Airolo (Airöö in its local dialect, Romansh:
Iriel (help·info)) is a municipality in the district of
Leventina in the canton of
Ticino in Switzerland.
3 Coat of arms
5 Heritage sites
7 St Gotthard Tunnel Memorial
10 Ski facilities
15 Famous people
17 External links
Airolo in 1835
In the settlement of Madrano, Roman tombs from the 2nd and 3rd
centuries AD were found. They belonged to a Vicus, whose inhabitants
probably collected crystal, which was processed in
Locarno into glass.
The ruins of Stalvedro Castle are probably from a 13th-century
Lombardy noble family. Tradition and written sources confirm the
existence of another castle, situated near the parish church tower.
Near Madrano was a small castle which was rebuilt in the late 13th
century by the Anexia family. Archaeological excavations conducted in
1995 inside the parish church of SS Nazaro Celso (first mentioned with
a parish in 1224) discovered a construction history dating back to the
5th or 6th centuries. The present building was given its form in 1879,
though the church tower dates from the Roman era. At the train station
there is the famous high-relief carving by Vincenzo Vela, devoted to
the construction workers who lost their lives digging the Gotthard
The modern municipality of
Airolo is first mentioned in 1210 as
Oriolo. In German it was known as Eriels and in Romansh as Iriel,
though these names are no longer official.
The region of Airolo, which was politically tied to the fate of the
Levantine valley, was divided into four Degagne; Madrano, Valle,
Solario and Oro. In the 13th and 14th century Airolo, which had always
been the most populous village of the valley, supplied all the grain
needed for the whole Levantine. Due to traffic on the Gotthard Pass,
the village became wealthy from trade and housing travelers. There
were four major hospices, of which two were on the pass.
Battle of Airolo
Sonderbund war of 1847, Federal troops moved quickly to
gain control of key alpine passes and prevent the Sonderbund from
uniting. One of the key passes was the St. Gotthard, which led to the
Battle of Airolo. Even before the diet began its campaign, the men of
Uri seized the St. Gotthard passes (3 November 1847). They marched
themselves across the Levantina valley and surprised three thousand
Ticinese encamped at Airolo. The Ticinese were quickly driven back as
far as the
Moesa bridge. However, once the Uri soldiers arrived at
this point, they found themselves face to face with
Ticino militia, superior to them in number, who stopped their
progress. The expedition had no other result than holding back two
thousand Federal troops from the places where decisive blows were to
Compressed air-driven train entering the Gotthard tunnel during
Between 1871 and 1881,
Airolo was home to many workers on the Gotthard
rail tunnel. Construction was difficult due to financial, technical
and geological issues, the latter leading to the death of around 200
workers (the exact number is not known) mainly due to water inrushes;
many were also killed by the compressed air-driven trains carrying
excavated material out of the tunnel. A strike of the workers in 1875
was crushed by the Swiss Army, killing four and wounding 13.
Fires ravaged the village four times, the last times in 1736 and 1877.
After the landslide of Sasso Rosso on 28 December 1898, which
destroyed part of the village, killed three people and destroyed the
village forest, the great defensive wall was erected above the houses.
In the beginning of the 19th century, construction began on avalanche
protection. Then, after the avalanches of 1923 and 1951 (ten deaths)
construction resumed and continued into modern times. As early as
Airolo had electric street lighting. The power plant was built
in the municipality in 1922.
Hydroelectric plants were built by both
public and private agencies. In 1958, the settlements of Brugnasco and
Albinasca were connected by roads to Airolo. In 1969 the first sewage
treatment plant built in Canton, opened in Airolo. In 1986, the town
council approved comprehensive building and zoning regulations.
Despite several natural disasters and the pollution and traffic from
the Gotthard tunnel,
Airolo has remained, since the beginning of the
20th century, a popular holiday resort.
Airolo was the first ski
Ticino and with the construction of the Pesciüm facility,
remained the most important one in the canton. At the end of the 20th
Airolo is also a popular destination for hiking, with trails
that include the Strada Alta and the Sentiero degli Alpi.
