World at a Glance: The Bellinzona castles

In my World Heritage quest, I’ve seen a lot of military architecture lately. Not something I thought I’d be particularly excited about, but I’ve found these sites surprisingly interesting, including the three Bellinzona castles.


Quite a few of these engineering feats are now on my wish list (heritage listed or not), such as Beelitz Heilstätten Military Hospital in Berlin, and the secret Soviet submarine base in Crimea. And how about these very peculiar-looking rusty sea forts in the Thames estuary?

Some of the sites contain entire villages, where people (often artists) live and eat and sleep and work, such as the island fortress at Suomenlinna in Helsinki harbour or Vauban’s forts in Aquitaine (post coming up later).

Others are abandoned fortifications, as is the case with the Roman frontiers in Germany and the three wonderful alpine castles here in Bellinzona: Castelgrande, Sasso Corbaro and Montebello.  Walls and towers are all that remain of the fortresses that surrounded this once important Roman town. These walls have protected key routes between northern and southern Europe through the centuries, for Ostrogoths, Byzantinians, Longobards, Franks and Carolingians. And that’s only before the Middle Ages.

Bellinzona Castles, Ticino, Switzerland

It’s easy to let your imagination run loose here in Switzerland’s most Italian town: soldiers galloping through the medieval streets, women carrying secret documents cleverly sewn into their long velvet gowns, catapults, battering rams…

But enough of that. Here’s what UNESCO has to say about this site:

The fortified ensemble of Bellinzona located in the canton of Ticino in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, south of the Alps, is the only visible example in the entire Alpine Arc of medieval military architecture comprising several castles, linked by a wall that once closed off the whole Ticino Valley, and the ramparts which surrounded the town for the protection of the civilian population.

Of the three, Castelgrande is the most easily accessible. In fact, you don’t even have to climb the narrow streets; there’s a lift from the town square at the foot of the rock. Montebello is a bit further up, but still part of the city walls. Sasso Corbaro is the furthest away from the city centre, about a 3.5 km trek (or you can take the post bus), but is worth it for the views alone.

World at a Glance is a series of short articles here on Sophie’s World, with a single photo (well, two today, you know, just because I can), portraying curious, evocative, happy, sad, wondrous or unexpected little encounters.


unesco logo

Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzona
is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited around the world.

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  1. Jordan - Inspired By Maps 9 August 2016 at 0754 - Reply

    Amazing place right? I went a few years ago in the middle of winter and really couldn’t believe how extensive and beautiful this place is. I have been to some UNESCO sites which are a bit of a let down but this was my favourite type – an incredible piece of architecture, well-preserved, unexpected and yet to be over-run by tourists!

    Glad you enjoyed 🙂 – What number does this bring you to now?

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 August 2016 at 1823 - Reply

      244 🙂
      What about you?

      • Jordan - Inspired By Maps 9 August 2016 at 2013 - Reply

        Ohhh I need to play catch up…I’m at 198 but am going to the Wooden Churches of Maramureș tmrw and then the Churches of Moldavia in a few days soooo …200!!

        If you want to compare I have mine listed here:

        Maybe we can help each other out, as in some cases it super hard to figure out what is going on!

        • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 August 2016 at 2136 - Reply

          200! Very cool – and worthy of a celebration. Yes, not all the sites are logically laid out; I’ve struggled with a few. (Also, not all the sites makes perfect sense, if you ask me). Haven’t been to Maramures or the Moldavian churches yet, so look forward to reading about your visit. 🙂

  2. Academic Writing 9 August 2016 at 1011 - Reply

    Gorgeous! What a delight to see!! Thanks for posting!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 August 2016 at 2136 - Reply

      Thank you.

  3. Vera Marie Badertscher 9 August 2016 at 1843 - Reply

    This is really spectacular.. We particularly enjoyed the string of castles in Le Marche region of Italy, many designed by the same man even though they were very different in appearance. An interesting thing about these castles and fortifications we’ve visited. Even though they costs enormous amounts of money and took a long time to build, few of them were ever called upon for actual protection.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 August 2016 at 2137 - Reply

      So more for show than substance, then… like many other things.

  4. Rick Stevens 25 August 2016 at 1212 - Reply

    Wonderful medieval castle largest and well restored.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2016 at 1540 - Reply

      They are well kept, yes.

  5. April Yap 26 August 2016 at 0200 - Reply

    It looks like a edited but it real! Thanks for sharing!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 10 September 2016 at 1540 - Reply

      Haha, photos are definitely edited. Playing with a little HDR-simulation.

  6. Rosemarie Driscoll 10 October 2016 at 0307 - Reply

    I was awe-struck with the beautiful imposing atmosphere of the castle! Love the way you took those pictures! I’d love to visit it.

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