In 1999, publishing house Macchione brought out ‘Morcote, Ceresio’s pearl’ written by Adriano Antonini and Carlo Meazza. Just over one-hundred pages penned with love and attention to detail, narrating the village’s historical and artistic heritage. What follows are a few extracts from the book, starting with Morcote’s etymology: it’s a strong and solid name, fully reflecting its character, history, and the love the locals feel for it.


Morcote comes from two Latino-Faliscan names: MORA, meaning ‘a rocky area’, and CAPUT, ‘head or end’. MORAE CAPUT means ‘the end of the mountain or rock’, i.e. the peninsula’s tip. A 926 document is the first to mention the inhabitants of Morcote: HABITATOR IN MURCAU. During its heyday, the ancient village of Morcò was shaped like an amphitheatre and stretched from Vico Morcote to Porto Ceresio, the then Porto Morcote. Large barges and rafts bobbed between Morcote and Porto Morcote, carrying passengers and goods up to 1847, when the Melide dam was built; before then, it was the quickest way to reach Varese, Como, and Milan. In 1412 the Dukes of Milan granted Morcote a special statute, privileges, a coat of arms, and the village enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and could manage public property. The privileges granted also included market rights such as being able to sell fish in Milan and being exempt from tolls. And all it cost was 100 florins paid to the Visconti first, then the Sforza, Rusca, Sanseverino; the tithe continued to be paid to the Spaniards, French, Austrians and to the Landvogt, the governor during the three centuries of Helvetian rule. The plague broke out in 1432 and hit the local community hard: only seven families survived out of 2,000 souls. The years that followed were the start of the history of the most famous locals and their families. Morcote was the birthplace of many an illustrious character: engineers, architects, painters, sculptors, stucco craftsmen, engravers, doctors, scientists, literates and craftsmen emigrated and contributed to the creation of the western culture in many European countries. Take architect Giuseppe Fossati, who founded the Comacini Morcotesi school in 1623, an artisan finishing school of sorts, preparing students to emigrate and for the long and arduous years of itinerant traineeship that lay ahead. Its closure coincided with the 1902 inauguration of the Canton’s School of Drawing.

Today Morcote is a renowned tourism destination, amongst the most visited in Ticino for its characteristic alleys, the archways of the ancient noblemen’s houses and its buildings, architectural gems such as the Church of Saint Maria del Sasso, a Renaissance-Baroque lodestone overlooking the village and home to valuable works of art. Another must-see stop if you want to revel in a breathtaking view is the monumental 404 steps winding their way from the cemetery to the terrace. The Torre del Capitano and the Church of Saint Anthony the Great are steeped in art and history; for art of another kind, head to Scherrer Gardens, just a stone’s throw away from the village centre, towards Arbostora mountain, and plunge deep into a lush terraced garden, an emblematic symbol of how the locals are connected to their village.

Cancelleria Comunale
del Comune di Morcote

Riva da Sant Antoni 10
CH-6922 Morcote
Tel. +41 91 986 00 00