Three castles dominate the majestic skyline of Bellinzona, the capital of Switzerland’s most southerly canton. Three castles that back in the mists of time protected Milan from a Swiss invasion. Three castles that are now cherished for their cultural and architectural value rather than their geopolitical importance. For example, the refurbishment of Castelgrande is a showcase of contemporary Ticino architecture at its best.

Three castles, defensive wall and ramparts of Bellinzone ©Presence Switzerland
Facts & figures


Medieval defensive wall and ramparts dating back to Late Antiquity, including the three castles of Castelgrande, Montebello und Sasso Corbaro


Bellinzona, canton of Ticino, Switzerland

UNESCO inscription



Outstanding example of buildings which illustrate significant stages in human history (Criterion 4 of the UNESCO Operating Guidelines).


In 1475, Azzo Visconti, the Lord of Milan, declared that Bellinzona was the “key and gateway to Italy”. It owed its strategic importance to the fact that more transport routes converged here than at anywhere else in the Southern Alps. In the 15th century, the town went under a major expansion led by the Dukes of Milan, including the defensive wall and ramparts that we can still see today. Bellinzona would ultimately join the Confederation in 1500 in a bloodless takeover – it was the price it agreed to pay for in return for the Confederates’ help in repelling an invasion by the French. The ramparts are extremely well preserved and are the most important surviving vestige of medieval fortification architecture in the Alps. Castelgrande has since been skilfully restored and adapted to modern requirements, harmoniously blend contemporary and medieval architecture.

World Heritage and Swissness

The castles of Bellinzona are much admired by lovers of historic and modern architecture alike. Architect Aurelio Galfetti was responsible for the innovative yet sympathetic restoration of Castelgrande. His work on the castle steps, in particular, has come in for great praise. Another local architect, Luigi Snozzi, was responsible for the restoration of the Montecarasso Abbey, while another Ticino native and “starchitect”, Mario Botta, designed the small mountain church of Mogno. These are only a few examples of the varied and impressive output of Ticino architects. As befits traditional Swiss modesty, these works are not necessarily examples of internationally acclaimed “wow-factor” architecture… you have to look elsewhere if you want to see the tallest or most expensive building. What sets Ticino and Swiss architects apart is the sheer breadth, diversity and quality of their work, which stretches from alpine villages to the valleys below and from outlying towns to major cities. Find out more about Switzerland’s architectural traditional and architectural gems on our Resources page.

Virtual tour

UNESCO world heritage - Three castles defensice wall and ramparts of the market-towen of Bellinzona
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA