Bellinzona's Historic Centre
Cities & Monuments
Bellinzona is especially known for its castles, a medieval military architecture complex declared part of the Word Heritage by the UNESCO. Nevertheless, also the old town, one of the most authentic in Ticino, and church Santa Maria delle Grazie of the 15th century, which preserves a magnificent Renaissance-fresco extended over an entire wall, are worth a visit. The best-suited day to visit Bellinzona is on a Saturday morning, when the lively weekly market takes place offering the best choice among Ticino’s gastronomic products: cured meats, cheeses, vegetables and the market’s bread, made following some ancient recipes.
Itinerary: Bellinzona's Historic Centre (2h, see map)
The city's most animated street is the Viale della Stazione, that starts from the railway station and where our Bellinzona historic centre itinerary begins. Descending along the avenue (that during the carnival of Rabadan acts as the stage for the spectacular masked parade) you will see the Postal Palace on your left, built in the '80s by Aurelio Galfetti, author of the Castelgrande restorations and considered one of the most important architects of the "Ticino modern school ".
The Viale Stazione leads to the Piazza Collegiata where you will see well-restored old palaces and the namesake Renaissance church decorated with an imposing marble facade. From the square you should take the Via Nosetto that will bring you to the namesake square dominated by the imposing Palazzo Civico (Municipal Palace). Despite its Renaissance appearance, it was built at the beginning of the 1900s with the material from its predecessor, a 15th century building. Continue along the Via to the Piazza Indipendenza (Independence Square) where an obelisk erected in 1903 stands in memory of the 100th anniversary of Ticino's accession to the Confederation.
Turn right and take Via Dogana where you will cross a segment of the walls before arriving on Piazza Governo, the seat of Ticino's Executive and Legislative offices. The 1800s square is distinguished by the old Ursuline convent, built between 1738 and 1743, later turned into seat of Ticino's Government and now of the Legislative office. At the centre of the square's vast space is a fountain with a seal sculpted by the Ticino artist Remo Rossi (1909-1982). Facing it, the Teatro Sociale, built in 1847 and restored in 1997. Following the Via Teatro under the porticos, you will return to Piazza Nosetto and then Piazza Collegiata. Turn left and walk along the harmonious Via Codeborgo that leads to the Piazza del Sole. Designed by Livio Vacchini (1933-2007), another important Ticino architect, the square is meant to emphasize the rock where the Castelgrande stands. From the Piazza del Sole, turn right into the Vicolo Torre and when you reach the intersection with Viale Stazione, you will be back at the point of departure.
The church Santa Maria delle Grazie (Saint Mary of Graces)
Outside the historic centre, in the vicinity of the cemetery that is easily accessible by car, is the 15th century church of Saint Mary of Graces. Elegant and fascinating, the church preserves a beautiful Renaissance fresco painted on a vast, dividing wall built following a Franciscan tradition. At the centre, the Crucifix, and all around, on fifteen panels, the life of Christ is narrated. The author of this work is an unknown Lombardy painter from the end of the 1400s.
The frescoes dedicated to the Dormitio Mariae (chapel on the front-right), to some Saints (first chapel on the left) and to the Annunciation on the choir's triumphal arch are also of good artistic quality. The church was partially destroyed by a fire in 1996 and after years of restoration the frescoes have been salvaged with an incredible result.
In the cloister of the ex-convent attached to the church, today a retirement home, you can admire an interesting cycle of 18th century frescoes illustrating episodes of the life of Saint Francis.