The Tessin is the canton in Switzerland where the influence of Italy is most strongly felt. The climate is warm and sunny. The lakes, surrounded by palms and oleanders, offer endless opportunities for swimming, fishing and sailing. The hardworking peasants live in crude, grey stone huts, hung with festoons of bright yellow corn. The Tessin is the canton where everyone goes to relax. And here is to be found a more Bohemian life than anywhere else in Switzerland.
The canton of Tessin extends from the St. Gotthard Pass to the plain of Lombardy, an area of 1069 square miles. With the exception of three valleys in the Grisons, it is the only place in Switzerland where Italian is spoken. After the dominion of the Romans who counted this district as part of Gallia Cisalpina, the Tessin belonged successively to the Goths, Lombards and Franks. From the begin, ning of the 12th century until 1403, because of its importance as a key to the Alpine passes, it was jealously guarded by the nobles of Como and Milan and finally monopolized by the Visconti. Then the Val Leventina went over to Uri and Obwalden, which led to endless quarrels between the Milanese and the Confederation. In 1798 the Tessin gained complete independence, but only joined the Swiss Confederation permanently in 1803. The population, although predominantly of Italian origin, has been strongly influenced by a steady migration from the cantons of inner Switzerland. This blending of German and Italian stock has produced a race of sturdy mountain people, courageous and independent, typically Tessiner in character, but Swiss in feeling. Although the Alps in the Tessin are greatly inferior in height and importance of their glaciers to those of the rest of Switzerland, this canton is one of the most interesting from the point of view of art. Churches, paintings, frescos, sculptures and buildings of real merit and beauty are to be found in the most out of the way places. Tessiner artists, artisans and architects were active in all parts of Europe at the time of the Renais, sance. Among the most important were Domenico Fontana, who worked on the buildings of the Vatican, Carlo Maderno, who built the façade of St. Peter's, Baldassare Longhena, the architect of the church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, Domenico Trezzini, one of the principal architects to draw up plans for St. Petersburg and Pietro Solari, who built part of the Kremlin.
With so much native talent, it is not surprising that the Tessin possesses gems of architectural loveliness hidden away in deep valleys. These architectural treasures combined with its incomparable scenery, go far towards making the Tessin one of the most unusual, beautiful and picturesque cantons in Switzerland.
The traveller, upon leaving Goeschenen and the wild gorges of the Reuss river, will be struck at the exit of the Gotthard tunnel by the contrast in climate and landscape between this countryside and that of Central Switzerland. As the train slowly descends southward, the scraggy shrubs and woods in the almost and northern part of the canton give way to the gorgeous and luxuriantly tropical vegetation around the lakes of Lugano and Maggiore.