Monte San Giorgio (UNESCO)
This mountain boasts a rich interior life: Monte San Giorgio, with its modest 1100 meters of elevation on the sunny south side of the Ticino area has been a true paradise for scholars interested in fossils since the 19th century. Here, palaeontologists have found thousands of fossils of fish and marine reptiles up to six meters in length. Today, Monte San Giorgio rises like a pyramid with Lake Lugano at its southern end, hoarding a treasure of all sorts of fossils. At the end of the 1800s, the area of Monte San Giorgio was the site of intense mining activities, which allowed us to uncover an important number of fossils of great scientific interest. These finds have made this place a global reference point as regards the Triassic Period. Since 1973, thanks to the presence and of the activism of paleontologists from the University of Zurich, the village of Meride is the home of the Monte San Giorgio Fossil Museum. In no other place in the world can we learn about the evolution of marine life and the environmental context of the Middle Triassic (247-236 million years ago) as on the Monte San Giorgio. At that time, Monte San Giorgio was not the mountain that we know today. It was the bottom of a lagoon at the edge of an ancient sea, the Tethys. Thanks to the favourable conditions of preservation which prevailed on the lagoon seabed, the remains of different life forms underwent a long process of fossilization, which allowed them reach the present day in particularly well preserved conditions. Unlike other fossil fields worldwide, which generally have only one fossil level, Monte San Giorgio has at least five. So far, palaeontologists have uncovered more than 20,000 fossils belonging to about 25 species of reptiles, 50 species of fish, more than 100 species of invertebrates, as well as various species of plants, particularly coniferous trees. UNESCO has assessed the exceptional treasure of Monte San Giorgio and has officially recognized the universal value of the places that enclose this treasure by putting on the list of World Heritage Sites in 2003 for the Swiss side, and extending this status to the Italian side in 2010.