Locarno–Madonna del Sasso Funicular

Locarno, Switzerland | C.1906

Photo Credit: Accidentally Wes Anderson


In this part of the Switzerland, a town center may look like the nearby Italian villages on Lake Como, but one element is unequivocally Swiss–a perfectly engineered funicular rising above the coastal mountainside.  This royal blue car regularly transports patrons up a 30% grade, and was the dream of man who brought his immense fortunes back to Locarno. 

Following an apparent appearance by the Virgin Mary to a Franciscan friar in 1480, a church and vast complex was built in Orselina towering high above the coastal town of Locarno. Containing vivid frescoes and early 16th century statuary, the holy mountain of Madonna del Sasso became a venerated pilgrimage site for Chiristians. The only problem was making the arduous  journey up to the hallowed shrine. 

Born in the region around Locarno in 1852, Giovanni Pedrazzini sought to build his life where many of his countrymen would never have considered: the Americas. A bold and inventive businessman, he built up a vast fortune from silver mining in Mexico, only to return to Locarno in the sunset years of his life after 30 years. Wishing to invest in the area and build up his hometown, the energetic Pedrazzini and others began plans to build a funicular up to  Madonna del Sasso, with the intentions of eventually creating infrastructure to then reach the even higher mountaintop of Monte Bre. 

Constructed between 1904-1906, the 813 meter route quickly became a great asset to the people of Locarno and visiting pilgrims. With majestic cars able to hold 70 passengers, the funicular in its first year alone transported over 116,000 people (and 611 dogs). Today, an average of 350,000 travelers and commuters use the sloped railway each year, a testament to the foresight of Pedrazinni and his team. With the long hike to Madonna del Sasso no longer necessary, we imagine many knees are quite thankful. 

Written By: Seamus McMahon

One thought on “Locarno–Madonna del Sasso Funicular

  1. Yael Flores says:
    September 19, 2023

    Just like the Theatre, but not in the same way.. This is not a dream, THIS IS THE DREAM! I'be never ever been into a funicular but it has been a dream for me since Budapest Hotel. I'm quite young so that first time I saw it was just blowing my mind!

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