The pyramid-shaped, wooded mountain of Monte San Giorgio beside Lake Lugano is regarded as the best fossil record of marine life from the Triassic Period (245–230 million years ago). The sequence records life in a tropical lagoon environment, sheltered and partially separated from the open sea by an offshore reef. Diverse marine life flourished within this lagoon, including reptiles, fish, bivalves, ammonites, echinoderms and crustaceans. Because the lagoon was near land, the remains also include land-based fossils of reptiles, insects and plants, resulting in an extremely rich source of fossils.
Monte San Giorgio
Outstanding Universal Value
The pyramid-shaped, wooded mountain of Monte San Giorgio beside Lake Lugano is regarded as the best fossil record of marine life from the Triassic Period (245 – 230 million years ago). The sequence records life in a tropical lagoon environment, sheltered and partially separated from the open sea by an offshore reef. Diverse marine life flourished within this lagoon, including reptiles, fish, bivalves, ammonites, echinoderms and crustaceans. Because the lagoon was near to land, the fossil remains also include some land-based fossils including reptiles, insects and plants. The result is a fossil resource of great richness.
Criterion (viii): Monte San Giorgio is the single best known record of marine life in the Triassic period, and records important remains of life on land as well. The property has produced diverse and numerous fossils, many of which show exceptional completeness and detailed preservation. The long history of study of the property and the disciplined management of the resource have created a well documented and catalogued body of specimens of exceptional quality, and are the basis for a rich associated geological literature. As a result, Monte San Giorgio provides the principal point of reference, relevant to future discoveries of marine Triassic remains throughout the world.
The property encompasses the complete Middle Triassic outcrop of Monte San Giorgio including all of the main fossil bearing areas. The Italian portion of the property included is an extension in 2010 of the originally inscribed area in Switzerland, which was added to the World Heritage List in 2003. The resulting extended property fully meets the integrity requirements for a fossil site. The main attributes of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property are the accessible fossiliferous rock exposures, with intact strata which occur in many parts of the property.
Protection and Management Requirements
The property benefits from legal protection in both Italy and Switzerland that provides an effective basis for the protection of its geological resources. Site protection also focuses on landscape protection and has resulted in appropriate legislative controls and existing management procedures that are effectively enforced at the local level and which are underwritten by National, Regional and Provincial government support.
Strong transboundary collaboration between the States Parties of Italy and Switzerland is in place, including mechanisms that are agreed by all of the local municipalities in both countries, through common signed accords and declarations. A joint management plan is also in place for the property, and the States Parties and local authorities are committed to providing adequate ongoing staffing and management resources to the property. Maintenance of the effectiveness of the transboundary cooperation and the related management plan is a key ongoing requirement for the protection of the property. Staff with a specific responsibility for site management are in place in both countries, and collaborate effectively to ensure a fully coordinated management of the property, including in relation to its presentation.
The main management requirement in relation to the values of Monte San Giorgio is the in situ protection of fossil bearing areas. Although these areas are generally difficult to access, it is important to ensure their accessibility for managed legal scientific excavation. Continued scientific excavation is a key requirement to maintaining the values of this property as a world reference area for paleontological research.
Maintenance of the relationships between the property and leading research institutes is also essential to both its scientific value and its presentation. Because the in situ fossil resources both require excavation and preparation to be of scientific value, and are not publicly accessible or visible, the completeness, presentation and safety of the fossil collections held in a limited number of universities and museums is key to the protection of the values of the property. These collections are maintained through strict adherence to appropriate legislative controls on excavation within the property. The housing of resultant fossil finds, and the standards of curation, specimen preparation and research, and museum display are of the highest quality in the main research collections related to the property. This presentation of the fossil finds from the property in major international museums also needs to be complemented by the appropriate provision of visitor centres and services within or near to the property, and a programme to establish and maintain these services is in place. An active ongoing programme of communication and interpretation for visitors to the property is required to ensure the fullest appreciation of the Outstanding Universal Value of Monte San Giorgio.
Monte San Giorgio is a pyramid-shaped, wooded mountain, which lies south of Lake Lugano in Ticino Canton. The site contains internationally important fossil remains from the Middle Triassic period. San Giorgio lies within an area identified as a Landscape Protection Zone under Swiss law.
The Mid Triassic rock succession rests on older, Permian volcanic rocks exposed on the north face of Monte San Giorgio. The Mid Triassic sequence consists of approximately 1,000 m of reef limestones, dolomites and bituminous shales which formed in marine conditions on the margins of the Triassic 'Tethys' Ocean. The exceptional fossil interest within the sequence arises because of the presence of five distinct, fossiliferous formations, the 'Grenzbitumenzone', the Cava Inferiore, Cava Superiore, Cassina Beds and the 'Kalkschieferzone'. The sequence records life in a tropical lagoon environment, sheltered and partially separated from the open sea by an offshore reef. A diversity of marine life flourished within this lagoon, including reptiles, fish, bivalves, ammonites, echinoderms and crustaceans. A stagnant and undisturbed seabed provided ideal conditions for the preservation of these animals, when they died and fell to the sea floor. Today, fossils are abundant and exceptionally detailed. Because the lagoon was near to land, the fossil remains also include some land-based fossils including reptiles, insects and plants. The fossiliferous rock succession is exposed in Switzerland on Monte San Giorgio as well as in the immediately adjacent area of Italy, in the area around Besano. Fossils from the mountain have been known to science for over 150 years. The vertebrate material includes particularly spectacular specimens, including large, articulated skeletons up to 6 m in length. Complete skeletons include ichthyosaurs, nothosaurs, placodonts, and the remarkable 'giraffe-necked' saurian, Tanystropheus. The land-based fauna is more restricted, but includes a significant and unique complete skeleton of the archosaur, Ticinosuchus, the first complete skeleton from this group to be discovered in the northern hemisphere.
Although it is primarily of geological significance, Monte San Giorgio also displays other natural values, as well as cultural links between the geology and the life of the local community. Noteworthy features include dry meadows on limestone subsoils that are home to plant populations not found elsewhere in Switzerland or in the entire southern Alpine zone of Italy. The site is rich in fungi and has 37 of the modern vertebrate species on the national Red List, 21 of which are protected under the Berne Convention.
Monte San Giorgio is unique in the world as the best single fossil record of Triassic marine life. The strict, systematic and continuous scientific research that has been carried out for over 75 years in Switzerland and Italy, almost exclusively by the universities of Zurich and Milan, have resulted in a remarkably complete and coordinated record of the site.
The site is in the ownership of three different local communes. Around 10% is cultivated, privately owned land, mostly near Meride and Riva San Vitale. The presence of five distinct fossiliferous levels provides the opportunity for comparative and evolutionary studies through time.
Other significant Triassic fossil sites of equivalent international importance provide evidence of terrestrial, rather than marine life.
The quantity and quality of fossil biota enables interpretation of species evolution, palaeo-environments and land-forming processes that existed 200 million years ago. The site provides a record of marine life during a critical period in vertebrate evolution on Earth, and has an importance that extends beyond representation of life in the Triassic 'Tethys' Ocean, to provide a global reference point for comparative studies of evolution. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC