Bellinzona is a city in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland and the capital of the canton of Ticino, at the foot of the Alps and traversed by the Ticino River. It preserves its medieval atmosphere while offering modern services.
Motorways A2 and A13 are the main roads connecting the city. The A2 heads north through the Gotthard Pass to Lucerne, Basel and over the border with Germany, as well as south towards Lugano and on to Italy. The A13 heads north-east towards Austria, passing the San Bernardino pass and Chur.
Bellinzona is also conveniently connected by the Gotthard railway, and is a standard stop for many intercity trains between Zurich, Lugano, Chiasso and Locarno. Regional services here are operated by TiLo and connect the town to the nearest airport (Milan-Malpensa (MXP IATA)), and to Biasca and many other destinations.
- 1 Bellinzona railway station (Stazione di Bellinzona), Viale Stazione 36.
Plenty of bus services can be found at the train station. They're operated by PostBus Switzerland and offer alternative ways to travel to a range of destinations in the region.
In 2000, the Castles of Bellinzona were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- 1 Castello di Sasso Corbaro (Sasso Corbaro Castle) (postal bus #4 from the train station (Piazzale Stazione), direction Artore (schedules)), ☏ . Jul-Aug: daily 10:00–19:00; Apr-Jun Sep-Oct: daily 10:00–18:00. The castle dominates the town 462 meters up the hill. It was built in only six months in 1479 as the highest fortification in Bellinzona. È l'ultimo dei castelli edificati a Bellinzona. A bit of history: It is the last of the castles built in Bellinzona. It was built to replace an existing tower with the aim of optimizing the defence against the Confederates. Work began between 1478 and 1482, commissioned by Ludovico il Moro to avoid bypassing the barrier upstream of the two castles below and the walls that closed the valley. The period is in fact subsequent to the defeat of the duchy in the Battle of Giornico against the Leventinesi and the Urani (to the latter the duchy had promised the valley in 1466, but had not kept his word). The work was entrusted to the ducal engineer Danesio Maineri (documented from 1457 to 1482) and to the ducal architect Benedetto Ferrini (documented from 1453, who died in 1479), who was unable to complete the work because he died of the plague. He was succeeded by the Bellinzona architect Ghiringhelli who in a short time completed the works. The tower which rises to a height of 14 meters is imposing. Following the annexation of the territory to the Helvetic Republic in 1798, the fortress was abandoned. With the birth of the Canton Ticino in 1803 it became his property, but in 1870 the Canton sold it to private individuals who made it a summer residence. In 1919 he returned to the Canton which restored and partially rebuilt the ravelin, the entrance portals, the seventeenth-century chapel and the well. In 1989 the wooden hall of the 17th century was placed, which the Canton had bought in 1944 from the heirs of the Poglia family, later called "Sala Poglia". Initially this room had been transferred to Castelgrande on behalf of Giuseppe Weith of the Cantonal Commission of Historic and Artistic Monuments. This solid walnut artifact used to be in Olivone and was the vestibule of the house of the Emma (originally Hema), an important family of notaries of the time. The room still contains the stone pine cone used to heat the rooms, bearing the Emma coat of arms. It hosts temporary exhibitions.
- 2 Castello di Montebello (Montebello Castle) (a few hundred metres SW from the train station via Piazza della Collegiata; alternatively descend by road from Sasso Corbaro), ☏ . Jul-Aug: daily 10:00–19:00, museum 10:00–18:00; Apr-Jun Sep-Oct: daily 10:00–18:00. 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. A bit of history: The construction of the castle, the second oldest in Bellinzona, probably dates back to the 13th century, when it was built by the Rusca family, lordship of Como, who took refuge there during the Milanese occupation, on a rock overlooking the oldest part of the city. The first mention, however, dates back to 1313, when its existence was indirectly reported. At the time, however, only the trapezoid-shaped keep, two courtyards and some houses existed of the castle. In the fourteenth century the Ghibelline battlements were built, which underwent a further expansion between 1462 and 1490, when new walls were built with round or polygonal towers with the opening facing inwards. During the same intervention, the ravelin, a second moat and a patrol walkway were built in which some machicolations open.Behind the oldest moat there is a parapet and a pentagon-shaped tower that marks the beginning of the walls, which surround it to the south, north-west and in the part that separates it from the village. In the 17th century an oratory dedicated to San Michele was added to the existing structures, which in 1934 was renovated by Giuseppe Weith. In the twentieth century, moreover, the castle underwent important interventions: the original keep was completed and between 1902 and 1910 it was consolidated by a commission led by Eugen Probst. The last intervention dates back to 1974, when a suspended steel structure was built to house the Civic Museum. Fr. 5; combined ticket for 3 castles: Fr. 15.
- 3 Castelgrande (from Piazza della Collegiata; from here follow the San Michele path up), ☏ . Museum: Jul-Aug daily 10:00–19:00; Apr-Jun, Sep-Oct daily 10:00–18:00; Nov-Mar daily 10:00–16:00. Inner court: Tu-Su 09:00–22:00, M 10:00–18:00; Murata sforzesca: Summer 10:00–19:00, Winter 10:00–17:00. Remodelled in the 2010s 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. A bit of history: The first fortification was built under the emperor Augustus in 15 BC. Fortress abandoned in the 1st century. In the 4th century, walls were again erected by the Romans. The Gothic and Byzantine dominations, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, have left no traces, the Lombard presence is instead attested by literary documents. Gregory of Tours writes that in 590 a Frankish invasion met strong Lombard resistance in Bilitionem. A group of Arimanni controlled and monitored the access from Bellinzona to the various Alpine passes that find the southern outlet route in Bellinzona. With the Frankish dominion 774 the Castel Grande underwent various transformations, oratories, houses, towers and deposits were erected inside the walls. These interventions continued in the Ottonian age and gave the hill the appearance of a fortified citadel. At the end of the 11th century the control of the city and the manor passed from the emperor to the bishop of Como (1002 - 1004). In the 12th century, further improvements were made to the whole fortress. Bellinzona becomes the subject of many disputes but in 1192 it returns again under the control of Como and its nobility. At the beginning of the 14th century the Black Tower was erected connected on the eastern side to the more slender White Tower erected in the 13th century and in this century Bellinzona and the castle assumed greater importance thanks to the opening of the San Gottardo Pass. Conquered by Milan in 1242, they returned under Como control in 1249. In this period the region entered into an intricate game of forces competing for the control of Alpine accesses, among these forces the Ghibelline Rusca family from Como stands out, to which the construction is attributed. of the second Montebello manor of the city to the east of the Castel Grande. The Milanese reconquest in 1340, intended to contain the ambitions of the Rusca family, marked a turning point in the history of the village and its fortresses. Under the Visconti dominion, Bellinzona became the capital of the Alpine territories and in particular of the Three Ambrosian valleys. The manors were further strengthened and in the second half of the 14th century the long barrier wall of the entire Ticino valley was erected, which allowed greater control of trade flows and the repression of the smuggling of salt and other foodstuffs. At the beginning of the 15th century and with the death of Gian Galeazzo Visconti 1402, Bellinzona and its castles experienced a new period of great confusion. In 1403 the manor and the city were occupied by the de Sacco lords of Mesolcina. In 1419 they were ceded to the cantons of Uri and Obwalden, but in the same year they were again conquered by Milan and again defended on 30 June 1422 with the Milanese victory against the troops of the Swiss Confederate cantons in the battle of Arbedo. On the death of Duke Filippo Maria Visconti in 1447, Franchino Rusca, lord of Locarno, Enrico de Sacco, lord of Mesolcina with the support of the Swiss cantons, tried to regain control of Bellinzona. In 1449 with the battle of Castione, Milan regained control under Francesco Sforza. Until his death in 1466 the region experienced a period of stability. The Confederate victories against Charles the Bold greatly strengthened its offensive capabilities, in 1478 the siege of the city by the Confederates caused serious damage. Milan undertook extensive work to strengthen the defensive structures, the third castle of Sasso Corbaro was quickly built, the walls were consolidated and a bridge, also fortified, was built over the Ticino river, which Ludovico il Moro inaugurated in 1487. In 1494 Carlo VIII invades the Duchy of Milan and occupies Bellinzona for a short time. Finally, a popular uprising drives out the French and on 14 April 1500 the population of Bellinzona submits to the Swiss League. From 1500 to 1798, Bellinzona and its castles passed under the control of the confederation of the 13th Swiss cantons. It was in that period that the manor took the name of Castello d'Uri. The Canton of Ticino was born in 1803. The castle becomes the property of the State of the Canton of Ticino. In 1820 the Castel Grande was used partly as a prison and partly as a military arsenal. Consolidation and maintenance works were carried out from 1920 to 1955. Between 1983 and 1989 it was provided with a lift access and the whole complex was renovated and made accessible to the population.
- 4 Monastero di Santa Maria (Saint Mary's Monastery, Claro Abbey) (postal bus #191 from the train station (Piazzale Stazione), direction Claro (or Airolo FFS)). In the northern part of the city, the monastery is build in the top of an hill. From there there's a view on the Riviera valley and the northern part of the city. You can reach the monastery by walking (on an ancient trail in the wood) from the neighbourhood of Claro (it takes 25-30 minutes) or by car (following the mountain road that lead to the monastery). Anyway, by car you should pay 10.- to reach the monastery, at the barrier situated at the beginning of the mountain road.
- 5 Ponte della Torretta (Tower bridge) (follow the ramparts from Castelgrande in direction west, until the Ticino river). An historic broken bridge, surrounded by a park long the river. There are some public grill-places around it, that can be used in the summer.
- Carasc Suspension Bridge - Hike the trails or take the Monte Carasso cable car partly up the slope of Mornera, disembark at the second station (Corte di Sotto) and hike to San Barnàrd church, known for its frescoes, then follow the trail beyond the church to Semetina Valley where the 270-m bridge hovers 130 m above the valley with sweeping views. It is Switzerland's longest Tibetan-style suspension bridge.
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 centre 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.
- 1 Lido di Arbedo (beach bar on the Ticino River), Castione-Arbedo (go north along the Via San Gottardo. Just before you get to the Highway exit Bellinzona Nord, on your left hand side, there is a stair leading down to a parking with signs to the beach and its bar). estimated: M-W 12:00–18:00, Th 10:00–22:00, F-Sa 12:00–03:00, Su 10:00–01:00. Beach bar, where the Moesa river from Graubünden joins the Ticino River, which gave the canton its name. Only open in Summer. Drinks, music, possibility to barbecue and swim. Beware of the strong current and the cold water. free.
- 1 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.
- 1 Hotel Internazionale, Piazza Stazione 35 (Directly opposite the train station), ☏ , fax: .
- 2 Hotel Gamper, viale Stazione 29, ☏ .
- There is a possibility to stay in old historical houses at the Humanità Hostel [dead link] in Cabbiolo, about 25 km from Bellinzona. +41 91 830 14 81, firstname.lastname@example.org
- 3 Bellinzona Youth Hostel (Istituto Santa Maria), Via Nocca 4, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Check-in: 15:00-19:00, check-out: 08:00-10:00. This youth hostel is in the building of an old boarding school. Dorm from Fr. 36.