Museum of Swiss Customs
Smuggling, drug searches, trademark piracy, prevention of trade in endangered species – museum visitors can gain an insight into the daily work of Switzerland’s customs officers and border control guards. You can also experience how these professions have evolved over the years.
Smuggling and smugglers have always exercised a certain fascination on the well-behaved middle-class. But it has also involved custom scholars, historians and economists since for decades smuggling has represented a way of making ends meet during hard times, especially in economically impoverished areas. It is therefore right that a museum be dedicated to this topic, in memory of difficult times and conditions, dangers, efforts and the cleverness displayed by both smugglers and border guards, these being specific features of the social relations that existed in Ticino in the last 100 years, until more or less, the early Seventies. The building that houses the Customs Museum is on the opposite side of lake from Lugano, in the area known as Cantine di Gandria are and may be reached by means of a short, suggestive boat trip; in fact, it is built directly on the lake, at the border between Italy and Switzerland, in an inaccessible area covered in thick vegetation. The first customs post was set up in 1856 and is still known today as “The Red House”, whereas, in fact, the latter was actually only built in 1904 as a customs post and anti-smuggling base and became a museum in 1935. The museum was renewed and opened to the public in 1978, after prolonged refurbishment efforts carried out by the National Museum of Zurich. A big exhibition on three different floors of the museum recalls times gone by, in which smuggling flourished. On the ground floor, the old customs post as it probably appeared in 1904 has been reconstructed. One recognizes the places where customs officers worked and here the wax figure of a smuggler being handcuffed by two officers and the adjacent guards’ lodgings are exhibited. Several customs documents are also displayed: a diary, coins of the times, scales and other measuring instruments. On the first floor, the history of how the Confederation system developed to present day is explained; there is a monument in memory of the border guards who fell in the fulfilment of their duty. The second floor displays a whole arsenal of weapons coming from Italy, France, Great Britain and the United States that were confiscated from partisans, runaways or fugitives while they were attempting to clandestinely cross the Swiss border.
There is also a curious exhibit of equipment and tools used by smugglers and poachers, besides documents on some of the most refined tricks which people used to bypass customs laws. Among these, a small submarine with an underwater engine driven by a smuggler who navigates with his head just under the water’s surface, which was seized with its load of a ton of salami…is exhibited. In 1944, the permanent collection was turned into an interactive exhibit, which was further enlarged in 1994 with computerized and audiovisual novelties. By means of videos and photographs, modern systems for border surveillance are presented, such as infrared night surveillance equipment and devices for finding counterfeit documents.
29.03 - 20.10.2013
FUGA - PROTEZIONE - UMANITÀ. IL LAVORO DELL'UNHCR
Mo - Su 1:30 - 5:30 p.m.
Permanent Collection: objects connected to customs and smuggling.
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