Ticino is Switzerland's southernmost canton, named for the Ticino River. This is Switzerland's only canton where the sole official language is Italian. It borders on Italy's regions of Lombardy and Piedmont, and it completely surrounds the tiny Campione d'Italia, an Italian enclave. As the crow flies, campione d'Italia is less than one kilometer from Italy at its closest point. However, because of hilly terrain, the shortest route to Italy is over 14 km.
Ticino was settled by a Celtic tribe in ancient times, but became part of the Roman Empire around the time of Augustus. Over the centuries it was ruled by the Ostrogoths, and east Germanic tribe, the Lombards, another Germanic people from Northern Europe, and the Franks, a west Germanic tribal confederation. Swiss confederates conquered the area in the 15th century. These were the last lands the Swiss Confederation conquered. In 1878 Bellinzona became the capital of Ticino. The constitution in use today dates from 1997.
Located in southern Switzerland, Ticino is just about surrounded by Italy, except for in the north, where Ticino borders on the cantons of Uri, Valais, and Graubunden. Forests cover one-third of the area, and there are two large lakes, Maggiore and Lugano. The Monte Ceneri pass divides the canton from east to west. The northern part of the canton is mountainous, formed from the Swiss valleys around Lake Maggiore. To the south of the pass is the region around Lake Lugano.
The largest river in Ticino is the Ticino River, which drains much of the area, running from northwest to where it meets Lake Maggiore near the city of Locarno. Western parts of Ticino are drained by the river Maggia. Because of its geographic location it is perhaps the warmest canton in Switzerland, but it does have severe storms and has the distinction of having the most lightning in all of Europe.
The constitution of Ticino, approved in 1997, states explicitly that part of the goal of the canton is to promote the role of the Italian culture within the Helvetic Confederation. The 90-member Gran Consiglio is served by elected deputies who serve four year terms. The deputies nominate one President and two Vice Presidents each year. The Gran Consiglio meets in Bellinzona.
Ticino has a population of almost 330,000, and of this, 25% are foreigners. In the year 2000, 83% of the population was Italian speaking, while 8% spoke German and less than 2% spoke Serbo-Croatian. The other 7% speak other languages. Three-fourths of the population of Ticino is Catholic, while less than 10% are Protestants.
The official language, Swiss Italian, is used in written communication. It is very much like standard Italian, but it assimilates words from German and French.
While the agricultural and fishing sector are marginal economic sectors in Ticino, service industries, commerce, tourism, and financial activities are the major parts of the Ticino economy. After Zurich and Geneva, Ticino is the third biggest financial capital of Switzerland, with over 8,000 employed in banking. The financial industry in Ticino has close ties to the finance sector in Italy. The unemployment rate in Ticino is higher than for the rest of Switzerland, particularly for foreigners, of whom 8% were unemployed.
There are also Italians who commute to Ticino, and they make up over one-fifth of the workforce and are mostly employed in low cost labor jobs, where they are paid less than Swiss workers. Quite naturally, Italy is Ticino's biggest trading partner. Italian companies fairly regularly move to Ticino because of lower taxes and a more efficient maze of bureaucracy.
Like in most of Switzerland, transportation in Ticino is excellent. Currently under construction is the Gotthard Base Tunnel, which will be the longest tunnel in the world when it is completed. It is not the only tunnel under the Gotthard Pass. In 1882, the 15 km long Gotthard Rail Tunnel opened. There is also a 17 km motorway tunnel that opened in 1980. Once completed, the Gotthard Base Tunnel will cut travel time between Lugano and Zurich to less an hour and 40 minutes.
A regional rail and bus service provides the bus network of Locarno's urban and suburban areas and operates cable cars between Rasa and Verdasio. With the Italian company, the Centovalli and Vigezzina Railway connects the Gotthard rail line with the trans-Alpine Simplon route. Ticino's major airport is the Lugano Airport, which servies 200,000 passengers a year and is the busiest in southern Switzerland.
The canton of Ticino is home to four Italian daily newspapers: Il Grigione, Giornale del Popolo, laRegione Ticino, and Corriere del Ticino. The city of Locarno hosts Switzerland's most prestigious film festival the Locarno International Film Festival. The canton's Universita della Svizzera Italiana, or the University of the Italian Switzerland, is the only Swiss university that teaches in Italian.
No visit to Switzerland would be complete without spending time in Ticino and absorbing the Italian influence in southern Switzerland, along with Lake Maggiore and Lake Como.