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Zürich canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2013-07-24 by rob raeside
Keywords: switzerland | zürich | zurich | canton |
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[Flag of Zürich] image by António Martins

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Description of the flag

Per bend azure and argent.

Diagonally divided from the upper hoist to the lower fly into equal blue and white parts, with the blue all in the edge of the hoist.

Symbolism of the flag

Like Luzern, blue was said to denote the lake, and white the snow capped mountains around it. Somewhat ironically, white used to signify water, while blue represented the sky. The diagonal division ("per bend") is supposed to represent justice.

History of the flag

Zurich attained the rank of "Reichs-immediacy" in 1218, which makes it along with Schaffhausen the oldest sovereign state in the Holy Roman Empire which later became part of Switzerland. Its flag is also one of the oldest, its first documented use being 1220. The seal of the Zurich Council, with the same design, dates from 1225. Independence implied troops to defend it, and troops were never without their war banner. Zurich joined the Swiss Confederation in 1351, and soon dominated it militarily with its flag flying on the highest flagstaff. Zurich was one of the recipients of the Pope Julius banners in 1512, but they discarded it during the Protestant reformation and started carrying in to battle a hundred-year old flag which had been retired after the Burgundian wars.

In 1273 Zurich's banner was adorned with a red "Schwenkel" ("chef" in French for lack of a better word), which is a very long pennon (see image). Conficting reports put it at 1278 or 1348.) This was regarded as a high honour and/or a mark of sovereignty, but there are conflicting reports from the Middle Ages that it was also a mark of shame (e.g. a sign that the previous banner had been lost in battle). After the battle of Nancy in 1477, the Duke of Lorraine removed the Schwenkels from Swiss banners saying they had erased their shame, but when the troops got home they restored the Schwenkels since they considered them marks of honour and not shame. A little white cross on the Schwenkel probably came with the original pennon. The Schwenkel very strongly resembles the flag of Schwyz or modern Switzerland, and other confederate states adopted it in the 15th century, but there is no documentation explaining its meaning for other states and no proof that it was a mark of the Confederacy.

T.F. Mills, 17 October 1997

Cantonal banner of Zürich with its red Schwenkel

[Cantonal banner of Zürich with red Schwenkel] image by T.F. Mills

The Schwenkel, granted in 1273, may have influenced the development of the Swiss flag, but did not in of itself signify Zurich's membership in the Swiss Confederation. T.F. Mills, 14 November 1997

Variations of the flag

[Flag of Zürich] image by Ole Andersen

Simple rectangular cantonal flag, as shown in Kannik (1956).
Ole Andersen, 4 August 2002

Flaggen, Knatterfahnen and Livery Colours




[livery colours]

 images by Pascal Gross

Flaggen are vertically hoisted from a crossbar in the manner of gonfanon, in ratio of about 2:9, with a swallowtail that indents about 2 units. The chief, or hoist (square part) usually incorporates the design from the coat of arms - not from the flag. The fly part is always divided lengthwise, usually in a bicolour, triband or tricolour pattern (except Schwyz which is monocolour, and Glarus which has four stripes of unequal width). The colours chosen for the fly end are usually the main colours of the coat of arms, but the choice is not always straight forward.

Knatterfahnen are similar to Flaggen, but hoisted from the long side and have no swallow tail. They normally show the national, cantonal or communal flag in their chiefs.

Željko Heimer, 16 July 2000