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Bellinzona - City centre with the Castelgrande
City centre with the Castelgrande
Country Switzerland
Canton Ticino
District Bellinzona
Coordinates 46°12′N 9°01′E / 46.2°N 9.017°E / 46.2; 9.017Coordinates: 46°12′N 9°01′E / 46.2°N 9.017°E / 46.2; 9.017
Population 17,111 (December 2007)
  - Density 862 /km2 (2,234 /sq mi)
Area 19.84 km2 (7.66 sq mi)
Elevation 238 m (781 ft)
Postal code 6500
SFOS number 5002
Mayor Brenno Martignoni
Localities Artore, Carasso , Daro, Ravecchia
Surrounded by
(view map)
Arbedo-Castione, Giubiasco, Gorduno, Monte Carasso, Pianezzo, Sant'Antonio
Profile (Italian), SFSO statistics
Bellinzona [zoom] is located in Switzerland
Bellinzona [zoom]

Bellinzona (Italian pronunciation: [bɛllinˈdzoːna]; French: Bellinzone, pronounced: [bɛlɛ̃zon]; archaic German: Bellenz [ˈbelents]; Latin Bilitio [biˈlitsjo]) is the capital city of the canton Ticino in Switzerland. The city is famous for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro) that are UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000.



The city lies east of the Ticino River, at the foot of the Alps. It stretches along the river valley, surrounded by the Saint Gotthard massif.



Pre-History and Roman era

Bellinzona has always occupied an important geographic location in the Alps. Several key alpine passes, including the Nufenen, St. Gotthard, Lukmanier, San Bernardino and the Poebene, all meet in the area around Bellinzona making it a key trading center.

While the region has been occupied since the early Neolithic age[1] it wasn't until the late 1st Century BC that a fort was built in the area during the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus. While the fort fell into disrepair in the following centuries, it was rebuilt and greatly expanded in the 4th Century AD. During the reign of Diocletian and Constantin a chain of castles and watchtowers were built to protect northern Italy from invasion. Bellinzona's location was recognized as a key point in the defenses and a large castle was built to protect the walls. The town that grew up around the fortifications was known as Bilitio.

Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the successor states, which included the Ostrogoths around 500 AD, the eastern Byzantine Empire towards the middle of the 6th Century, and the Longobards from 568/70, all took control of Bellinzona and used the castle to assert control of the surrounding passes. Under the Longobards, Bellinzona became the site of a permanent garrison to protect the region from raids by the neighboring Frankish and Alemannic tribes[2]. From Bellinzona the Longobards controlled the traffic on the important trade route from Varese over Ponte Tresa, the Monte Ceneri Pass, Biasca and finally over the Lukmanier Pass into Chur. Some researchers believe that Bellinzona may have been the capital of a county that included most of the valleys in Ticino[2].

Early Middle Ages

At around 774 the Frankish Kingdom (that would become the Carolingian Empire) gained control of the Ticino valley including Bellinzona.

About 2 centuries later the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, seeking to restore the power of glory of ancient Rome and expand into Italy, opened the Lukmanier and St. Bernard passes. Control of Bellinzona was a key part of this expansion. The city was taken from Milan and given as a gift to the Bishop of Como, who supported the Ottonian dynasty. In 1002, following the death of Otto III, Marquis Arduino of Ivrea declared himself King of Italy and ratified the bishop's ownership of the Castelgrande and the city. Two years later, after Arduino had been defeated by Henry II the King of Germany, Henry II's man Enrico II reratified the gift of the Castlegrande on the Bishop of Como[3 ]. The city is mentioned in medieval sources in 1218 as Bilizione.

Conflicts between the Pope and the Emperor

Coat of Arms of the Visconti. Under the Viscounti, Bellinzona flourished and city was expanded.

