The Museum

The Swiss Customs Museum presents the tasks performed by Customs and explains the different functions of the Swiss border and the Swiss border guard as they are today and as they were in the past.

Showing what customs does

The management of its border has always been a traditional part of life for the small, independent Alpine republic of Switzerland. The Customs Museum recalls this past, but at the same time it shows the challenges facing Swiss Customs today in the context of global trade and a Europe of open borders.

The museum devotes special exhibitions to topical issues on a regular basis, often in co-operation with other institutions. Memorable, self-explanatory installations and numerous short films in several languages introduce the visitor to the topics in a vivid manner.

From border post to museum

The current customs museum building in Cantine di Gandria was built in 1904 and up until 1993 served as a border guard post.

Cantine di Gandria's first border guard post, the “Casa rossa”, dates back to 1853, when there was only limited space for border guards. The first border guard post, which offered no comfort at all, was therefore replaced in 1904 by a new, larger building just a few metres away. In 1935, the Ticino border guard officer Angelo Gianola came up with the idea of using some of the empty rooms of this building as a museum: He therefore asked his colleagues to collect objects to illustrate the everyday life of the border guards. In the first decades after its opening in 1949, smuggled goods, imaginative hiding places and means of transport were the exhibits that attracted the most attention. Even today, the customs museum is referred to in the vernacular as the "smugglers’ museum".

In the 1970s, the museum was restored and redesigned and, in collaboration with the Swiss National Museum SNM, restored to its former glory. The Cultural Commission of the SNM and the FOCBS agreed to hand over the entire collection of the Customs Museum to the SNM and to ensure that it is preserved and realigned in line with the times. Since its reopening in 1978 and to this day, the collection has grown continuously. The museum regularly organises special exhibitions on specific themes. Since the closure of the border post in 1993, the entire building has been used as a museum.