Square Flags Still Used Today

Written by Alan Lemus
Published: January 23, 2023
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A flag is one of the unique elements that identify a country. It represents a nation’s sovereignty, culture, and most important values, such as peace and unity. 

In addition, many flags come with symbols marking features and characteristics identifying with the particular citizens. This includes mountains, stars, a coat of arms, and, in some cases, animals. The colors represent values, such as blue for bravery, while green may represent nature. 

Apart from the symbols, flags come in different shapes, with rectangles being the most popular among nations.

During the European Naval times, empires used flags to distinguish themselves from the enemy and would raise the flag as they approached a port harbor to signify war or friendship. While this happened, they realized that a rectangular shape catches wind quickly, which is why it is popular. 

But we have two countries, Switzerland and Vatican City State, that opted for a different shape.

In this article, we explore Switzerland and Vatican City State flags, the only square flags still in use today.

1 — The Swiss Flag

Swiss flag waving on a mountain peak in Switzerland

The flag of Switzerland is one of only two square flags used today.


One of the square flags still in use today is the flag of Switzerland. It is made of a red background with a white cross strategically placed at the Flag’s center. The white cross is referred to as the federal or Swiss cross. 

The ratio of the cross is 7:6 for the length and width, respectively. The Swiss cross is a popular icon in Swiss products such as wristwatches, T-shirts, and Swiss army knives. 

The History of the Swiss Flag

During the 12th and 13th centuries, Switzerland was partitioned into sections, also referred to as cantons. Each canton was independent with its laws and flag but still under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire. 

In times of war, the Roman Empire would grant the countries under its rule a unique symbol for the event. The canton of Switzerland was granted permission to use the white cross to represent Christ’s weapons. At the time, they were already using the red banner, and sewing a white cross on it resulted in the present flag’s design. 

In 1339, the people of Bern and its allies fought against their enemies in the Laupen Battle, where they emerged winners. Since the Berns and the old Confederacy were operating under different cantons, they sewed a white cross on the square arms of the combat gear to easily distinguish their allies from their enemies. After the battle, the symbol became popular and was used in weapons and banners.

However, the French and Napoleon troops invaded Switzerland in 1798 and removed the canton’s independence and its symbols. The Napoleon troops introduced a one-rule government in Switzerland with a new flag with three colors and a coat of arms logo. After the Helvetic period ended, the Confederacy abandoned the flag. 

In 1848, the present Flag was officially incorporated into the constitution and became the official flag of Switzerland. 

Since Switzerland is one of the only two countries with a square-shaped flag, it has a rectangular flag that it uses during international events such as the Olympics to maintain uniformity with the flags of other nations. 

The Origin of the Emblems in the Swiss Flag

First, we have the white cross, which has different potential origins: the Theban Legion, which are the Arma Christi and the Reichssturmfahne. But there is no clear explanation of which one the cross represents. The Theban Legion is also referred to as the Martyrs of Agaunum. They converted many people to Christianity and were martyred immediately after. 

Conversely, the Reichssturmfahne refers to the Imperial War Banner that was anciently used by the head of the Roman Empire. A red flag with a white cross initially characterized it. 

Second, the red color originates from the red war banner used by the Schwyz Canton, one of the 26 cantons that make up Switzerland.

The Meaning of the Swiss Flag

In 1815, Switzerland declared its neutrality in case of a future war between states. The League of Nations finally granted the plea in 1920, making the flag a symbol of peace, equality, and security. 

The white color signifies purity, while there is no official meaning of red. While some say that it showcases the colors of the ancient Bernese Flag, others argue that it represents the blood of Christ. The old Bernese Flag was also square and had red as one of the colors. 

Swiss law also protects the Flag of Switzerland; therefore, personal or commercial use is punishable by a jail term or fine.

The Swiss Flag Versus the Red Cross Flag

Some people confuse the Swiss Flag with the Red Cross flag because they have the same colors and symbols. But the flags differ since the latter’s cross is red on a white background while the former’s is white on a red background. 

The similarity came about because of the same origin since Henry Durant, a Swiss Native, designed the red cross flag. 

About Switzerland 

Aerial view of Spiez town with Spiez castle and Lake Thun in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

One of the most beautiful features of Switzerland is its mountainous regions.


Switzerland is a mountainous, landlocked country at the convergence of Southern, Central, and Western Europe. The federal republic comprises 26 cantons. The federal authorities are based in Bern.

Geographically, Switzerland is divided among the Jura, the Alps, and the Swiss Plateau, spanning 15,964 square miles. The land area comprises 15,443 square miles. The Alps occupy the greater territory of Switzerland.

Switzerland has a population of about 8.7 million, most of it on the country’s plateau where economic centers and cities are located—they include Basel, Geneva, and Zurich. The three cities host offices and headquarters of international organizations, including the UN, FIFA, the ILO, the WHO, and the WTO.