Although the population is falling,
Airolo is a small commercial
center. Service companies for rail and road transport (including the
motorway service area at Stalvedro), military and tourism dominate the
economy. In 1985 the service sector and construction industry offered
two-thirds of jobs. The agricultural sector is modest. In the early
1990s, there were 775 households and 19 full-time and 13 part-time
farmers, who were in some way involved with agriculture. The
industrial sector is, despite the closure of a main construction
company, the major employer. The only major factory in
Airolo is the
metal processing factory of Tenconi (which was established in 1871),
which employs about 100 people.
View from halfway up St.
Gotthard Pass (before entering the Val
Tremola) down toward
Airolo and the
Airolo is located in
Leventina valley and the Lepontine Alps, on the
southern flank of the St. Gotthard Pass. Both the Gotthard rail
tunnel, on the important
Gotthard railway linking northern and
southern Europe, and the Gotthard road tunnel, on the A2 motorway,
have their southern portal in Airolo. It is the largest municipality
in the canton of Ticino, and consists of the village of
Airolo and the
hamlets of Valle, Madrano, Brugnasco, Nante and Fontana. The
Airolo and Quinto are considering a merger some time
in the future into a new municipality which will be known as
Airolo has an area, as of 1997[update], of 94.37 square kilometers
(36.44 sq mi). Of this area, 3.64 km2
(1.41 sq mi) or 3.9% is used for agricultural purposes,
while 20.48 km2 (7.91 sq mi) or 21.7% is forested. Of
the rest of the land, 2.7 km2 (1.0 sq mi) or 2.9% is
settled (buildings or roads), 2.3 km2 (0.89 sq mi) or
2.4% is either rivers or lakes and 39.3 km2
(15.2 sq mi) or 41.6% is unproductive land.
Of the built up area, housing and buildings made up 0.6% and
transportation infrastructure made up 1.8%. Out of the forested land,
14.9% of the total land area is heavily forested and 1.5% is covered
with orchards or small clusters of trees. Of the agricultural land,
3.2% is used for growing crops. Of the water in the municipality, 1.5%
is in lakes and 0.9% is in rivers and streams. Of the unproductive
areas, 20.2% is unproductive vegetation and 21.4% is too rocky for
Coat of arms
The blazon of the municipal coat of arms is Azure on a base Vert a fir
tree Argent issuant and a lion rampant Or.
Airolo has a population (as of December 2016[update]) of 1,526. As
of 2008[update], 21.5% of the population are foreign nationals.
Over the last 10 years (1997–2007) the population has changed at a
rate of −14.6%.
Most of the population (as of 2000[update]) speaks Italian (85.6%),
with German being second most common (3.6%) and Serbo-Croatian being
third (3.3%). Of the Swiss national languages (as of 2000[update]),
57 speak German, 8 people speak French, 1,363 people speak Italian,
and 1 person speaks Romansh. The remainder (164 people) speak another
As of 2008[update], the gender distribution of the population was
49.9% male and 50.1% female. The population was made up of 577 Swiss
men (37.6% of the population), and 189 (12.3%) non-Swiss men. There
were 641 Swiss women (41.8%), and 128 (8.3%) non-Swiss women.
In 2008[update] there were 6 live births to Swiss citizens and 6
births to non-Swiss citizens, and in same time span there were 20
deaths of Swiss citizens. Ignoring immigration and emigration, the
population of Swiss citizens decreased by 14 while the foreign
population increased by 6. There was 1 Swiss woman who immigrated back
to Switzerland. At the same time, there were 2 non-Swiss men who
Switzerland to another country and 5 non-Swiss women
who immigrated from another country to Switzerland. The total Swiss
population change in 2008 (from all sources) was a decrease of 2 and
the non-Swiss population change was a decrease of 28 people. This
represents a population growth rate of −1.9%.
The age distribution, as of 2009[update], in
Airolo is as follows: 114
children or 7.4% of the population are between 0 and 9 years old and
131 teenagers or 8.5% are between 10 and 19. Of the adult population,
184 people or 12.0% of the population are between 20 and 29 years old.
