The 3 Castles of Bellinzona

by Travelling Peach

When you think of Switzerland, the first things that comes to mind are the beautifully snowy ski resorts; their iconic Swiss chocolates and cheeses; and their lush natural landscapes, full of mountains, trees, lakes and amazingly wide open spaces but Switzerland has so much more to offer.

The country is home to some of the most beautiful architecture, artwork, historic buildings and museums in the world; and, as you drive around the country, you can’t help but be amazed by how there are so many beautifully constructed buildings scattered across the landscape… beautiful churches bejeweling the mountains, lit up in golden spendour against the night sky; intricate and beautiful traditional artwork, hand painted on walls; and the contrast between the traditional Ticinese houses and those in other areas such a central Switzerland and Zurich.

There’s so much to see; however, 3 of the best places to visit are the 3 Castles Of Bellinzona.

The 3 Castles as they are commonly known comprise of: Castelgrande, Castello Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro - 3 fortresses that were originally constructed in the 13th Century to protect the south of the country from invasion by the Italians and, continuing to play an important role in both history and global economy, have long since stood the test of time.  

Today, they are well loved by the people of Ticino, who have sensitively restored and looked after them, and receive many visitors looking to enjoy educational days out or marvel at the architecture and views from the top of the turrets. 

What makes the castles particularly special is that an imaginary ‘line’ links them together so that, wherever you are and whichever castle you are at, you can always see the others too. In the daylight, with the sun shining and surrounded by the mountains this is particularly striking; however, at night, when the castles are lit up in golden majesty against the dark night sky, it’s magnificent.

Moreover, unlike other castles, where one would expect to walk around rooms and rooms of beautiful artwork, admiring the décor and interiors that the buildings have to offer, the 3 castles of Bellinzona are completely different. Their true beauty stands in their fabulously worn but well-preserved medieval stone architecture, the intricate details of the vast turrets and worn stone walls and, of course, the magnificent views that surround them – of the other 2 castles, the neighbouring towns below and the beautiful natural landscape of lush trees, vibrant greenery and monumental mountains towering over them. 

Definitely worth visiting.

About The Castles: 

1. Castelgrande
Pre-dating 590AD, Castelgrande (aka Castello di San Michele) is the oldest of the fortresses and played an important role in numerous historic battles between the Franks and The Lombards, among others. Then, between 1486-1489, it was further extended by the Milanese Sforza family to repel the Swiss military who were advancing towards the North. Today, Castelgrande stands proudly at the top of the hill overlooking Bellinzona and its sister castles: Castello Montebello and Castello Sasso Corbaro – an important part of reclaimed Swiss heritage.

The castle is the largest of the 3 fortresses, boasting fabulously majestic curtain walls; beautifully quaint floating steps suspended into the courtyard walls; the Torre Nera (black tower) and Torre Bianca (white tower); and vast courtyards bathed in grass. In the past, it was also home to three working churches dating back to the 13th Century, the structures of which can still be seen today.

However, what we love most is the beautiful view over the city and the amazing sense of beauty and freedom you get. Framed by stunningly worn, bold stone turrets, not only can you can see the other 2 castles but the power of the vast surrounding mountains towering over you can only be described as awe-inspiring.

Visiting the Archaeological Museum and Museum of Art, which are housed inside Castelgrande.

Exiting Via The Alleyways 
Although the main gate is situated at the southeastern part of the curtain wall, it can also be reached through steep attractive alleyways. We recommend entering the fortress from the main entrance and, later on, taking a stroll down the alleyways to the town, where you can enjoy the many shops and local markets, and sample some delicious local cuisine of Swiss cheeses and meats from the surrounding mountains and much more.


2. Castello Montebello
Castello Montebello is the tallest of the three fortresses and, dating back to the end of the 13th Century when the opening of the Schollen Gorge made the Gotthard Pass the most important route through the Alps, it played an important role in Swiss history, both strategically and economically and posed a major influence over the trade of neighbouring countries including Italy, France and many others – something that it continues to do today.


3. Castello Sasso Corbaro
Castello Sasso Corbaro is the smallest and youngest of the fortresses. Situated high above the town of Bellinzona, it was built quickly in 1478 as a safe-haven for the Sforza family following their defeat in Giornico. They could no longer use the towers of Castelgrande so Castello Sasso Corbaro was built in a desperate attempt to block the approaches of the Swiss who were fast advancing down the valley. Needless to say, it didn’t work and the Sforza family were defeated; however, the strong, beautifully constructed stone structure remained. Today, it stands proudly on the edge of the hill offering stunning views over the city - particularly at night time, when the lights of the houses below sparkle against the dark night sky, and the building itself comes to life, lit up in a radiant amber glow and accentuating the stunning stone cobbled paths leading towards it.  

'A great place to go for a romantic view over the horizon at night or for a relaxing family picnic and walk.'

Visiting the Museo dell’Arte e delle Tradizioni Popolari del Ticino inside the fortress where you can enjoy some traditional Ticinese artwork, costumes and gain an insight into the daily lives of the mountain farmers and villagers who once lived there. 


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