After Lugano, Bellinzona is the second largest city in the canton of Ticino with around 43,000 inhabitants. The inhabitants of Bellinzona are called Bellenzer and in Italian Bellinzonesi.
The skyline of the Ticino capital is dominated by the UNESCO World Heritage fortress of Bellinzona. It consists of three castles, a wall and a rampart that surrounds the entire valley. This fortress is the only example of medieval military architecture of its kind in Europe.
Bellinzona is strategically located in a narrow valley passage at the entrance to the Gotthard, San Bernardino and Lukmanier Alpine passes. The city acts as a gateway to Italy in the north and a key to the Alps in the south.
Bellinzona as a Lombard city of culture
The charming corners, squares, courtyards and the neoclassical box theater as well as the lovingly restored old houses tell visitors the story of a Lombard cultural city. The narrow streets are lined with magnificent patrician houses and impressive churches. Behind the medieval charm, however, lies the lively hustle and bustle of a modern meeting place.
Numerous boutiques, specialist stores with culinary specialties and cosy cafés invite you to stroll and linger. A large weekly market is held every Saturday in the historic town center.
Bellinzona expanded by the Romans as a fortress
The ancient Romans built a “castrum” as early as the 1st century, as they clearly recognized the strategic importance of Bellinzona. Over the course of the Middle Ages, the town was fortified and developed into an impregnable fortress for a long time. Due to its location, Bellinzona was often the scene of conflicts between the Dukes of Milan and the Confederates. It was not until 1516 that the city was finally incorporated into the territory of the Swiss Confederation.
Medieval military architecture in the Alps
The defensive fortifications of Bellinzona are among the most important examples of medieval military architecture in the Alps. For this reason, they were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The three castles offer a magnificent view of the city and the surrounding mountains as far as Lake Maggiore.
The fortress is the symbol of Bellinzona and offers a wide range of activities. There is a small museum in Castelgrande that documents the history of the castles and the town center. In Montebello, the “Archaeology of Montebello” exhibition presents a selection of finds from Ticino, focusing on the Bellinzona region and the upper valleys.
This imposing castle dates back to Roman times, but was greatly expanded and fortified in the Middle Ages. It served both as a defensive structure and as a residence for noblemen.
Castelgrande is the landmark of Bellinzona and today houses a museum that presents the history of the castles and the town. From the towers of the castle, you have a spectacular view of the city and the surrounding countryside.
Castello di Montebello
This castle is located to the east of Castelgrande and was built in the 14th century. Originally designed as a residence for the noble families of Bellinzona, it was later expanded into a strategic defensive structure.
Today, Montebello houses an exhibition on the archaeological history of Ticino, in particular the Bellinzona region and the surrounding valleys.
Castello di Sasso Corbaro
The northernmost of the three castles is enthroned on a rocky outcrop and offers an impressive panoramic view. It was built in the 15th century and served as a fortress to defend the city of Bellinzona. Sasso Corbaro is considered one of the best-preserved castles in Ticino. Inside the castle there is a weapons and armor room that offers an insight into the military history of the region.
History of the three castles
The hill of Castelgrande was first settled around 5,500 years before Christ. Montebello, a castle complex, dates from the 13th to 14th centuries. Sasso Corbaro Castle was built in just six months in 1479 on the orders of the Duke of Milan.
The castles played a decisive role for the Visconti and Sforza families, the Dukes of Milan, who went to great lengths to expand them. They built the castle of Sasso Corbaro and the ring of walls that closed off the inner valley. The current appearance of the castles is largely due to these construction measures in the middle of the 15th century.
Political and economic center of the region
The incorporation of Bellinzona into the Swiss Confederation resulted in profound changes to the town. It developed into an important political and economic center in the region. The fortifications were further expanded to strengthen the city’s strategic position and ensure its defense.
The importance of the border town between Switzerland and Italy was maintained throughout history and shaped both the culture and architecture of the city.
Today, Bellinzona is proud of its rich historical heritage, especially its impressive defensive fortifications, which are among the best preserved of their kind in Europe. These impressive testimonies to the past attract visitors from all over the world and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
The integration of Bellinzona into the Swiss Confederation has made the city a place of cultural exchange and intercultural coexistence. The Lombard culture and language still have a strong influence today, and the city serves as a bridge between Switzerland and Italy.
Bellinzona’s history and strategic location make it a fascinating destination for history buffs, culture enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. The city not only offers a variety of historical sights, but also a picturesque setting with the breathtaking beauty of the Ticino Alps and Lake Maggiore nearby.
The town is an ideal starting point for excursions to the nearby vacation centers Locarno and Ascona, over Monte Ceneri into southern Ticino with the center Lugano, into the romantic side valleys of Ticino or into the Leventina with the Bedretto Valley or the sunny Blenio Valley in the north.
Video Bellinzona 2020 – Canton of Ticino in Switzerland
Bellinzona is the capital of the canton of Ticino in Switzerland. The town is famous for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro) that have been UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000…