During the Investiture Controversy of the late 11th Century the city of Bellinzona with its castle came under the control of the Hohenstaufens of Swabia. However, in 1180, Frederick I (Barbarossa) placed the city under the jurisdiction of the city of Como[3 ]. In the following years Como tended to support the Pope in his conflicts with the Holy Roman Emperor. However in 1239, Como sided with the Emperor Frederick II who quickly moved forces into Bellinzona and strengthened the Castelgrande. In 1242 Milan sent Guelph (or pro-papacy) forces under the command of Simone di Orello to take Bellinzona[3 ]. The city and castle were taken which weakened the Emperor south of the Alps. However the town was back under the jurisdiction of Como in 1249[2]. Conflicts in northern Italy continued, the Castelgrande was besieged several times in 1284, 1292 and 1303. During this time the Rusca family in Como, a Ghibelline or pro-Imperial family, fought the growing power of Milan under the pro-papacy House of Visconti with limited success. Around the end of the 13th Century the Rusca family built another castle, Montebello, in Bellinzona, which they controlled. This was fortunate because by 1335 the Rusca family had been driven out of Como and had to retreat to Bellinzona. Five years later, in 1340, Milan besieged Bellinzona. Following a lengthly siege, the city fell to Milan but the Ruscas were allowed to keep Montebello[3 ]. Pro-papacy Milan would dominate Bellinzona for the next one and a half centuries, though the pro-Imperial Rusca would also occupy part of the city.

Expansion of Bellinzona under Milan

The Murata or city wall of Bellinzona

Under the control of the Visconti trade flourished and the city of Bellinzona grew. Even when an alternative route over the Alps, the Schöllenen bridge opened, traffic in the St. Gotthard increased to the highest levels ever[4]. During the second half of the 14th Century a long wall, known as the Murata, was built across the entire Tessin valley. This wall allowed Milan to protect and tax the trade route over the St. Gotthard Pass[2]. While the city was controlled by Milan through the Visconti after 1340, the Visconti did not have a formal title and feudal rights until 1396 when they were granted by King Wenceslaus. However, the orderly growth of Bellinzona was threatened in 1402 when Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti died. In 1403 Bellinzona was taken under the control of Alberto di Sacco of Val Mesolcina. He held Bellinzona until 1419 when it was taken over by Uri and Obwalden which had expanded into the Leventina Valley. Milan attacked the city three years later in 1422 after an offer to buy the city was rejected by the Swiss Confederation. The troops from Uri and Obwalden were quickly driven from the city and later defeated at the Battle of Arbedo on June 30, 1422. This defeat discouraged the expansionist intentions of Uri and its allies towards Lake Maggiore for a time.

During the period of unrest following Gian Galeazzo Visconti's death, a tower which would become the nucleus of the third castle, Sasso Corbaro, was built outside the city.

While the border between Uri and Milan was fixed in the peace treaty of 1426, in 1439 Uri invaded again. While they were unable to take Bellinzona, the victories of the Swiss troops led to Milan granting all of the Leventina Valley to Pollegio to Uri in 1441. Following the death of Duke Filippo Maria Visconti in 1447, Bellinzona was in the middle of the succession crisis between Franchino Rusca of Locarno and Heinrich of Val Mesolcina, who were allied with Uri and the Ambrosian Republic in Milan. The war following the succession crisis lasted nearly three years until Francesco I Sforza seized power in Milan. Bellinzona quickly accepted the new Sforza dynasty and the peace and stability that followed[2].

The peace was broken again in 1478 when the Swiss once again attacked Bellinzona unsuccessfully. However Swiss pride was restored by the Battle of Giornico which followed, where a force of 600 Swiss soldiers defeated 10,000 Milanese troops. Following the attack, Milan built the Sasso Corbaro either on the site of a tower which had been built nearly a century before[2]. The other two castles were strengthened and the Murata wall across the valley was rebuilt. Much of the modern castles and fortifications date from this period of construction in the late 15th Century.

