Heading south on the Swiss A3 about half way between Lugano and Chiasso, after coming out of the tunnel and passing over the bridge over Lake Lugano, one sees Monte San Giorgio on the right hand side. The Monte San Giorgio is the Swiss saurian mountain; it has gained in prominence as a transnational locality since 2010 when the UNESCO extension also took in the Italian side of the mountain. Its summit offers up magnificent views and those inclined to scratch about on it will be left with the impression that marine fauna and other large animals once lived here.
This mountain has a truly rich inner life: rising just under 1100 metres in height, the Monte San Giorgio in the sunny south of Ticino has been a Mecca for fossil scientists since the 19th century, and a Unesco World Heritage site since 2003. Thousands of fossilised fish and marine saurians of up to six metres in length have already been unearthed here by eager palaeontologists. And for good reason: 230 to 245 million years ago, this was the site of a 100-metre-deep ocean basin. Today, at the southern end of Lake Lugano, the Monte San Giorgio rises like a pyramid – inside, filled with all manner of fossils. One can stroll through the vineyards along the southern slopes of the woody mountain, saunter through the idyllic town of Meride, or allow oneself to be pampered in the grottos of the Mendrisiotto region.
Around 80 different species of fish and 30 marine and land reptiles have been discovered at the numerous excavation sites. What’s more, the scientists have also found hundreds of fossilised invertebrate animals and plants from the middle Triassic period, 230 to 245 million years ago.
Remodeled and expanded by the Ticinese architect Mario Botta, the Fossil Museum in Meride exhibits a selection of fossilized animals and plants from the unique UNESCO World Heritage Site of Monte San Giorgio.