Ticino, long a poor, rural buffer between the Swiss-German cantons north of the Alps and Italy to the south, was absorbed by the Swiss in the late 15th century after centuries of ping-ponging between the lords of Como and the dukes of Milan.
The founding cantons of the Swiss Confederation – Uri, Scwhyz and Unterwalden – defeated a superior Milanese force at Giornico in the Valle Levantina in 1478 and took Bellinzona in 1503, thus securing the confederation’s vulnerable underbelly. In 1803 Ticino entered the new Swiss Confederation, concocted by Napoleon, as a free and equal canton.
Closer to Milan than Bern, Ticino reveals a dual identity: the Ticinese share the same language, food, art and architecture as neighbouring Italy, yet they appreciate the political and institutional autonomy within the framework of the Federal Constitution that being part of Switzerland affords them.
In September 2016 Ticino made headline news once again when the Ticinese voted overwhelmingly against the free movement of EU workers within Switzerland and in favour of giving preference Swiss locals if they were equally qualified – a move that reportedly enraged Italian commuters. Opposing agreements with the EU over the free movement of labour, the campaign, entitled ‘Ours first’, was spearheaded by the ultra-conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and won 58% of the vote. The SVP argued that the cross-border worker situation has spiralled out of control, with many jobs being filled by Italians, which in turn has been cited as reducing wages and causing ongoing congestion on the roads.
The Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest at 57km, opened fully in December 2016, slashing travel times between Ticino and Italy and the rest of Switzerland. The first flat-track route through the Alps, it links Erstfeld (Uri) with Bodio (Ticino) in just 17 minutes.