Come explore the canton of Obwalden with us and discover the beautiful artisanal cheeses made in this canton. But let’s start by understanding what makes Obwalden so special.
Our Discoveries in Obwalden
Overview of the Canton
Land Area: 490.58 km2
Population: 37’575 inhabitants (December 2017)
Admission to the Swiss Confederation: 1291 (founding member)
Language: Swiss German
Unterwalden was a founding canton of the Helvetic Confederation around 1291 with Schwyz and Uri. Unterwalden was composed of two half-cantons. Obwalden (Unterwalden ob dem wald) meaning “ob dem Wald above the forest”, and Nidwalden (Unterwalden nit dem wald) meaning “nit dem Wald under the forest”.
The half-cantons developed independently with different political agendas, which led them to be recognized in separate cantons. In the 14th century, Unterwalden was divided into Obwalden and Nidwalden.
During the 15th century, the White Book of Sarnen was created. It is a collection of medieval manuscripts from the 15th century which indicated the chronology of events, treaties, and alliances between the cantons of the former Confederation. Among the events described is the earliest reference to the national hero, William Tell. This document was created and stored in the Obwalden cantonal archives in Sarnen. The paper used to create The White Book of Sarnen was an expensive white parchment which the manuscript is named after. The White Book of Sarnen is of great historical importance and serves as a reference to determine the origins of the Swiss Confederation.
The Legend of William Tell
William Tell is a Swiss national hero who was an excellent crossbowman. Tell defied the House of Habsburg and then murdered Albrecht Gessler (a tyrannical bailiff of the Duke of Habsburg). Tell’s tyrannicide led to a popular rebellion and a pact against foreign rulers with Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. This marks the foundation of the Swiss Confederation.
A story in the legend further explains that Tell and his son (Walter) went to Altdorf, Switzerland. At that time, Albrecht Gessler was the newly appointed Austrian bailiff in Altdorf. Gessler, who wanted to exercise his power over the people, raised a pole and hung his hat. Gessler demanded that the people bow to his hat, but when Tell passed by, he refused to bow. Tell and his son were immediately arrested, but rather than being immediately executed, Gessler had another plan. Gessler heard of Tell’s excellent shooting and devised a cruel punishment. Tell could redeem his life if he cut an apple off his son’s head in one attempt. Tell split the apple with a single arrow from his crossbow. But Gessler noticed that Tell had taken two arrows from his quiver. When asked why, Tell admitted that if he had killed his son, the second shot would have been used to kill Gessler. Gessler, exasperated, ordered that Tell be imprisoned for the rest of his life. They boarded a boat to take Tell to the dungeon in Küssnacht. However, there was a storm on Lake Lucerne, and Tell escaped with Gessler in pursuit. Tell finally murdered Gessler with the second arrow of his crossbow. This was the act that triggered the rebellion and the formation of the Swiss Confederation.