At the foot of the Gotthard Massif and amidst impressive mountain scenery is Bellinzona, the capital of Canton Ticino. Approximately 18,000 inhabitants. Visible from afar is the "Murata" (fortress wall) with the "Tre Castelli" (three castles). This impressive landmark of the city was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. The three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro) and the crenellated defensive walls are witnesses to an eventful history that goes far back. The present appearance of the fortress is most notably due to the building activity of the Dukes of Milan in the 15th century. The fortress was designed to prevent the advance of the Confederates into the south. The strategic importantance of Bellinzona was described in 1475 with the following words: "This place is the key and the gateway to Italy". After French troops captured Bellinzona in 1499, the people sold the city to the Swiss Confederates and the county Bellinzona remained under the reign of Uri, Schwyz, and Nidwalden until 1798. In 1803, the castles were transferred to the newly-formed Canton Ticino. The picturesque old town attracts large numbers of visitors, who can find suitable accommodations among the various hotels, bed & breakfasts with charming atmosphere, apartments, rooms with ideal locations, or private lodging. Among the city’s key sites are the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (from the 15th century and in which a great Renaissance fresco is located) and the Teatro Sociale (built in the mid 19th Century according to the plans of an Italian architect as a copy of La Scala in Milan). Also popular among tourists is the market on Saturday in the streets of the old town, the "Rabadan" (noise), and the traditional "Carnevale di Bellinzona" with its big parade of people wearing carnival costumes.