The shores of Lake Lugano have been inhabited since the Stone Age. Within the modern city limits (Breganzona, Castagnola, Davesco and Gandria) a number of ground stones or quern-stones have been found. In the area surrounding Lugano, items from the Copper Age and the Iron Age have been found. There are Etruscan monuments at Davesco-Soragno (5th to 2nd century BC), Pregassona (3rd to 2nd century BC), and Viganello (3rd to 2nd century BC). Graves with jewelry and household items have been found in Aldesago, Davesco, Pazzallo and Pregassona along with Celtic money in Viganello.
The region around Lake Lugano was settled by the Romans by the 1st century BC. There was an important Roman city north of Lugano at Bioggio. There are fewer traces of the Romans in Lugano, but several inscriptions, graves and coins indicate that some Romans lived in what would become Lugano.
Foundation of Lugano
The first written mention of a settlement at Lugano can be found in documents, which are of disputed authenticity, with which the Longobard king Liutprand ceded various assets located in Lugano to the Church of Saint Carpophorus in Como in 724. Other documents, dating from 804 and 844 refer to Lake Lugano as Laco Luanasco, and an act of 984 indicates Lugano as a market town.
During the fighting between Guelphs and Ghibellines and the new disputes between Como and Milan, during the 14th and 15th centuries, Lugano was the scene of clashes between opposing forces. After a long rule by the Rusca family, Lugano was freed from the domination of Como, which had been taken over in 1335 by the Visconti. At the same time the link between town and the valley strengthened. By 1405–06 documents attest to a vallis comunitas Lugani et, a governing body that was independent of Como. The new community included the parishes of Lugano, Agno, Riva San Vitale and Capriasca. In 1416 the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, conquered the region of Lugano and the Rusca valley and made it a fief. A year later, Lugano's freedoms were first documented in a series of statutes modeled on those of Como. The town was able to secure complete independence.
Lugano during the Renaissance and Enlightenment
Between 1433 and 1438 the Duke of Milan, Aloisio Sanseverino sat as a feudal lord over Lugano. He compensated the Rusca family with the ownership of Locarno. Under the reign of his heirs in the following decades rebellions and riots broke out, which lasted until the French invasion of 1499.
Church of Santa Maria di Loreto
It was the object of continuous disputes between the Dukes of Como and Milan until it became a Swiss dominion in 1513. Swiss control lasted until 1798 when Napoleon conquered the Old Swiss Confederation and created the Helvetic Republic.
In 1746, the Agnelli brothers opened the first printing press and bookshop in Lugano. They began publishing the newspaper Nuove di diverse corti e paesi in 1748 and changed its name to Gazzetta di Lugano in 1797. The newspaper was widely read in north and central Italy. It supported the cause of the later Jansenists against the Jesuits and therefore was banned in 1768 in the territory of the Papal States. It was open to the themes of enlightened reform and the American Revolutionary War. It was the first newspaper in the Italian language to publish an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence of 1776. After the death of Abbot Gian Battista Agnelli in 1788, who had been the editor for more than 40 years, Abbot Giuseppe Lodovico Maria Vanelli took over the paper. Under Abbot Vanelli, it supported the revolutionary ideas from France, which drew protests from the Austrian government in Lombardy. The publication of the magazine ceased abruptly after edition number 17 of 29 April 1799, following the anti-French riots in Lugano during which the Agnelli printing house was sacked and Abbot Vanelli was shot.
Under the Helvetic Republic, Lugano became the capital of the Canton of Lugano.
Canton of Lugano
The canton of Lugano unified the former Landvogteien of Lugano, Mendrisio, Locarno and Valmaggia. However, as with the other cantons of the Helvetic Republic, the autonomy of Lugano was very limited, the republic having been founded by Napoleon in order further to centralise power in Switzerland. The canton was led by a Directory of five members, who appointed a "national préfet".
The canton was deeply divided between "patriots" supporting the Cisalpine Republic, and traditionalist "aristocrats". By 1799 riots broke out in Lugano, and the second préfet, Francesco Capra, fled the city. Power passed to a provisional government sympathetic to the Habsburgs. However, French occupation was restored in 1800. Discontent continued and in early 1802 a revolt in Capriasca led to the autumn pronunciamento of Pian Povrò, which declared the independence of Lugano from the Helvetic client republic.
With the Act of Mediation, the following year, political agitation was finally quelled, as were the struggles between unionists and federalists. The canton of Lugano merged with Bellinzona creating the canton of Ticino, which endures to the present day.