198 people or 12.9% are between 30 and 39, 215 people or 14.0% are
between 40 and 49, and 234 people or 15.2% are between 50 and 59. The
senior population distribution is 221 people or 14.4% of the
population are between 60 and 69 years old, 130 people or 8.5% are
between 70 and 79, there are 108 people or 7.0% who are over 80.
As of 2000[update], there were 700 private households in the
municipality, and an average of 2.2 persons per household. In
2000[update] there were 503 single family homes (or 66.4% of the
total) out of a total of 757 inhabited buildings. There were 88 two
family buildings (11.6%) and 114 multi-family buildings (15.1%). There
were also 52 buildings in the municipality that were multipurpose
buildings (used for both housing and commercial or another
The vacancy rate for the municipality, in 2008[update], was 3.31%. In
2000[update] there were 1,325 apartments in the municipality. The most
common apartment size was the 3 room apartment of which there were
393. There were 78 single room apartments and 314 apartments with five
or more rooms. Of these apartments, a total of 698 apartments
(52.7% of the total) were permanently occupied, while 585 apartments
(44.2%) were seasonally occupied and 42 apartments (3.2%) were
empty. As of 2007[update], the construction rate of new housing
units was 0.6 new units per 1000 residents.
Workers on the Gotthard Tunnel, 1880
The historical population is given in the following table:
^a Population during construction of the St. Gotthard Tunnel
The Hospice Complex on the St.
Gotthard Pass with old station, house
and barn, the Forte
Airolo and Forte Foppa, the prehistoric settlement
and Roman era necropolis of Madrano and the prehistoric settlement on
Gotthard Pass (known as Alpe di Rodont) are listed as Swiss
heritage site of national significance. The entire town of
the village of Fontana are listed in the Inventory of Swiss Heritage
In 1877 a fire destroyed almost all of the town, including most of the
church dedicated to Santi Nazario e Celso, which had been built in the
12th century and is first documented in 1224. The tower, crowned by a
double row of twin arches has survived from the Romanesque building.
In 1879 the church was rebuilt, under the auspices of an Uri lawyer
based in Airolo, Carl Alois (Luigi) Müller, who was married to
Genovefa Lombardi, the daughter of Felice Lombardi, Director of the St
Gotthard hospice. There is a marble plaque in the church recording his
efforts to get the church rebuilt.
St Gotthard Tunnel Memorial
This is a bronze bas-relief by the Ticinese sculptor Vincenzo Vela
(1820–1891) commemorating the labourers who died building the tunnel
in the 1880s.
In the 2007 federal election the most popular party was the CVP which
received 36.19% of the vote. The next three most popular parties were
the FDP (29.1%), the
Ticino League (16.16%) and the SP (9.11%). In the
federal election, a total of 676 votes were cast, and the voter
turnout was 64.3%.
In the 2007[update] Gran Consiglio election, there were a total of
1,109 registered voters in Airolo, of which 870 or 78.4% voted. 13
blank ballots and 2 null ballots were cast, leaving 855 valid ballots
in the election. The most popular party was the PPD+GenGiova which
received 298 or 34.9% of the vote. The next three most popular parties
were; the PLRT (with 243 or 28.4%), the SSI (with 119 or 13.9%) and
the LEGA (with 88 or 10.3%).
In the 2007[update] Consiglio di Stato election, 9 blank ballots and 3
null ballots were cast, leaving 857 valid ballots in the election. The
most popular party was the PPD which received 290 or 33.8% of the
vote. The next three most popular parties were; the PLRT (with 239 or
27.9%), the LEGA (with 140 or 16.3%) and the SSI (with 105 or
Train station of Airolo
As of 2007[update],
Airolo had an unemployment rate of 2.58%. As
of 2005[update], there were 65 people employed in the primary economic
sector and about 24 businesses involved in this sector. 356 people
were employed in the secondary sector and there were 20 businesses in
this sector. 596 people were employed in the tertiary sector, with 74
businesses in this sector. There were 774 residents of the
municipality who were employed in some capacity, of which females made
up 34.5% of the workforce.
In 2000[update], there were 451 workers who commuted into the
municipality and 161 workers who commuted away. The municipality is a
net importer of workers, with about 2.8 workers entering the
municipality for every one leaving. Of the working population,
5.6% used public transportation to get to work, and 47.4% used a
As of 2009[update], there were 8 hotels in
Airolo with a total of 137
rooms and 322 beds.