An associate of the Swiss Confederation

Castles of Bellinzona

In 1499 nearly one and a half centuries of Milanese rule ended with the invasion of Milan by Louis XII of France. He captured Bellinzona and fearing an attack by the Swiss, fortified the Castelgrande with 1000 troops[5]. Throughout the winter of 1499/1500 unrest in Bellinzona grew, until January when an armed revolt of the citizens of Bellinzona drove the French troops from the city. Following the capture and execution of Ludovico Sforza in April 1500 and seeking protection from France, Bellinzona joined the Swiss Confederation on April 14, 1500. Bellinzona would remain under the joint administration of Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden until the creation of the Helvetic Republic after the Napoleonic invasion of Switzerland in 1798. From 1798 to 1803, under the Helvetic Republic, Bellinzona was the capital of the canton of Bellinzona.

Bellinzona since 1803

Following the Act of Mediation in 1803 Bellinzona became part of the independent canton of Ticino, and the capital of the new canton from 1803 to 1814. From that date until 1878, Bellinzona, Lugano, and Locarno, took turns being capital every six years.

The city includes the village of Artore and, since the incorporation in 1907, the former municipalities of Carasso , Daro, and Ravecchia.


As of December 2007, the city had 17,111 inhabitants[6]. In that census, 30.6 percent were non-Swiss, mostly from Italy. The metropolitan area of Bellinzona has a population of 47,128[6], divided into 16 municipalities.

Historic Demographics

source: Historical Dictionary of Switzerland[7]

1591 1781 1808 1850 1880 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990
Population ca. 200[A] ca. 1,100 1,260 3,209 4,036 10,406 10,706 12,060 16,979 16,849
Language German 140 1,028 831 807 1,040 681
French 6 74 127 162 179 209
Italian 3,887 9,266 9,712 11,053 15,574 14,948
Other 3 38 36 38 186 1,011
Religion Protestant 43 632 550 577 844 626
Roman Catholic 3,985 8,947 9,577 11,196 15,817 14,592
Other/None 8 827 579 287 318 1,631[B]
Nationality Swiss 2,742 3,260 6,936 8,755 10,427 12,848 11,924
Foreign 467 776 3,470 1,951 1,633 4,131 4,925
A  Number of households
B  in 1990, 879 were either atheist or did not identify with any religion


Autopostali (post buses) in Bellinzona

It is an important stop for major trains heading either north toward Arth-Goldau and Zürich, or south toward Lugano, Chiasso and Italy or bound for the southwest to Locarno.

The A2 and A13 motorways, as well as some main roads, link here, thus making it an important transportational node.


The city is known for its carnival Rabadan, which has taken place for over 150 years.

The local football team is AC Bellinzona.

The Three Castles

Ramparts of Bellizona connecting Castelgrande to Castello di Montebello

The Three Castles, officially listed as the Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzone, have been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The group is composed of Castelgrande, castle Montebello, castle Sasso Corbaro and fortified walls. The Castelgrande is located on a rocky peak overlooking the valley, with a series of fortified walls that protect the old city and connect to the Montebello. The third castle (Sasso Corbaro) is located on a isolated rocky promontory south-east of the other two[8].


Castelgrande showing the walls and towers of the extensive castle

The site of the Castelgrande has been fortified since at least the late 1th Century BC and until the 13th Century it was the only fortification in Bellinzona. During its history the castle has been known as the stronghold (before the 13th Century), the Old Castle in the 14-15th Centuries, Un Castle after 1506 and Saint Michael's Castle from 1818[9].

The Castelgrande hill includes a nearly vertical side on the north and a steep southern side, but is nearly flat and 150-200m in diameter. The natural shape of the hill has encouraged every man-made fortification to follow the same contours. While the Roman fort is not visible the Roman foundations were used by the High Middle Ages castle which followed. Of the High Middle Ages castle the only visible parts are a few pieces of wall that are still standing. Much of the visible castle dates from 1250-1500 with extensive renovations and some expansion in the last two centuries. Most of the area inside the castle walls is now flat, open space.

Records from the 11th to 15th Centuries as well as archeological evidence indicate that the castle grounds were once full of buildings. However most of these were pulled down by the Dukes of Milan to free up interior space. The open space was divided into 3 large baileys which served to provide temporary housing for troops that could be stationed in Bellinzona. Under the Dukes of Milan the outer fortifications were extended and strengthened. The walls were raised, extended and towers were added. The western walls were totally rebuilt and connected to the city walls.