Switzerland has four main cultural and linguistic regions: Romansh, Italian, French, and German.

Switzerland has diverse plants and animals thanks to its varying altitudes and climates. For instance, the popular plants in the lowlands include the almond, orange, palm, and cypress trees. However, when you reach about 1200 altitude, you will likely find oak, maples, and beech trees. 

One notable plant species here is the Edelweiss, an important symbol of the people in this region. From the 19th Century, the flower represents snowy mountains. Later, it became a symbol of love and loyalty since men would ascend the steep mountains just to get the flower for their lovers. 

There are more than 4000 native animal species in Switzerland, including deer, otter, fox, chamois, and boar. There is also the preservation of flora and fauna in the country to ensure that the endangered species do not go extinct. One of the animal species under this category is the marten. 

2 — The Vatican City Flag

Vatican City Flag (Proper Square)

The only other flag still used today that is square is Vatican City’s flag.

©Herr Loeffler/Shutterstock.com

Vatican City is the tiniest state globally, sitting on 44-acre land. Yet, despite having fewer than a thousand people, it has its own embassies, post office, army, and Euro Currency. In addition, it has a unique flag, also called the Flag of the Holy See.  

The History of the Vatican Flag

The initial Flag of the Holy See dates back to 1195, adorning the red and white colors. In 1808, the Papal Flag was replaced with gold and silver colors. In 1929, the then Pope, Pius XI, signed the Lateran Treaty with neighboring Italy that accorded the city its independence, giving sovereignty to the Holy See. 

After the Lateran treaty, the flag underwent another change to include the keys and the Papal tiara. This flag has two colors, silver and gold, which always appear white and gold. The colors of the square-shaped flag run vertically on either side. 

The treaty also required the papacy to recognize the state of Italy. Interchangeably, Italy recognized Vatican City’s sovereignty with the Pope as the head of the state.

The independence made the Vatican City home to the Sistine Chapel, the St. Peter’s Basilica, and the headquarters of the Catholic Church. Also, the state was required to remain neutral in international relations and conduct mediations only when requested by the Italian government. 

The Meaning of the Vatican Flag

The Vatican flag has two vertical colors: silver symbolizes earthly power, while gold represents heavenly power. The earthly power means that the pope has authority over spiritual issues on earth. 

The silver section has a symbol of the papal coat of arms made of two keys that point upwards while crossing each other with a papal tiara on top. The tiara on the Vatican flag represents the same one used by pope Pius XI in 1929 while signing the Lateran treaty, which symbolizes sovereignty. 

The keys represent the kingdom of God going to the New Testament, where Jesus handed keys to Saint Peter, one of his disciples. According to Mathew 16:19, Jesus said He would give Saint Peter the powers of the Kingdom of God and that any powers associated with losing and binding in church and government are accorded to him. 

The flag represents Catholicism and can be found in catholic churches and institutions around the globe. 

The People and Features of the Vatican City

Vatican City

The Vatican City State has fewer than 1,000 people.

©Sergii Figurnyi/Shutterstock.com

Italian is the official language of the Vatican City State. But they have an ATM in the state in Latin. 

The Vatican City State has fewer than 1,000 people who all profess Catholicism and use the Euro as their currency. 

Its official name is Vatican City State, and it has a museum that helps sustain its economy through entry fees. The country’s leadership is by an absolute monarch—the pope. 

The state does not allow citizenship by birth and is only based on the office or the job you hold. Because of this, anyone that loses a job automatically gains Italian citizenship. 

The Vatican City is a major tourist site, with millions flocking to experience the grandiosity of the Sistine Chapel and the artistry of the St. Peter’s Basilica. 

Plants and Animals in Vatican City State

As a small state with an urban setting, the Vatican has a limited number of plants and animals. But a quarter of the state, called the Vatican Garden, has been set aside for plants and animals.

Initially, the gardens would import animals such as lions, ostriches, and Ibexes. However, Pope Pius XI banned the practice citing the deprivation of freedom to the animals.

Presently, Vatican City only hosts a variety of birds, such as the Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Yellowhammer, Wryneck, Blackcap, Stonechat, Redstart, Subalpine, Flycatcher, and Blue Rock. 

Final Thoughts

There are more than 190 flags with rectangular shapes, but the Vatican City- and Swiss flags are the only square-shaped ones. 

While the Swiss flag shape was adopted from the Schwyz canton’s flag used during the war, which was red and square shaped, the square in the Vatican City State’s flag is believed to imply spiritual completeness. 

The Swiss flag is almost similar to the commercial Red Cross flag. But one has a red background with a white cross, while the other has a red cross with a white background.

Up Next…

The photo featured at the top of this post is © esfera/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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  2. Flags More, Available here: https://www.flagsmore.com/which-two-countries-have-square-shaped-flags/
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  4. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag