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Ticino, found in the southernmost part of the country, is one of Switzerland's 26 cantons. Ticino neighbors the cantons of Valais and Uri to the north and Graubünden to the northeast. To the south and west, the canton neighbors Italy. Characterized by Mediterranean culture, Ticino's culture and language differ from the rest of Switzerland. Historically, Ticino belonged to several Italian cities until the 15th century. Then, the land was annexed to the Old Swiss Confederacy. The canton of Ticino was officially formed in 1803 by merging the cantons of Bellinzona and Lugano. Even though the canton is a part of Switzerland, the official language in the region is Swiss-Italian, which is similar to standard Italian. Not only the language but also the culture is reportedly more similar to the Mediterranean states than Switzerland. In terms of weather, Ticino is generally warmer and sunnier than the rest of Switzerland. The local landscape is rugged, providing numerous habitats, ranging from lakes and lowlands to high mountainous territories of Alpine foothills. The canton's capital city is Bellinzona, which is known for the historical complex of medieval castles protected by UNESCO. Among other touristic destinations in the Ticino canton are the cities of Lugano and Locarno.
Ticino is the only predominantly Italian-speaking canton within Switzerland's borders. Being the only territory of Switzerland located to the south of the Alps and neighboring Italy on three sides, Ticino's culture is reportedly distinct from the rest of Switzerland by being closer to the Mediterranean countries. The canton is filled with cultural wealth and is particularly known for its rich architectural heritage. Ticino is home to two UNESCO-protected World Heritage Sites, one of them is called Three Castles of Bellinzona, found in the canton's capital. The Bellinzona complex consists of fortifications protecting the castle of Castelgrande, standing on a rock that overlooks the Ticino valley. A series of fortified walls intend to protect the historical town. The second of the three castles, called Montebello, is an integral part of the fortifications, while the third one, Sasso Corbaro, stands separated. The historical value of the Bellinzona complex lies in its uniqueness, as it is, according to UNESCO, "the only visible example in the entire Alpine Arc of medieval military architecture comprising several castles." The castles are linked by the wall, which once could close off the whole Ticino Valley. In addition to the Three Castles, the historical city center, which buildings date back to the medieval era, is also included on the UNESCO protection list. To name some of the protected buildings, there is the Church of S. Maria delle Grazie, the Collegiata dei Ss. Pietro e Stefano, the Church of S. Biagio a Ravecchiai, the Cantonal Archives, and Bagno Pubblico, among others.
Concerning natural heritage, the canton of Ticino is known for the Monte San Giorgio, the second UNESCO-protected site within Ticino's borders. The mountain forms the shores of Lake Lugano and is regarded as "the best-fossil record" consisting of marine life from the Triassic Period (circa 245–230 million years ago). Monte San Giorgio was a fairly tropical lagoon found near the land. Thus, the fossils discovered on the site exceed the marine species, as there are also land-based fossils of reptiles, insects, and plants. Marine species of reptiles, fish, bivalves, ammonites, echinoderms, and crustaceans have been preserved at Monte San Giorgio.
The largest city within Ticino's borders is Lugano, located on the shores of Lake Lugano in the Lugano Prealps. Due to the city's location, Italian and Swiss cultures meet and fuse in the town together. Some of the popular activities in the city are boat rides around the lake or visits to the Hermann Hesse Museum. Along the Lake, Lugano's shore includes a park called Parco Civico-Ciani, featuring artwork and numerous walking trails. Another of the Ticino's larger cities is Locarno, lying along the northern shores of Lake Maggiore at the Alpine foothills. The city is known for the Locarno Internationational Film Festival, which happens each August in the Locarno's main square.
Ticino is Switzerland's only canton located to the south of the Alps. The territory is often divided into two regions. The northern part is called Sopraceneri, which includes some of the highest mountains in the canton. Sottoceneri is the region around Lake Lugano, extending across the southern Alpine foothills. The canton itself is named after the river flowing through the territory, Ticino, passing through the Bedretto Valley and the Leventina Valley to enter Lake Maggiore near Locarno. In terms of mountains, Ticino is Switzerland's fourth canton, with the largest elevation difference between its lowest and highest points. Switzerland's lowest elevated point and the town are found within the canton's borders. However, there are numerous mountain complexes located in the territory as well. Thus the Ticino's land is considerably rugged. The territory of Ticino lying within the Alps is part of the Lepontine Alps, the Saint-Gotthard Massif, and the Lugano Prealps. The highest mountain peaks are Rheinwaldhorn and the Basòdino.
Due to the high elevation differences in the region, a variety of flora and fauna can be encountered within Ticino's borders. The canton is often called "Switzerland's Sunny South," because of its weather conditions, which allow vineyards to flourish in the local territory. Thus, Ticino is reportedly one of the central wine-producing regions in Switzerland. Beyond wines, some of the plant species found in Ticino include European beech, Norway spruce, Scots pine, silver fir, maidenhair spleenwort, common ivy, sweet chestnut, red clover, and European holly. Resulting of the warm weather, a wide range of flowers, such as thick-leaved stonecrop, liverleaf, alpenrose, heather, germander speedwell, soapwort, primrose, and fire lily, can be found in the area as well. Concerning animal species, the forested mountainous landscape tends to be inhabited by roe deer, red deer, northern chamois, Alpine ibex, and wild boar. On the other hand, rivers and water areas of Ticino are home to pumpkinseed, European bullhead, European carp, rainbow trout, and brown trout fish.
Being Switzerland's only canton located to the south of the Alps, the climate differs considerably in comparison to the rest of the country. Alps tend to shield Ticino from North European weather, resulting in the canton's atmosphere being primarily dependent on the Mediterranean Sea's influence. Thus, the summers in Ticino tend to be warm and moist, while the winters are mild. Concerning the temperatures in Ticino canton's capital, Bellinzona, the warmest month is July, with an average daily temperature of 27°C. January is the coldest month, with a typical average of 7°C. February tends to be the driest month in Bellinzona due to having 63 mm of rainfall on average. The most precipitation falls during August, which generally receives about 215 mm of rainfall.
The Ticino territory was settled in prehistoric times by the Lepontii, a Celtic tribe. Presumably, during Augustus' rule over the Roman Empire, Ticino became part of the Roman lands. However, after the empire's fall, Ticino came under the control of the Ostrogoths, Lombards, and Franks. Around 1100, the canton's territory became the cause of the struggle between Milan and Como communes. Finally, by the end of the 14th century, the Dukes of Milan acquired the Ticino lands. However, in the following years, namely in the 15th century, the Swiss Confederation gradually conquered the Ticino valleys found south of the Alps in three separate conquests.
The first of the three valleys, Leventina, was conquered by Uri canton in 1440. Bellinzona, the Riviera, and the Blenio valley were won over in 1500 by Swiss cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwalden. And finally, the Locarno, the Maggia valley, Lugano, and Mendrisio were seized by Switzerland in 1512. During the times of the Helvetic Republic in 1798, the lands of today's Ticino formed two separate cantons, Bellinzona and Lugano, which were later reunited. Ticino canton was officially established in 1803. The three largest cities, Bellinzona, Locarno, and Lugano, alternated in the role of the capital city until 1878 when Bellinzona became the only permanent capital city of Ticino canton.
Ticino's capital, Bellinzona, bears considerable historical significance, as within the city's borders may be found twelve buildings listed as a Swiss heritage site of national importance. Beyond that, in Belinzona are also located the Three Castles of Bellinzona, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the city, UNESCO also protects the medieval and early modern towns.
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