Local History

The Thirteen Stars of Valais

The canton of Valais became a member of the Swiss Confederation of twenty-two cantons in 1815.

Until the French invasion in January 1798, the Republic of the Seven Tithings (Republik der Sieben Zenden, Républik des sept Dizains) in the Upper Valais (Haut-Valais, Oberwallis) ruled the territory.

From 1476 onwards this Republic occupied the Lower Valais (Bas-Valais, Unterwallis), the area of western Valais to St Gingolph, the current border with France.

Celts, Romans and Franks

The history of Valais, as of all cantons, dates back to the Celts. The tribes of Nantuates, Verager, Seduner and Uberer inhabited this region (Swiss Spectator The Helvetians, 15.01.2021).

After the Roman rule ended in 410, the tribe of Burgunder entered the area. This tribe came from the vicinity of Worms in Germany (and originated from Bornholm (Denmark) in the Baltic Sea).

They adopted the local language (vulgar Latin and the predecessor of today’s French). They founded the (first) Burgundian kingdom (464-534).

The Franks ruled from 534 until the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in 888. From 888-1032, Valais was part of the second Burgundian Empire.

During this period, more and more (German-speaking) inhabitants (a.o. Walser) emigrated to the Upper Valais. As they settled further and further west, the language border shifted accordingly.

1000-1798

From 1032 onwards, the region was part of the Holy Roman Empire. Local dynasties ruled over small and huge territories.

The (French-speaking) Dukes of Savoy governed for an extended period. Sion (Sitten) was the episcopal city. The German-speaking communes (Zenden/Dizains) in the Upper Wallis resisted, however.

Savoy, an ally of the Duke of Burgundy, was permanently expelled from the Valais after the Burgundian wars (1474-1477).

The Republic of the Seven Tithings (Goms, Brig, Sitten, Visp, Raron, Siders, Leuk) was founded and the (French-speaking) Lower Valais became a subject area of Upper Valais until 1798.

1798 to 1815

From 1798 to 1815, Valais had no less than six different constitutions. The Lower Valais became independent on 5 February 1798.

The Republic of the Ten Communes (Tithings) was founded, comprising the seven old Tithings and three new communes of the Lower Valais: Monthey, Saint-Maurice and Entremont.

This independence came to an end on 6 May 1798, when Valais became part of the unitarian Helvetic Republic.

This political entity ceased to exist on 5 September 1802. Valais became an independent republic divided into twelve communes (with the addition of Martigny and Hérémence in the Lower Valais).

The republic was supervised by France, although it was an independent state. The Valais was not a member of the  Confederation of 1803-1813 (Act of Mediation).

On 12 November 1810,  this Republic ceased to exist. The Simplon Department was created by Napoleon. The Simplon Pass and the Great St. Bernard Pass were strategically important roads.

The defeat of Napoleon in 1813 and the arrival of Austrian troops marked the end of this Republic on 31 December 1813.

Valais became a canton of the Confederacy in 1815. This did not happen by a stroke of the pen. The canton was not only bilingual; it was also religiously divided.

The Lower Valais demanded the same rights as the Upper Valais in the canton’s administration and parliament and no restoration of the Ancien Régime.

Lower Valais won the battle with the support of England and Austria (Congress of Vienna 1814-1815). The ‘old’ cantons of the federation were also divided, but agreed in the end.

Valais became a new canton of the new Confederation on 4 August 1815.

The thirteen stars in the coat of arms of Valais symbolise the thirteen tithings/communes (the current districts) of the canton: the seven old from the Upper Valais and the six new communes from the Lower Valais. Conthey was added on 4 August 1815.