Ticino (river)

Last updated
Twilight of the old ways.jpg
The Ticino and the Ponte Coperto of Pavia
(originally medieval in date, rebuilt in 1950 after the destruction due to war bombing)
Tessin (riviere).png
Native nameTesin (Lombard)
Country Switzerland, Italy
Physical characteristics
  location Val Bedretto, Ticino, Switzerland
  elevationabout 2,478 m (8,100 ft)
Mouth Po
south-east of Pavia, Italy
45°08′38″N9°14′12″E / 45.14389°N 9.23667°E / 45.14389; 9.23667
Length248 km (154 mi)
Basin size7,228 km2 (2,791 sq mi)
  minimum54 m3/s or 1,900 cu ft/s
  average348 m3/s or 12,300 cu ft/s
  maximum5,000 m3/s or 180,000 cu ft/s
  location Bellinzona
  minimum14.5 m3/s or 510 cu ft/s (1Q)
  average70 m3/s or 2,500 cu ft/s (MQ)
  maximum906 m3/s or 32,000 cu ft/s (mHQ), 1,500 m3/s or 53,000 cu ft/s (HHQ)
Basin features
Progression PoAdriatic Sea

The river Ticino ( /tɪˈn/ titch-EE-noh, Italian:  [tiˈtʃiːno] ; Lombard : Tesin; French and German : Tessin; Latin : Ticīnus) is the most important perennial left-bank tributary of the Po. It has given its name to the Swiss canton through which its upper portion flows.


It is one of the four major rivers taking their source in the Gotthard region, along with the Rhône, Reuss and Rhine. [1] The river rises in the Val Bedretto in Switzerland at the frontier between the cantons of Valais and Ticino right below the Nufenen Pass, is fed by the glaciers of the Alps and later flows through Lake Maggiore, which traverses the border to Italy. The Ticino joins the Po a few kilometres downstream (along the Ticino) from Pavia. [2] It is about 248 kilometres (154 mi) long.


The name may have meant "the runner," from Proto-Indo-European *tekʷ-ino-s, from *tekʷ- (“to run, flow”). [3] [4]


The highest point of the drainage basin is the summit of Pizzo Gallina (3,060 metres (10,040 ft)). From Nufenen Pass the Ticino flows to the north-east through the Val Bedretto to the south ramp of the St Gotthard Pass and south portals of both, the St Gotthard Railway Tunnel and the Gotthard Road Tunnel in Airolo (1,127 metres (3,698 ft)). After Airolo the river turns slowly the direction to the southeast and opens up into the largest valley of the canton of Ticino, the Valle Leventina. In Biasca, already as low as 286 metres (938 ft), it converges with the left tributary from the Valle di Blenio, the Brenno, with connection to the Passo del Lucomagno.

Before the Ticino passes west of the canton's capital, Bellinzona, the river converges with its second larger left tributary, the Moesa, originating below the Passo del San Bernardino and flowing through the Valle Mesolcina. The Valle Mesolcina (and the Val Calanca) belongs geographically and culturally to the Ticino, but politically it is part of the canton of the Grisons. This part of the river valley between Biasca and Bellinzona is called the Riviera. The river is dammed after Bellinzona. Now the Ticino turns almost westwards and flows through the perfectly flat Piano di Magadino, an important cultivation and nature reserve area the river generated itself by its own sediments over millions of years, before it enters the Lago Maggiore at the lowest point of Switzerland at 195 metres (640 ft).

Only about the first sixth of the lake lies in Switzerland. Two major right tributaries, the Verzasca and the Maggia enters the lake in Tenero (right next to Locarno), and in Locarno/Ascona, respectively.

In Sesto Calende the river, now called Fiume Ticino, exits Lake Maggiore and meanders southwards, passing the Milano-Malpensa Airport in the east. Now slowly turning to the southeast, the river circumvents Milano at a distance of about 20 kilometres (12 mi) in the east. Shortly before it converges with the Po in the south of Milano, it passes Pavia on its northern shore.


