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Canton of Ticino

Flag of the canton
Area:2,812 km²
Ticino is the southernmost canton of Switzerland, and almost entirely Italian-speaking (except the German-speaking municipality of Bosco/Gurin). Together with areas of the canton of Graubünden it makes up the so-called Svizzera Italiana (Italian-speaking Switzerland).

Named after the Ticino river, the canton is called Ticino in Italian, Tessin in German, Tessin in French.


The canton of Ticino is located in the south of Switzerland. It is almost entirely surrounded by Italy which lies to its east, west and south. To the north lie the cantons of Valais and Uri, to the northeast the canton of Graubünden.

Its area is 2,811 km², of which about three quarters are considered productive. Forests cover about a third of the area, but also the lakes Maggiore and Lugano make up a considerable part of the total area.

The River Ticino is the largest river in the canton. It drains most of the canton, flowing from the northwest through the Bedretto Valley and the Leventina valley to enter the lake near Bellinzona. Its main tributaries are the Brenno in the Blenio Valley and the Moessa in the Mesolcina Valley. The lands of the canton are shaped by the river and form a wide valley, commonly known as the Riviera.

The western lands of the canton, however, are drained by the River Maggia. The Verzasca Valley is located between the Ticino river and the Maggia river. There is also a small area that drains directly into the Lake Lugano. Most of the lands is considered as within the Alps, but a small area is part of the plain of the River Po which drains the north of Italy.

Location of the canton


In the Middle Ages the area of what is today Ticino was ruled by the Dukes of Milan. In the 15th century the Swiss Confederates conquered the valleys south of the Alps in three separate conquests.

The Canton of Uri conquered the Leventina Valley in 1440. Between 1403 and 1422 some of these lands were already annexed by forces from Uri, but subsequently lost. In a second conquest Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden gained the town of Bellinzona and the Riviera in 1500. Some of the land and the town Bellinzona itself were previously annexed by Uri in 1419 but lost again in 1422. The third conquest was fought by troops from the entire confederation. In 1512 Locarno, he Maggia Valley, Lugano and Mendrisio were annexed. Subsequently, the upper valley of the Ticino River, from the St. Gotthard to the town of Biasca (Leventina Valley) was part of Canton Uri. The remaining territory (Baliaggi Ultramontani, Ennetbergische Vogteien, the Bailiwicks Beyond the Mountains) was administered by all cantons.

The lands of the canton of Ticino are the first lands to be conquered by the Swiss Confederation. During the Helvetic Republic the districts of Bellinzona and Lugano were separate cantons, but in 1803 the two were unified to form the canton of Ticino that joined the Swiss Confederation as a full member in the same year.

Until 1878 the three largest cities, Bellinzona, Lugano and Locarno, alternated as capital of the canton. In 1878, however, Bellinzona became the only and permanent capital.

The constitution dates from 1830, but was since modified considerably.


The cantonal parliament is the Grand Council (Italian: Gran Consiglio). It sends two deputies to the Swiss Council of States, and eight deputies to the National Council.


The hilly slopes of the canton are used extensively for the production of hydroelectricity. The electricity produced is used at home and sold for export. There is cattle breeding in the northern areas. The production of wine is important in the canton and exported to mainly other areas in Switzerland. The vineyards are mostly concentrated in the southern half of the canton where the climate is warmer. Other agricultural produce includes corn (maize), potatoes, tobacco and vegetables.

The weather in the canton is often inverse to that north of the Alps. This, and a warmer climate in general, attracts many tourists from other Swiss cantons. The lakes together with the sunshine are considered attractive. Tourism is the single most important economic factor in the canton.

There is also light industry, mostly concentrated around the three largest towns of Lugano, Locarno and Bellinzona.

The canton is well connected to the rest of Switzerland. There are tunnels underneath the Gotthard massive, both for rail and road. The canton of Grisons is connected with a direct coach link, whereas the canton of Valais is connected by rail through a tunnel at the Simplon. There are good rail links to Milan and Rome in Italy as well as Germany via Basel and Zürich.

Because of the tourist trade there are a number of small railways in scenic areas in the mountains. Winter sports is important, despite being less developed.

There are two major centres of education and research located in the canton of Ticino. The University of Southern Switzerland (USI) is the only Swiss university teaching in Italian. The University of Applied Sciences of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI) on the other hand, is a branch of the established ETH in Zürich.


The population is mostly Italian speaking and Roman Catholic. There is a growing number of people moving from the German speaking parts for retirement. This makes German a language of growing significance, particularly during the summer season when there are also many German speaking tourists.

The most populous city is Lugano. Other major towns of the canton of Ticino are Locarno, Mendrisio, Airolo and Chiasso.

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