Piazza Grande Locarno

The Piazza Grande, a landmark and the heart of Locarno. A meeting place for visitors and locals and a venue for major events.

Locarno Piazza Grande

Who doesn't know the Piazza Grande, the large cobbled square in the heart of Locarno, where the city comes to life? That said, the Piazza Grande is so much more than just a large square: it hosts international events that attract thousands of visitors every year, such as the Moon&Stars, the legendary Locarno Film Festival, the Food Truck Festival, Locarno on Ice and the weekly market that takes place every Thursday.

Piazza Grande, Locarno

It's a place of encounter, a meeting place for all ages, business people and tourists. It owes its unmistakable appearance to the fine-looking arcades, built in the Lombard style, which extend over 700 metres between the Piazza Grande and the railway station and are filled with shops, restaurants and bars: perfect for shopping in rainy weather or on hot summer days. The square is encircled by typical town houses, amongst which is the Torre Communale civic tower with its striking clock face. However what really sets the piazza apart is its cobblestone pavement. The lake used to come right up to the houses, but as the waters receded, the piazza was created and, in 1825, laid with stone sourced from the nearby Maggia river. Not much has changed in terms of the square's appearance since its redesign in the 20th century.

The Piazza Grande is also the starting point for many of the city's attractions such as the Castello Visconteo, which dates from the Middle Ages but from 1531 became dilapidated, was rescued and now serves as the archaeological museum. The alleyways that lead uphill from the Piazza Grande between the houses all end up in the old town quarter. Used as escape routes when the lake flooded the piazza, they are now a practical way of reaching Locarno's ancient heart, a jewel of alleys, boutiques, cafés and venerable buildings. The Madonna del Sasso pilgrimage church is also easily accessed from the Piazza Grande. It's best to walk through the old town quarter and take the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) up to the rocky outcrop where stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, which was founded in 1480. Its location offers wonderful views over the region and Lake Maggiore. A more relaxing way up is to take the cogwheel railway to Orselina. Between the Piazza Grande and the wonderful lakeside promenade – a perfect place for a stroll – is the Walk of Fame with Its handprints of stars who have graced the Moon&Stars with their presence in the past.

The piazza has also been hit by floods in modern times: the three most recent major events took place in 1993, 2000 and 2014, the level of the lake in 2000 rising to 197.58 metres from its usual 193 metres. At times like this, the only way to reach the Piazza Grande is by boat or by walking along a specially built pier that crosses the square. By the way, have you ever wondered what those rails are doing in the Piazza Grande? It's a good question, because anyone who knows Locarno knows that it doesn't have trams. But that wasn't always the case: in the early 20th century, Locarno was something of a railway hub. The city had a tram, a railway line (the Valmaggina) went up the Maggia valley, and another line (the Centovallina) went all the way to Domodossola – and still does. The tram service was discontinued in 1960, followed by the Valmaggina line in 1965. The urban section of the Centovallina was put underground in 1990, since when the Piazza Grande has definitively been train-free. At that point, the piazza was used as a car park until the beginning of 2000.

As mentioned earlier on, the Piazza Grande is not only a delightful large square in the centre of Locarno, but the pulsating heart of the city. Summer and winter, it's a popular place to meet friends and start adventures together. Whether these extend only as far as the nearest café or turn into an entertaining open-air screening during the Locarno Film Festival, the Piazza Grande has always been one of the city's key venues where things happen.

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