How to solve a border conflict between Switzerland and Italy

December 21, 2020, No comments

Lago Maggiore straddles the Italian-Swiss border

It seemed like such a simple question: how long is the border between Italy and Switzerland? But nothing is that simple. A little anecdote before I reveal the answers to my Big Swiss Quiz.

My original answer to that question was 744km, a figure I took from my book Swisscellany, which was published in 2012 (sadly, now out of print). All the geographic data for that book came from the official government map department, Swisstopo.

Thinking that the border wouldn’t have changed since then, I used that number. How naive was that! People doing the quiz started asking about the border question, so I investigated a little. I never trust Wikipedia to get things right (and always use an official source for all data) but it’s a useful website to highlight this problem.

One Wikipedia page has various figures for the Swiss-Italian border, depending on the language: in German it’s 782km, in English and in Italian it’s 744km, in French it’s 740km. Then when it’s a page about Italy itself, the border is 698km.

I then checked the official Swisstopo data, which has the border as… 800.2km. And that’s including the enclave of Campione d’Italia. So I contacted Swisstopo to ask what the figure was without the enclave (I had to know!) and why the official figure had changed since 2012.

A very kind man replied saying the Switzerland’s borders are periodically recalculated due to movement of glaciers and rivers, better ways of measuring mountains and watersheds, or even international agreements (eg, on the technical boundary in Lake Constance). Swisstopo even has a whole page devoted to explaining some of this.

The net result was I accepted three possible answers for Question 12: the original 744km, the new 800km and also 784km for the new figure minus the Italian enclave.

My original Grand Total for all thirty questions was 34,343. No one got that right but one winner was within one point. With the border in question, I also accepted totals of 34,399 and 34,383 (without knowing how people reached those totals). No one got either, though two came close.

In the end, the nine entries that were within yodelling distance of any of the three totals went into the prize draw. It seemed the fairest way to do it. The lucky winners were: Anton, Dom, Erin, Franz, Gabrielle, Katarzyna, Lesley, Martin and Simon.

And here are the answers (all from official sources):

  • 1. 3454
  • 2. 1912
  • 3. 12
  • 4. 9
  • 5. 172
  • 6. 14
  • 7. 7132
  • 8. 30
  • 9. 140
  • 10. 2
  • 11. 1501
  • 12. 744 (but see above)
  • 13. 3020
  • 14. 3238
  • 15. 246
  • 16. 2003
  • 17. 21
  • 18. 13
  • 19. 1969
  • 20. 1
  • 21. 65
  • 22. 1988
  • 23. 11
  • 24. 57
  • 25. 193
  • 26. 70
  • 27. 4001
  • 28. 25
  • 29. 1815
  • 30. 485

That makes a grand total of 34,343.

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