The history of Switzerland is normally traced back to the year 1291 when the representatives of Schwyz, Uri and Unterwalden concluded the Federal Charter of 1291 (the so-called "Bundesbrief") and founded a federation against foreign countries. In the following years more and more cantons (states) joined this federation. This unique combination of rural areas and of major cities (Zürich, Bern, Lucerne) was strictly based on the principle of political equality of all participating cantons. This principle still plays a major role today: Changes of the Federal Constitution must be approved by a majority of the people as well as of the cantons.
It was not before 1848 that the federation of autonomous cantons was replaced by a true constitutional democracy with a federal structure and an independent judiciary. The first federal constitution of 1848 was soon replaced by a second one in 1874. On April 18, 1999, the people and the cantons accepted a new Federal Constitution that entered into force on January 1, 2000.
Since 1815, Swiss foreign policy has been governed by the fundamental principle of neutrality. Switzerland remained neutral during the First as well as during the Second World War. It is neither a member of the European Union (EU) nor of the NATO. In 1960 it joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and in 2000 the Swiss people accepted a combined set of seven bilateral agreements with the European Union. Switzerland is a member of many other international organisations.

A timeline:

58 BCCeltic Helvetians live on the plateau
58 BC-400 Roman Era
  5 C     Germanic Burgundians and Alemannians
  6 C     Frankish Kings
-14 C   Fragmentation of Carolingian power. The houses of Habsburg
             and Savoy ruled the area of modern Switzerland
1291    The forest Communities of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden form
              an alliance
14C      Other communities join the Confederation: Luzern 1332,
              Zurich 1351, Glarus and Zug 1352, Bern 1353.
1460    Foundation of the first university of Switzerland (Basle)
1481    Fribourg and Solothurn join the Swiss Federation
1499    Switzerland gains independence from Holy Roman Empire.
             Territorial Expansion. Basle and Schaffhausen join the Swiss
             Federation 1501, Appenzell 1513.
1515    Switzerland withdraws from expansionist policies and
             declares neutrality
1519    Reformation starts in Zurich. Central Switzerland remains
1648    Switzerland becomes recognised as a neutral state in the
             Treaty of Westphalia
1798    The French invade Switzerland. The Old Confederation collapses.
1803    The new Cantons of Sankt Gallen, Graub? Thurgau,
             Ticino, Aargau and Vaud join the Federation
1815    The Congress of Vienna establishes Switzerland as a Federation
             and guarantees its independence and permanent neutrality.
             The Cantons of Geneva, Valais and Neuchatel join the Federation.
1847    Civil war. The Protestant army led by General Dufour crushes
             the Catholic cantons who had formed a separatist league
1848    New Federal Constitution: Compromise between central control
             and cantonal authority. Industrialisation, railway boom,
             development of tourism.
1864    Foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross
             (ICRC) in Geneva. Compulsory free education introduced.
1872-82 Construction of the railway across the alps the "Gotthardbahn"
1914-18 and 1939-45  Swiss neutrality remained unbreached.
1971    Swiss people vote for the women's suffrage.
1979    The new Canton Jura comes into being.
1992    Swiss people vote against becoming a member of the EEA
             (European Economic Area)