BELLINZONA (Ger. Belienz), the political capital of the Swiss canton of Tessin or Ticino. It is 105 m. from Lucerne by the St Gotthard railway, 19 m. from Lugano and 14 m. from Locarno at the head of the Lago Maggiore, these two towns having been till 1881 capitals of the canton jointly with Bellinzona. The old town is built on some hills, on the left bank of the Tessin or Ticino river, and a little below the junction of the main Ticino valley (the Val Leventina) with that of Mesocco. It thus blocked the road from Germany to Italy, while a great wall was built from the town to the river bank. Bellinzona still possesses three picturesque castles (restored in modern times), dating in their present form from the 15th century. They belonged for several centuries to the three Swiss cantons which were masters of the town. The most westerly, Castello Grande or of San Michele, belonged to Uri; the central castle, that of Montebello, was the property of Schwyz; while the most easterly castle, that of Sasso Corbaro, was in the hands of Unterwalden. The 13th-century church of San Biagio (Blaise) has a remarkable 14th-century fresco, while the collegiate church of San Stefano dates from the 16th century. In 1900 the population of Bellinzona was 4949, practically all Romanists and Italian-speaking.
Possibly Bellinzona is of Roman origin, but it is first mentioned in 590. It played a considerable part in the early history of Lombardy, being a key to several Alpine passes. In the 8th century it belonged to the bishop of Como, while in the 13th and 14th centuries it was tossed to and fro between the cities of Milan and Como. In 1402 it was taken from Milan by Albert von Sax, lord of the Val Mesocco, who in 1419 sold it to Uri and Obwalden, which, however, lost it to Milan in 1422 after the battle of Arbedo. In 1499 (like the rest of the Milanese) it was occupied by the French, but in 1500 it was taken by Uri. In 1503 the French king ceded it to Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden, which henceforth ruled it very harshly through their bailiffs till 1798. At that date it became the capital of the canton Bellinzona of the Helvetic republic, but in 1803 it was united to the newly-formed canton of Tessin.
(W. A. B. C.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)