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The early days of the Swiss cadastral system

The earliest cadastral maps were produced for tax collection purposes. Until the middle of the 19th century, surveys were carried out differently from canton to canton.

The initial cadastral maps were produced so that the secular and/or ecclesiastical authorities could collect taxes. Later on, all efforts to introduce a uniform cadastre came to an abrupt halt following the demise of the Helvetic Republic. With the exception of Switzerland’s first order triangulation, surveying was carried out by the cantons and in different ways.

Cadastral survey, 1802/03
Early cadastral surveying in the Napoleonic era: «Plan de la commune d’Allschwiller» («map of the municipality of Allschwiller» [today, Allschwil]) dating from 1802/03 with the various types of crop differentiated by colour

From the mid-17th century: first land parcel plans

Cadastres had already been compiled in the pre-Christian era in order to collect landownership taxes. From the middle of the 17th century, a number of large-scale plans were produced, which were also used as the basis for calculating tithes and interest payments to be made to a civil and/or secular authority.

 Tithe map, 1689
Tithe map compiled by Georg Friedrich Meyer (chief surveyor, Basel) in 1689: «Grundriß des Dorffs Sissach sambt denen Zehnden-güettren welche in Sissach Bann disseiths dem Ergoltsbach gelegen»

1798: one cadastre for the whole of Switzerland

In France, work was initiated in 1790 on a general survey of plots of land and the development of a cadastre. Following the invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte and the establishment of the “Helvetic Republic”, the idea of introducing a cadastre for the whole of Switzerland based on the French model was considered. However, the course of history prevented the creation of a centralised cadastre, and land surveying was developed at the cantonal level and in varying forms. 

Plan of Rapperswil, 1784
Plan of Rapperswil, 1784

1804: cantonal surveys

In 1804, the parliament of the canton of Vaud commissioned a survey of every municipality and the establishment of landownership and valuation registers. Geneva followed suit between 1806 and 1818, and Basel from 1818 until its separation into two cantons in 1833. A cantonal surveyor was in fact appointed in Basel in 1806, although the first land parcel surveys did not take place until 1818. 

1840: completion of triangulation

Johannes Eschmann (1808–1852) closed the last remaining gaps in the first order triangulation. This task, comprising the calculation of the entire network, including the secondary triangulations, brought the triangulation work to a provisional conclusion. In 1840 he published this work as «Results of the trigonometric surveys of Switzerland».

First order triangulation point
First order triangulation – surveying basis for the Topographic Map of Switzerland (the Dufour Map). Lithograph by Schweizer & Grimminger, Zurich


Geodesy and Federal Directorate of Cadastral Surveying
Cadastral surveying and PLR Cadastre

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The commemorative publication is only available in German, French and Italien





Terms and abbreviations used in the Swiss cadastral surveying system

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