Airolo in winter from the Sasso della Boggia
Airolo is also home to a small ski-resort with 30 km (19 mi)
of prepared slopes.
From the 2000 census[update], 1,287 or 80.8% were Roman Catholic,
while 34 or 2.1% belonged to the Swiss Reformed Church. There are 243
individuals (or about 15.25% of the population) who belong to another
church (not listed on the census), and 29 individuals (or about 1.82%
of the population) did not answer the question.
Airolo has an average of 121.4 days of rain or snow per year and on
average receives 1,662 mm (65.4 in) of precipitation. The
wettest month is October during which time
Airolo receives an average
of 193 mm (7.6 in) of rain or snow. During this month there
is precipitation for an average of 9.3 days. The month with the most
days of precipitation is May, with an average of 13, but with only
184 mm (7.2 in) of rain or snow. The driest month of the
year is January with an average of 88 mm (3.5 in) of
precipitation over 9.3 days.
Airolo about 61.3% of the population (between age 25-64) have
completed either non-mandatory upper secondary education or additional
higher education (either university or a Fachhochschule).
Airolo there was a total of 218 students (as of 2009[update]). The
Ticino education system provides up to three years of non-mandatory
kindergarten and in
Airolo there were 35 children in kindergarten. The
primary school program lasts for five years and includes both a
standard school and a special school. In the municipality, 67 students
attended the standard primary schools and 0 students attended the
special school. In the lower secondary school system, students either
attend a two-year middle school followed by a two-year
pre-apprenticeship or they attend a four-year program to prepare for
higher education. There were 52 students in the two-year middle school
and 1 in their pre-apprenticeship, while 11 students were in the
four-year advanced program.
The upper secondary school includes several options, but at the end of
the upper secondary program, a student will be prepared to enter a
trade or to continue on to a university or college. In Ticino,
vocational students may either attend school while working on their
internship or apprenticeship (which takes three or four years) or may
attend school followed by an internship or apprenticeship (which takes
one year as a full-time student or one and a half to two years as a
part-time student). There were 19 vocational students who were
attending school full-time and 31 who attend part-time.
The professional program lasts three years and prepares a student for
a job in engineering, nursing, computer science, business, tourism and
similar fields. There were 2 students in the professional program.
As of 2000[update], there were 14 students in
Airolo who came from
another municipality, while 31 residents attended schools outside the
Airolo is served by
Airolo station, on the Gotthard railway, which is
situated in the village centre. The station is served by an hourly
InterRegio train between Arth-Goldau and Locarno, most of which start
Basel SBB or Zürich HB. Bus services include an hourly
service to Bellinzona, together with a less frequent route across the
Novena Pass to Oberwald.
Felice Lombardi (1791-1863), son of Giuseppe,
parliament was in 1841 appointed by the
Ticino State Council as Head
of the Hospice on the Gotthard Pass.
Emilio Motta (1855-1920), historian
Adolfo Müller-Ury (1862-1947) (Citizenship Hospental), painter, son
of Alois and Genovefa Müller-Lombardi
Giuseppe Motta (1871-1940), Swiss politician (CIP), Bundesrat.
Eugenio Corecco (1931-1995),
Roman Catholic bishop in Diocese of
Lugano in the canton Ticino
Giorgio Orelli (1921-2013), Swiss writer, literary critic, translator
Giovanni Lombardi (born 1926), Swiss engineer, known for tunnel and
Marco Lombardi (1941-2014), lawyer, former President of the Hockey
Filippo Lombardi (born 1956), Swiss politician (CVP) and entrepreneur,
President of States (2012 and 2013)
Katrin Müller (born 1989) is a Swiss freestyle skier, ski crosser
Lara Gut (born 1991), skier, lives in Canobbio
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Airolo.
Official website (in Italian)
Airolo in German, French and Italian in the online Historical
Dictionary of Switzerland.
Municipalities in the district of Leventina, Switzerland
Districts of Canton Ticino
Municipalities of th