This itinerary offers a visit to Lugano’s most precious artistic masterpiece - the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli. Inside is one of the best known Renaissance frescoes in Switzerland. After a visit to this monument you may decide to stroll down via Nassa in the city centre and admire the shop windows of the smartest boutiques in town. Modern architecture rubs shoulders with old medieval buildings. Via Nassa ends in the main square of Lugano - Piazza della Riforma; here banks have their offices in ancient buildings; the palazzo Civico (1847) now houses the Municipal Offices, and the Tourist Office on the ground floor. If, instead of walking down via Nassa, you cross Piazzetta Maraini, you will find yourself in one of the most striking and characteristic corners of Lugano: via Pessina with fine antique buildings, and local products for sale. From Via Pessina, cross Piazza Cioccaro and discover the beauty of Palazzo Ghioldi, one of the three oldest buildings, still in excellent condition thanks to judicious restoration. Climb up via Cattedrale as far as the terrace of the cathedral of San Lorenzo, for a magnificent view over the city. The cathedral itself is rich with culture: as well as the Renaissance façade (1517) priceless 14thC and 16thC frescoes decorate the interior.
Backtracking from the cathedral and Piazza Cioccaro will bring you to Piazza Dante, overlooked by the church of S. Antonio (works of Petrini and frescoes by the Torricelli brothers). From there the itinerary continues across the contrada di Verla as far as Quartiere Maggetti. Here, to the south, you can visit the church dedicated to San Rocco and see the precious frescoes by G. Discepoli. Along via Canova to the east you catch a glimpse of Villa Ciani, home of the Museo Civico di Belle Arti (Civic museum of Fine Arts), whose collection is certainly worth a visit. To get there, cross over Piazza Indipendenza past the 18thC obelisk erected in memory of the battle between the Volontari luganesi and the Cisalpini in 1798.
From the villa, a delightful walk through Parco Ciani brings you to the lake and a comfortable stroll back to the starting point.
Santa Maria degli Angioli
The church of Santa Maria degli Angioli is in Piazza Luini, at the end of Via Nassa towards Paradiso and is one of the most important historical monuments in Lugano. At one time it was an integral part of the convent of a minor order -the Observant Fathers of San Francesco, founded in 1490; after 1602 it belonged to the Reformed Fathers of the Province of Milan. Construction work on Santa Maria degli Angioli began on 14th February 1499 and was completed the following year.
However for a number of reasons the church was not consecrated until 1515. Judging by a print from 1820 it would appear that it was attached to the convent to the south and south west, creating a compact nucleus, closed to the outside except for the small windows of the monks’ cells and an airy cloister with elegant capitals. The convent and the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli had been subjected to a series of modifications over the centuries, before the church was renewed and restored between 1929 and 1930. In 1848 the convent had been demolished and in 1852/4 the Ciani brothers built the Hotel du Parc, at the same time sealing the windows on the left side of the church. In 1903 the hotel was raised by two storeys and became known as the Hotel Palace.
Although the façade of San Lorenzo is undoubtedly the architectural jewel of the city of Lugano, the greatest art treasures are to be found inside the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli. Don’t be misled by the sober exterior: the church faces the lake with a hut shaped façade of stone blocks and three spires rising above the pitch of the roof, supported by a truss roof ; the only decorative element is a single rose window which receives the first light of the day, until midday; the design respected the wishes of the Franciscans.
One step over the threshold and you’ll be in front of great early Renaissance masterpieces: the first is on the wall opposite the entrance - a striking representation of the Crucifixion of Christ (the Passion) by Bernardino Luini, pupil of Leonardo, whose artistic career was launched in the abbey of Chiaravalle. This fresco exhibits great scenic animation, not limited to the three crucified figures of Christ and the two thieves , but infused with life by a lively crowd of background figures.
Altogether there are 153 characters interspersed with horses and a group of figures (soldiers
either on horseback , or intent on gambling with dice for the robes of Christ) which create a sharp contrast with the melancholy of the female figures. According to the art historian Burckhard, this splendid composition is not to be missed. On the upper part of the painting, is a depiction of the encounter of Tommaso with Derision between the columns of two loggias; in the lower part, on the curves of the arches are frescoes of saints Rocco and Sebastiano, while the Prophets are ensconced above the three archways. The strictly symmetrical composition of the scene, together with extraordinary pathos and above all a richness of detail, give this fresco the aspect of a tapestry to be savoured piece by piece from the benches at the back of the church .
According to the same great Renaissance historian there are two more artistic gems inside the church: The Last Supper on the wall to the left of the nave, separated from the old convent refectory, and a fresco of the Madonna and Child with saint Giovannino by Luini on the east wall of the first side chapel. The second chapel is memorable for its San Francesco by Giuseppe Antonio Petrini (1728) while the last chapel has preserved the Flight into Egypt and the Adoration of the Magi, the only two scenes to have survived from the Life of the Virgin, painted between 1520 and 1530 by Domenico Pezzi (known as ‘Sursnicus’).
On the other side of the powerful dividing wall, through three frescoed archways, there is a complete change of style: passing from late Gothic to 18thC in the choir and altar with frescoes and furnishings of that era. In the vestry of the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli is a small exhibition of Sacred Art, with paintings by Giuseppe Antonio Petrini and Morazzone, as well as candlesticks, reliquaries, chalices and censers. Some of the oldest objects are a 16thC cross and some 17thC antiphonaries.
modern and ancient architecture. Prestigious shopping centre.
Piazza della Reforma
the «drawing-room» of Lugano, with Palazzo Civico, built in 1847 and now used as Council Offices, with the local Tourist Office on the ground floor.
Via Pessina: porticoes and typical little shops Palazzo Riva-Ghioldi, in Piazza Cioccara; one of the oldest buildings in the historical centre.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo
Renaissance façade (1517). Valuable 14th-16thC frescoes. View over the city from the church square.
Church of S. Antonio
Paintings by Petrini and frescoes by the Torricelli brothers in Piazza Dante.
Quartiere Maghetti to the south of which is the church of San Rocco. In the interiorremarkable
frescoes by G. Discepoli.
now Museo Civico di Belle Arti (Museum of Fine Art). Also Parco Ciani
Recommended: january - december