounted for 2.5%.
accessed 13-March-2012
Most of the population () speaks (29,920 or 92.3%) as their first language, is the second most common (452 or 1.4%) and is the third (399 or 1.2%). There are 144 people who speak , 329 people who speak and 32 people who speak . Of the population in the canton, 14,867 or about 45.8% were born in Obwalden and lived there in 2000. There were 4,374 or 13.5% who were born in the same canton, while 8,228 or 25.4% were born somewhere else in Switzerland, and 4,000 or 12.3% were born outside of Switzerland. , children and teenagers (0–19 years old) make up 26.7% of the population, while adults (20–64 years old) make up 59.3% and seniors (over 64 years old) make up 14.1%. , there were 15,026 people who were single or never married in the canton. There were 14,674 married individuals, 1,691 widows or widowers and 1,036 individuals who are divorced.STAT-TAB Datenwürfel für Thema 40.3 - 2000
accessed 2 February 2011
, there were 12,445 private households in the canton, and an average of 2.5 persons per household. There were 3,835 households that consist of only one person and 1,349 households with five or more people. , the construction rate of new housing units was 8.8 new units per 1000 residents. The vacancy rate for the canton, , was 0.8%.

Historic population

The historic population is given in the following chart: Colors= id:lightgrey value:gray(0.9) id:darkgrey value:gray(0.8) ImageSize = width:800 height:500 PlotArea = top:10 left: 100 bottom:90 right:100 Legend = columns:3 left:220 top:70 columnwidth:160 AlignBars = justify DateFormat = x.y Period = from:0 till:33000 TimeAxis = orientation:vertical AlignBars = justify ScaleMajor = gridcolor:darkgrey increment:7000 start:0 ScaleMinor = gridcolor:lightgrey increment:1400 start:0 Colors= id:TO value:yellowgreen legend:Total id:GE value:teal legend:German_Speaking id:IT value:green legend:Italian_Speaking id:CA value:lightpurple legend:Catholic id:PR value:oceanblue legend:Protestant id:SW value:red legend:Swiss PlotData= color:yellowgreen width:40 mark:(line,white) align:center bar:1850 from:start till:13799 text:"13,799" color:TO bar:1880 from:start till:15329 text:"15,329" color:TO bar:1900 from:start till:15260 text:"15,260" color:TO bar:1950 from:start till:22125 text:"22,125" color:TO bar:1970 from:start till:24509 text:"24,509" color:TO bar:2000 from:start till:32427 text:"32,427" color:TO LineData = points:(232,275)(344,271) color:GE points:(344,271)(456,353) color:GE points:(456,353)(568,372) color:GE points:(568,372)(680,453) color:GE points:(232,91)(344,93) color:IT points:(344,93)(456,93) color:IT points:(456,93)(568,99) color:IT points:(568,99)(680,94) color:IT points:(120,257)(232,273) color:CA points:(232,273)(344,272) color:CA points:(344,272)(456,348) color:CA points:(456,348)(568,373) color:CA points:(568,373)(680,405) color:CA points:(120,90)(232,93) color:PR points:(232,93)(344,93) color:PR points:(344,93)(456,100) color:PR points:(456,100)(568,102) color:PR points:(568,102)(680,120) color:PR points:(120,257)(232,274) color:SW points:(232,274)(344,269) color:SW points:(344,269)(456,350) color:SW points:(456,350)(568,368) color:SW points:(568,368)(680,436) color:SW


There are seven municipalities: , , , , , and . The capital Sarnen is subdivided into ''Sarnen-Dorfschaft'', ''Kägiswil'', ''Schwendi/Wilen'' and ''Ramersberg''. The autonomy of the municipalities in Obwalden is significant. Two thirds of the tax revenue flows to the municipalities, which for example pay for education without grants from the canton.


Small and middle-sized businesses dominate the economy of Obwalden. Many of them are specialists in areas such as miniature engines, synthetics, medical equipment, or nanotechnology. Traditional industries are still of great importance. Particularly and related businesses are significant, as is . Agriculture in Obwalden is specialized in integrated and meat farming. The farms are still family-run. In 2007 Obwalden replaced the former regressive income tax (lower tax rates for higher incomes) with a flat 1.8% income tax, which is the lowest in the country. This cantonal tax is in addition to federal and local taxes. , Obwalden had an unemployment rate of 1.5%. , there were 1,871 people employed in the and about 750 businesses involved in this sector. 6,499 people were employed in the and there were 452 businesses in this sector. 10,037 people were employed in the , with 1,380 businesses in this sector. the total number of jobs was 15,215. The number of jobs in the primary sector was 1,157, of which 1,052 were in agriculture and 105 were in forestry or lumber production. The number of jobs in the secondary sector was 6,008 of which 3,648 or (60.7%) were in manufacturing, 46 or (0.8%) were in mining and 2,139 (35.6%) were in construction. The number of jobs in the tertiary sector was 8,050. In the tertiary sector; 1,892 or 23.5% were in the sale or repair of motor vehicles, 520 or 6.5% were in the movement and storage of goods, 1,440 or 17.9% were in a hotel or restaurant, 140 or 1.7% were in the information industry, 347 or 4.3% were the insurance or financial industry, 708 or 8.8% were technical professionals or scientists, 528 or 6.6% were in education and 1,213 or 15.1% were in health care.Swiss Federal Statistical Office STAT-TAB Betriebszählung: Arbeitsstätten nach Gemeinde und NOGA 2008 (Abschnitte), Sektoren 1-3
accessed 28 January 2011
Of the working population, 10.7% used public transportation to get to work, and 54.6% used a private car.


is a major sector of the economy. The central location in the meant that Obwalden was able to establish itself as a significant tourist location in the 19th century. Many facilities built for tourism now benefit the local industry and the population. Two of the s, namely and , are the main attractions. Winter sports, in particular skiing and snowboarding, attract many tourist. The main resorts are Engelberg, , , and . During the summer, hiking and mountaineering are the main attractions. One-quarter of the population is directly or indirectly employed in the tourism sector.


From the , 25,992 or 80.2% were , while 2,255 or 7.0% belonged to the . Of the rest of the population, there were 464 (or about 1.43% of the population), there were 14 individuals (or about 0.04% of the population) who belonged to the , and there were 497 individuals (or about 1.53% of the population) who belonged to another Christian church. There were 5 individuals (or about 0.02% of the population) who were , and 985 (or about 3.04% of the population) who were ic. There were 41 individuals who were , 82 individuals who were and 8 individuals who belonged to another church. 1,212 (or about 3.74% of the population) belonged to no church, are or , and 1,109 individuals (or about 3.42% of the population) did not answer the question.


In Obwalden about 11,601 or (35.8%) of the population have completed non-mandatory , and 3,241 or (10.0%) have completed additional higher education (either or a '). Of the 3,241 who completed tertiary schooling, 66.0% were Swiss men, 22.0% were Swiss women, 7.3% were non-Swiss men and 4.8% were non-Swiss women.


Traditional culture in Obwalden has been kept alive by many local organizations. There is traditional music, carnival, dances, costumes, theatres, and festivals. There are also a number of modern artists, including (composer), (composer), (poet), (painter), (sculptor) and (sculptor).

Notable people

* (* around 1430/32, † after 1487) married , the patron saint of Switzerland.

Notes and references

External links

Official site


{{Authority control Cantons of Switzerland