The desire to control the alpine transit roads was the reason for wars that greatly affected the Swiss Italian population. The first alpine passages were the Passo di Spluga and the Bernina (Bregaglia) in the second century AD. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Ticino was dominated in turn by the Lombardic lords, monasteries or the church, and German rulers or lords; and from the fifteenth century to the French Revolution, it fell under the domination of the other Swiss cantons. Leventina and Bienio were independent and had a democratic political system for a short time in the twelfth century. With the creation of the different leagues of the Grigioni in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Bregaglia and the Mesolcina/Calanda were organized as independent regions.
Because of fear of foreign domination by France or Austria if the regions were integrated into the Napoleonic Republica Cisalpina, Ticino became a free republic and a canton of Switzerland in 1803. The end of tax-free trade with Italy in 1848 and the incorporation of Ticino into the bishopric of Basle and Lugano in 1888 bound Ticino to Switzerland.
The railway through the San Gottardo, which opened in 1882, brought little economic or industrial development. Only the German Swiss profited, as the taxes to use the trains were too high for the people of Ticino to pay. The attitude of the people of Ticino toward Italian unification and fascism displays another facet of Swiss Italian identity. During the Italian Fascist movement, sympathy for fascism grew and the desire for incorporation into Italy ( irredentismo ) grew in
Ticino. But, as tradition changed into folklore, the Swiss Italian regional culture became a harmless "Ticinesità." Reasons for this shift may be related to post-World War II relations of Ticino with the German Swiss, Germany, and Italy and Concern such issues as economic development, tourism, and migration.