The Ascent of Monte San Salvatore

Perched atop Monte San Salvatore, overlooking picturesque Lugano, sits a humble church where a miraculous appearance occurred…

In the heart of Ticino lies picturesque Lugano, the most populous city in the canton. Perched on Lake Lugano, with its palm trees and warm weather, it’s not surprising that people have been drawn to this paradise since the Stone Age. Surrounded by imposing mountains with dense forests, the old architecture and stunning landscape seems almost Mediterranean rather than Alpine. Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s connection to the beautiful city was immortalized in stone by sculptor Antonio Chiattone in 1902, and she was famously thrilled by the view from Lugano’s most famous mountain, Monte San Salvatore. Lovingly also called the “Sugarloaf of Switzerland”, the story of the mountain’s true name is told in the following legend.

In Italian, Salvatore means savior, and it’s no coincidence that the distinctly shaped mountain has had a small chapel consecrated on its summit since the twelfth century. Legend has it that Christ himself, while on his final ascent to heaven, stopped to rest on Monte San Salvatore to bring peace to the faithful and bless the holy mountain. For hundreds of years, the site has been a place of pilgrimage, and believers from all over the world have challenged themselves to take the steep, winding path from Paradiso on the lake to the top of the majestic peak in order to pay homage to the Son of God. And until today, Ascension Day is celebrated with particular devotion, drawing Christians from all around Ticino. This procession, in honor of San Salvatore, is hosted by the Brethren that own and maintain the chapel as well as the San Salvatore Museum which was converted from a former seventeenth century hospice.


Today’s visitors, however, no longer have to take the arduous climb to visit the chapel of San Salvatore or admire the panoramic views. Since 1890, a funicular connects the bay of Lugano with the mountain peak. From the roof of the Church of San Salvatore and the Capodoro Terrace, visitors have an unobstructed vista over the Swiss and Savoy Alps, which makes it an unmissable and unforgettable excursion for anyone visiting Lugano.

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