The castle can be reached by taking an elevator from the foot of the rock to the castle grounds or by climbing steep, narrow streets from the city center through the city wall onto the castle grounds.


Montebello castle located on a rocky hilltop east of town is connected to Castelgrande by the city walls

Montebello Castle (known as the Small, New or Middle Castle in the 15th Century, as Schwyz Castle from 1506 and St. Martin's Castle after 1818) is located to the east of the town center. It was built before 1313 for the pro-Imperial Rusca family, who occupied the castle following the Visconti victory and occupation of the Castelgrande. By the end of the 14th Century it was in the hands of the Visconti[10]. The castle was renovated and expanded between 1462 and 1490 to its current state. In the 19th Century the castle fell into disrepair and was renovated starting in 1903.

A little chapel, dedicated to Saint Michael, leans against the wall of the more recent south-facing section; built around 1600, it is one of the few buildings erected in the castles of Bellinzona under the rule of the three Swiss cantons.

Montebello Castle houses the Archaeological and Civic Museum. The museum was opened in 1974 and is located in the tower and the former residential quarters of Montebello Castle. It is divided into two sections-history and archaeology. In the history section there are several capitals from the 15th Century and a rare 13th Century Baptismal font as well as drawings and sketchs from several artists. This section also houses a collection of ceremonial and military arms. The archaeology section includes many items from 1400-1500 B.C. as well as ceramics, glassware, funeral urns, ornamental objects and jewellery in iron and bronze from around the canton. The museum is open from March to November[11].

Sasso Corbaro

Sasso Corbaro castle

Sasso Corbaro, known as Unterwalden Castle after 1506 and Saint Barbara's Castle after 1818, is about 600m south-west of town on a rocky hill. Unlike the other two castles Sasso Corbaro is not integrated into the city walls. The first part of the castle was the north-eastern tower which was built in 1478 to close a gap in the defenses of the city[12]. The walls and south-west tower were added later. The castle was struck by lightning multiple times during the 16th and 17th Centuries, and by 1900 was falling into ruins.

Today, Sasso Corbaro Castle houses the Sala Emma Poglia which is the "wooden room" built for the Emma family during the 17th Century. Originally located in the entrance hall of their home in Olivone in the Blenio Valley, the room was purchased by the Canton of Ticino in 1944 and housed first in the Castelgrande before being moved to the Sasso Corbaro in 1989. The room is panelled entirely in walnut and also includes the stüva, stove which provided heating. The stove bears the crest of the Emma family (an eagle and a lion rampant). The museum also houses temporary exhibits. It is open from March until November[13].


External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Bellinzona [1] is a city in Switzerland.

  • Bellinzona’s castles. In 2000, the Castles of Bellinzona were included in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Take the postal bus from the FFS train station up to Artore where the Sasso Corbaro Castle dominates the city from 462 meters. It was built in only six months in 1479 as the highest fortification in Bellinzona. Descend to the Montebello Castle, the most picturesque of the three. Probably built in the 13th century and restored in the 1970s, the Montebello Castle is a spectacular example of a medieval castle and houses a very interesting civic and archeological Museum. Steps along the old city walls lead the visitor to the Piazza della Collegiata; from here follow the San Michele path up to Castelgrande, remodeled in the last years by Aurelio Galfetti with bold architectural solutions, among which the elevator in the rock and the helicoidal ramp to reach the summit directly from the Piazza Mario della Valle.

There is a historical Museum in one wing of the castle with an architectural section as well as an artistic-historical one. In the south building there is an elegant restaurant with its annexed wine cellar where almost all of Ticino's wine production can be tasted. From Castelgrande follow the wall, also restored, which once went all the way to the Ticino River. A footbridge crosses the part, which was knocked down to allow transit on the Viale Portone. The view from the wall sweeps over the very modern buildings, the pride of Ticino's architects (Casa del Portone, Casa Bianca, Casa Nera, Casa Fabrizia) with the green background of the Sports Center with its public pool and tennis courts on the river's edge. From the walkway return to the station either through Città Vecchia from via Orico, or following the Viale Portone or via Mirasole.

