Lugano is old, very old
Although it is not exactly clear when Lugano was founded, it has been proven that the territory surrounding the present day city has been inhabited since the Stone Age, while the Romans settled in the area in the 1st century BC.
However, the first mention of a settlement at the current location came in 724, when it appears to have been known as Luanasco and was a market town.
It’s not known how the city got its name, although there are two common suggestions. The first is that it was derived from lucus, which in turn comes from the Latin word for lake dweller. The other popular theory is that it came from the name of the god Lugus, who is widely considered to be the Celtic version of the got Mercury.
The city’s coat of arms is dated from around 1200, which is around the time of the first records of the city being called Lugano.
There is a strong Italian influence
Lugano may be located in Switzerland, where it is the third most important financial centre, but it is an incredibly Italian city. It is only 80 kilometres from Milan, making that the nearest major city. Indeed, it takes around half the time to travel to capital of Lombardy than it does to reach any of the major Swiss cities of Zurich, Bern or Geneva.
It is the city with the largest Italian speaking population outside of Italy and is sometimes regarded as being even more Italian than Italy. The city has a laid-back atmosphere that is stereotypically Italian, while the surrounds are typically Mediterranean with its squares, arcades and tropical plants.
It owes its status as Switzerland’s third major financial centre to its position on the Italian border. There was a great flow of capital into it from south of the border during World War Two, in which Switzerland were neutral, and then during the 1960s and 70s.
It’s known for its beaches
Although Switzerland is a landlocked country, that doesn’t stop it from having some fantastic beaches – and those in Lugano are considered to be the best of all. The city itself lies beside a lake of the same name and is arguably even better than a traditional seaside.
The water in the lake heats up to around 25 degrees Celcius in the summer, making it pleasant for a dip, while on the shores there are plenty of pleasant spots for sunbathing. Indeed, the Ticino canton is nicknamed ‘sonnenstube’ – ‘sun porch’ – are it receives around 2,300 hours of sunshine a year, which is around a third more than Zurich in the north of the country.
Additionally, there are a plethora of water sports to enjoy, with windsurfing, paragliding, yachting and water skiing all taking place on the lake.
The surrounding area is renowned for its fossils
Local landmark Monte San Giorgio became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, having been designated “the single best known record of marine life in the Triassic period, and records important remains of life on land as well”.
This unlikely spot right in the heart of Europe was once a tropical lagoon environment, which was sheltered from the open sea by a reef. A whole range of flora and fauna once thrived here, with fossils of reptiles, fish and crustaceans found in the location among others.
As such, it is a popular draw for tourists, not only because of this incredible history, but because of the outstanding panorama it offers over the valley, including Lake Lugano.
Lugano has a fine sporting heritage
Lugano is a sporting city, with a number of clubs in various sports that have been national champions in their respective competitions. Perhaps the most successful is the city’s hockey club, which has won seven national titles. It has twice finished third in the IIHF Continental Cup.
Soccer club FC Lugano has three times won the national league championship, though not since 1949, while the Lugano Tigers basketball team has four times been the outstanding club in the nation.
Furthermore, there is an annual 20 kilometre racewalk, the Gran Premio Città di Lugano Memorial Albisetti.
Lugano loves music festivals
Lugano is into its music in a big way. For the duration of the summer, there is some kind of festival on the go.
It kicks off in April with an event largely dedicated to classical music but during June and July this becomes jazz. In the late summer months, there is a ‘Blues-to-Bop’ festival, which takes place on stages around various locations in the town centre.
It is fitting, then, that in 1956, the town played host to the first ever Eurovision song contest. Seven different countries entered that year, each performing two different songs. Switzerland finished as runners up to the Netherlands.
Since then, the competition has become a behemoth, with 43 nations – including Australia – set to take part in this year’s event in Lisbon, which runs from May 8 to May 10.