The alphorn, sometimes called the alpenhorn, is a trumpet- like musical instrument made of wood. It is thought to have the perfect form for a musical wind instrument. The use of the alphorn is seen mainly in mountainous regions, can be very popular in some areas, and like yodeling or the accordion, it has become an epitome of traditional Swiss music.
The melodies of folk music vary between regions. Generally those in pastoral areas are floating and wide-ranging. In the inner and southern Alps, however, the melodies are more songlike, and of more limited range. Common and popular themes are about love and the homeland, but patriotic and pastoral themes, as well as hunting themes, are also commonplace.
The Alpine folk culture is characterized by very expressive dances. Small musical ensembles can be found in the more mountainous areas, particularly in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
The most common form of woodcarving is chip carving. Such carving is normally for the decoration of everyday objects, such as milk stools, neckbands for bells, wooden spoons,, or walking sticks. Figure carving is also common, particularly of Nativity figures. In some areas, the façades of houses are richly decorated using woodcarving. This is widespread in the Bernese Oberland region where Protestant Christianity predominates. In Roman Catholic regions, this is far less common.
Embroidery is common on traditional clothing, particularly women's clothing. Embroidery is often limited to prominent points, such as cuffs, hats and scarves. Embroidery is also used for the decoration of fabric. In the past, embroidery was a home industry in the northeast and the east of Switzerland. In recent days, embroidery is confined to tourism, as traditional clothes are no longer in use.
On certain autumn nights, children's processions with lanterns are common in Alemannic Switzerland. Lanterns (called Rääbeliechtli "turnip light") are hand-carved from root vegetables, generally turnips, by removing the interior and putting a candle inside. The Rääbeliechtli is carved with designs, such as the traditional sun, moon and stars. The lantern is then suspended by three chains. The children walk through the streets of their town with the lanterns and sing traditional songs. The custom originates with thanksgiving traditions at the end of harvest in November.
There is a strong architectural tradition in Switzerland. The Romanesque style of the 12th century can be found in the cathedrals of Basel, Sion, Chur, Geneva and Lausanne. This style, which is rich in expression, can also be found on many castles and fortresses around the country, many of which preserved in a good condition. The cathedrals of Schaffhausen, Zug and Zürich are of the Gothic style, and the churches of Einsiedeln and St. Gallen are of Baroque style. During the Renaissance, a large number of architectural masters gave their talents to Italy. Most of these came from the southern canton of Ticino. The Prisons near the Doge's Palace in Venice and the Rialto Bridge in Venice were built by Antonio da Ponte. The Bridge of Sighs in Venice was built by Antonio Contino, and Domenico Fontana (1543–1607) designed the entire Lateran Palace in Naples as well as the facade of the St. John Lateran Church and the Royal Palace in the same city. Fontana's nephew Carlo Maderno was an architect to Pope Paul V. San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the gallery of the Palazzo Spada and the Filippini monastery were built by Francesco Borromini, and Carlo Fontana was responsible for the facade of San Marcello al Corso and the Montecitorio Palace; Baldassare Longhena, from Maroggia, built the church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Rezzonico and the Widmann palaces; all in Venice.
Giliardi and Oldelli families from Ticino set up architecture practices in Russia. Giovanni Giliardi built The Orphanage in Moscow, and his son Domenico Giliardi was in charge of the rebuilding Moscow public buildings, including the University, after the Great Fire of 1812. Domenico Trezzini built many places in St. Petersburg by the orders of Peter the Great; Pietro Trezzini (not related to Domenico) continued the tradition in 1740s. Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) was probably the most creative Swiss architectural export in the 20th century. He was the driving force behind the International school of architecture that heavily influenced almost every trend in buildings throughout the entire Western hemisphere in the recent past.
Distinctive architecture of high quality can be found around Switzerland. It is often considered as particularly innovative modern architecture. Mario Botta is a famous architect who influenced modern architecture. The architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron from Basel in the north of Switzerland have enjoyed fame in recent years, such as through the building of Tate Modern in London.
The Dada movement originated in Switzerland during the 1910s.
Despite the relatively small number of internationally famous artists, there are considerable art collections in renowned museums around Switzerland. These are not only found in the cities of Zürich, Basel and Geneva but also in smaller towns such as Schaffhausen, Martigny and Winterthur. The museums in the smaller towns pride themselves for their contribution to the arts, which exceed what is commonly found in provincial areas.
Graphic arts flourish in Switzerland, as does creative photography. Examples of this can be found on calendars, magazines and outdoor billboard advertisements.
In the field of literature Switzerland produced a number of very well known writers. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was from Geneva. The critic and historian Jacob Burckhardt was from Basel. The house of Germaine de Staël in Coppet was a centre of European literary life during the 18th century. Other writers include Gottfried Keller, Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, Jeremias Gotthelf and Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. Hermann Hesse and Carl Spitteler both won a Nobel Prize for their works.
In the 20th century the plays of Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Max Frisch impressed readers beyond the borders of Switzerland. There are a great number of regional dialects, especially in the German language. Even though standard German is commonly used for writing, there is a living dialect literature in many areas.
For children's culture there is the cartoon character Globi.
In film, American productions constitute most of the programme, although several Swiss movies have enjoyed commercial successes in recent years. Maybe due to the multilingual culture, almost all movie theatres play movies in their original language with subtitles, and films on television are often broadcast in original and synchronized versions.
The close proximity to the mountains in all areas in Switzerland has greatly influenced the leisure of Swiss people. The growth of ski and mountaineering resorts in the Swiss mountains have caused the Swiss to become very sports conscious. Apart from skiing and mountaineering, Swiss-style wrestling (Schwingen) is still popular in rural areas. Sunday-morning shooting sessions and Hornussen (a kind of Alpine baseball) are two other traditional Swiss sports. Shooting, Tennis, golf, ice hockey, football (soccer), basketball, handball, gliding, paragliding, sailing, swimming, volleyball, floorball, mountain biking and hiking in the forests and mountains are all popular pastimes. Fishing is commonplace in the many lakes and rivers, but often a licence is necessary. Many mountain lakes freeze over during winter and are used for curling, horse and dog racing, particularly around St. Moritz.