A sea of memories

Monte San Giorgio rises up between the southern arms of Lake Lugano. Besides the magnificent view of the lake landscape, the 1,097-metre high mountain provides a window to prehistoric times. 240-million-year-old fossils can be found within it. Where there was once a sea basin with different reptiles, fish and plants, Monte San Giorgio formed along with the development of the Alps. Perfectly maintained fossils have been found and investigated here for 150 years. The region is one of the best testimonials to sea life from the Triassic period. The Fossil Museum in Meride, which has been renovated by the architect Mario Botta, ensures insights into this long extinct world. Natural Heritage since 2003 (2010 extension).


The finds at Monte San Giorgio provide clues about the origin of these organism. Tracing their development back, we reach their primal forms, which can be compared with fossils from other areas. The latest research puts the origins of the Triassic marine fauna in the Guizhou Province of southern China, where rich layers of sediments holding vertebrates were found. By comparing these life forms with Triassic marine fossils found in other places, such as Tibet, Iran or Turkey, we can hypotesise that ocean currents carried these organisms westwards from what is now China to the sea area that would much later on become Monte San Giorgio. Unlike deposits found in Guizhou, however, which to date have revealed only a relatively limited diversity of fish and reptiles, the strata at Monte San Giorgio show a real explosion of life forms.

Did you know?

• The smallest fossil prepared by palaeontologists at Monte San Giorgio is a plant spore measuring just 0.03 mm in diameter.

• Thanks to virtual and augmented reality, it is possible to immerse yourself in the Triassic sea and admire the creatures from that period.

• 240 million years ago, the region around what is now Lake Lugano was surrounded by a sub-tropical sea.

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