Lugano in the early 20th century
After 1803, the political municipality of Lugano was created. One of the primary tasks of the new city government was to determine the division of property and authority between the patriziato and the new political municipality. Two agreements between the two organizations, in 1804 and 1810, began this process. In the second half of the 19th century, the political municipality received various properties and rights from the patriziato. Francesco Capra, the préfet during the Helvetic Republic, became the first mayor of Lugano from 1803 until 1813. The cantonal constitution of 1814, set Lugano, Bellinzona and Locarno as capitals of the Canton. They each served as the capital in a six-year rotation. Lugano was the capital in 1827–33, 1845–51 and 1863–69.
In the 19th century, the city government was dominated by the Liberal Party. In 1900, slightly more than half of the seats on the city council (at the time 50 total members, but 60 members since 2004) were held by Liberals. Most of the rest of the seats were held by either Conservatives or Socialists.
The city government initially had eleven members, but in 1908 their number was reduced to five and in 2004 increased to seven. Throughout most of the 20th century, the Liberals held the absolute majority here as well. The rest of the municipal executive posts were held by the Conservatives, the Socialists (1944–48, 1976–80 and since 2000) and the Ticino League (since 1992).
Around 1830 new civic and government buildings began to emerge in Lugano. The city also began to expand into the surrounding hills, along the Cassarate, and toward Molino Nuovo, Paradiso and Castagnola. In 1843–44 the city hall was built on the site of the Bishop's Palace (built in 1346). It housed the cantonal government in 1845–51 and again in 1863–69. Since 1890, it has housed the city government. The promenade was built in stages: first part was in the 1870s, a second in the first decade of the 20th century. In the first decades of the 19th century, the roads that connect Lugano with Bellinzona (1808–12), Ponte Tresa (1808–20) and Chiasso (1810–16) were built. In 1848 the first steamboat on Lake Lugano began to operate, with regular, scheduled service since 1856. The construction of the Melide causeway between Melide and Bissone in 1844–47 favored the development of the Chiasso-Bellinzona-Lugano-Gotthard line at the expense of the north-south route along Lake Maggiore. This tendency for development was strengthened further in 1882 with the completion of the Gotthard railway line. The railway station was built in 1874–77 in Lugano, and transformed it into one of the main links between northern Italy and central and northern Europe, which led to the development of tourism and in general helped the services sector.
Grand Hôtel Palace in 1928
From the mid-19th century to 1970 the city recorded constant population growth, especially between 1880 and 1910, when the population more than doubled. This increase was partly due to foreign nationals settling in Lugano (in 1870 18.7% of the population, 1910 43.6%) and people from other language areas of Switzerland (1870 1.4% of the population, 1910 6.9%). In the last three decades of the 20th century, the population fell slightly, despite the merger in 1972, of the municipalities of Castagnola and Brè-Aldesago. This reflected a trend to move away from the city to the suburban communities.
However, in 2004 the municipalities of Breganzona, Cureggia, Davesco-Soragno, Gandria, Pambio-Noranco, Pazzallo, Pregassona and Viganello were incorporated into the city. In 2008, they were followed by Barbengo, Carabbia and Villa Luganese. This, among other factors, resulted in a doubling of the population to 52,059 in 2006, of which over a third were foreigners. In 2013 the municipalities of Bogno, Cadro, Carona, Certara, Cimadera, Sonvico and Val Colla were incorporated into the city.
Following the Second World War, and particularly during the 1960s and 70s, thanks to an abundant flow of capital from nearby Italy, Lugano was the first host-city of the 1956 Eurovision Song Contest. Lugano experienced a period of exponential growth in banking activities which led to it placing itself as the third financial centre of Switzerland, with over 100 banking institutions present in the city. Trade, tourism and finance are the mainstays of the local economy. In 2000, nine-tenths of the workers were employed in the services sector, of which three-quarters are commuters, including many cross-border commuters (13% of the working population).
In 1975, the Congress Center was built followed in 1978 by the new City Hospital. In 1963 the city acquired the land for the airfield Lugano-Agno, and the first scheduled flights was in 1980. At the beginning of the 21st century they began the Grande Lugano projects, including: the car tunnel Vedeggio-Cassarate, which started in 2005 and connects the A2 motorway with the neighborhood of Cornaredo, the creation of a new Kulturpol on the site of the former Grand Hôtel Palace and a convention and exhibition center in the area of Campo Marzio.
In June 2011, officials of the Israeli city of Yehud announced they would undertake a massive construction project to replicate Lugano's old square in the center of their city, to reinvigorate commerce and tourism. The replica will be replete with neoclassical columns and colonnades.