  • Giardino, Via Orico (On the corner of Piazza Governo, South West (or left turn) down Viale Stazione from the main train station.). Hidden ristorante/pizzeria frequented by locals offering good quality medium-priced Italian cooking only 7 minutes walk from the main train station.  edit
  • Hotel Internazionale (Directly opposite the train station), Piazza Stazione 35 - Bellinzona - 6501, +41 91 825 43 33 (fax: +41 91 826 13 59), [2].  edit
  • There is a possibility to stay in old historical houses at the Humanità Hostel in Cabbiolo, about 25 km from Bellinzona. +41 91 830 14 81, [3]
  • Hotel Gamper, viale Stazione 29 6500 Bellinzona, +41 91 825 37 92, [4].  edit
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BELLINZONA (Ger. Bellenz), the political capital of the Swiss canton of Tessin or Ticino. It is 105 m. from Lucerne by the St Gotthard railway, 19 m. from Lugano and 14 m. from Locarno at the head of the Lago Maggiore, these two towns having been till 1881 capitals of the canton jointly with Bellinzona. The old town is built on some hills, on the left bank of the Tessin or Ticino river, and a little below the junction of the main Ticino valley (the Val Leventina) with that of Mesocco. It thus blocked the road from Germany to Italy, while a great wall was built from the town to the river bank. Bellinzona still possesses three picturesque castles (restored in modern times), dating in their present form from the 15th century. They belonged for several centuries to the three Swiss cantons which were masters of the town. The most westerly, Castello Grande or of San Michele, belonged to Uri; the central castle, that of Montebello, was the property of Schwyz; while the most easterly castle, that of Sasso Corbaro, was in the hands of Unterwalden. The 13th-century church of San Biagio (Blaise) has a remarkable 14th-century fresco, while the collegiate church of San Stefano dates from the 16th century. In 1900 the population of Bellinzona was 4949, practically all Romanists and Italianspeaking.

Possibly Bellinzona is of Roman origin, but it is first mentioned in 590. It played a considerable part in the early history of Lombardy, being a key to several Alpine passes. In the 8th century it belonged to the bishop of Como, while in the 13th and 14th centuries it was tossed to and fro between the cities of Milan and Como. In 1402 it was taken from Milan by Albert von Sax, lord of the Val Mesocco, who in 1419 sold it to Uri and Obwalden, which, however, lost it to Milan in 1422 after the battle of Arbedo. In 1499 (like the rest of the Milanese) it was occupied by the French, but in 1500 it:was taken by Uri. In 1503 the French king ceded it to Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, which henceforth ruled it very harshly through their bailiffs till 1798. At that date it became the capital of the canton Bellinzona of the Helvetic republic, but in 1803 it was united to the newly-formed canton of Tessin. (W. A. B. C.)

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Simple English

Coordinates: 46°12′N 9°01′E

Country Switzerland
Canton Ticino
District Bellinzona

Coordinates46°12′N 9°01′E
Population 17,363   (December 2005)
Area 19.84 km² (7.66 sq mi)

Elevation238 m (781 ft)
Postal code 6500

SFOS number5002
MayorBrenno Martignoni
LocalitiesArtore, Carasso , Daro, Ravecchia
Surrounded by
(view map)
Arbedo-Castione, Giubiasco, Gorduno, Monte Carasso, Pianezzo, Sant'Antonio

Bellinzona [zoom]

Bellinzona ([bɛllin'dzoːna] in French Bellinzone [bɛlɛ̃'zon] and Bilitio [bi'litsjo] in Latin) is the capital of the Swiss Canton of Ticino. Its German name Bellenz ['belents] is no longer in use. With about 17.300 people living there, it is the second biggest city of the canton (after Lugano, with about 52.000 people).


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