The legendary Gallic leader Bellovesus was said to have defeated the Etruscans here in circa 600 BC. Ticino was the location of the Battle of Ticinus, the first battle of the Second Punic War fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio in November 218 BC.

In the Middle Ages Pavia (first capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards and then of the kingdom of Italy) was, thanks to the waters of the Ticino, a fundamental hub for communications and trade between Venice and the Po valley. Furthermore, still in Pavia, there was the only brick bridge (ponte Coperto) which until the 19th century crossed the Ticino from Lake Maggiore to the Po. [5]

A wooden bridge was built by the Visconti in Vigevano in the early fourteenth century, but it was set on fire by the Pavia fleet in 1315, rebuilt by Luchino Visconti, it was destroyed again by the Pavia in 1356 and never rebuilt. [6]

The Ticino was in the territory of the Duchy of Milan during much of the later medieval and early modern period, although its upper portion as far as Bellinzona in 1500 and as far as the shores of Lago Maggiore in 1513, fell to the Old Swiss Confederacy as a result of the Swiss campaigns in the Italian Wars.

Towns and tributaries

Part of the river Ticino, south of Milan-Malpensa Airport in Italy. TicinoRiver-June2016 (3).jpg
Part of the river Ticino, south of Milan-Malpensa Airport in Italy.

Val Bedretto

The upper Ticino near Airolo Ticino at Gotthard-Tunnel 2009.jpg
The upper Ticino near Airolo

Val Bedretto, a narrow alpine valley named after the village of Bedretto, culminates in Nufenen Pass, (Italian : Passo della Novena, German : Nufenen Pass), at 2,478 m (8,130 ft) located between Pizzo Gallina (north, 3,060 m (10,040 ft)) and Nufenenstock (south, 2,865 m (9,400 ft)). The road up the valley is fairly straight until it approaches the pass, where the nine hairpin turns start.

The Ticino originates on both sides, north and south, of the Nufenenstock: A smaller tributary originates from a small mountain lake south of the Nufenenstock and north of the Piccolo Corno Gries (2,928 m (9,606 ft)) below the Passo del Corno at 2,484 m (8,150 ft) in the short valley of the same name. Until the beginning of the 20th century the Valaisinne Gries Glacier was still flowing over the Corno Pass into the Val Corno!

Both spring areas converges about where the hairpins of the eastern pass road begins to circumvent about 700 m (2,300 ft) in altitude. Through the passes and over the Nufenenstock runs the border between the cantons of Valais and Ticino.

A paved road constructed in 1964 goes over the Passo della Novena and after some ten hairpins down about 500 m (1,600 ft) in altitude on its western side and then through the Ägenental in northeasten direction ultimately leading to the Obergoms, the upper half of the valley of the uppermost part the Rhône course. While the lower part of the Valais speaks French, the upper part speaks its particular Highest Alemannic dialect, the Walliser German, the population of Ticino speaks Italian.

Subsequently, the Ticino becomes a mountain brook flowing straight down the valley to the hamlet of All'Acqua or All'Acqua Ospizio at 1,614 m (5,295 ft), named for the hospice for travellers located there near the previous end of a drivable road in former centuries. Currently, it is a base for skiing and hiking. Further down eastwards the small villages of Ronco at 1,476 m (4,843 ft) and finally Bedretto (1,402 m (4,600 ft)) and Villa Bedretto appear. [7] Below Bedretto the Ri di Cristallina, "Cristallina stream", a right tributary from the Val Torta, joins the Ticino at Ossasco, and further down the valley, Fontana is the lowest village in Val Bedretto. The entire area is laced with hiking trails and mountain huts. The valley is subject to avalanches and snow can remain on the ground as late as September.

Valle Leventina



The Ticino has the following tributaries (R on the right bank, L on the left, looking downstream):

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