With its characteristic small alleys, the arcades of old Patrician homes, valuable architectural monuments and its natural beauty, the lakefront position, Morcote is considered "the Pearl of Ceresio".
Morcote is first mentioned historically in 926 as Murcau, which comes from the Latin Morae caput, meaning head of the hill. In 1353 it was mentioned as Murchoe and again in 1453 as Murchote.
Starting around 1100, Morcote was home to a castle that was built to guard and control commerce on the lake. Until the dam was built in Melide in 1847, Morcote was the largest port on Lake Lugano. Goods from northern Italy were shipped across the lake to the rest of Ticino. In 1422 the town was granted privileges by the Duke of Milan, which included the rights to impose taxes, self-government, independent fishing and the right to hold markets. After the plague year of 1432, only seven families survived in the town. The town was often caught between the rival powers of Milan and Como as they fought for control in Lombardy. In 1517 the region came under the control of the Old Swiss Confederation, and was added to the Vogtei of Lugano. However Morcote retained extensive rights, including judicial and tax autonomy as well as fishing rights over the entire lake.
During the Late Middle Ages the major industries of Morcote included fishing, farming and shipping. During the end of the Middle Ages, artists began to move into the town as well. In 1583 the town had a self-supporting parish established in the parish church Santa Maria del Sasso, which dated from the 13th century.
In 1862, seven houses slid into the lake.
During the 19th century tourism grew into a major industry in Morcote. In the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, wine production and handicrafts have been added to tourism.
Morcote has an area, as of 1997, of 2.8 square kilometers (1.1 sq mi). Of this area, 0.41 km2 (0.16 sq mi) or 14.6% is used for agricultural purposes, while 2.28 km2 (0.88 sq mi) or 81.4% is forested. Of the rest of the land, 0.43 km2 (0.17 sq mi) or 15.4% is settled (buildings or roads), 0.03 km2 (7.4 acres) or 1.1% is either rivers or lakes.
Of the built up area, housing and buildings made up 12.9% and transportation infrastructure made up 1.8%. Out of the forested land, all of the forested land area is covered with heavy forests. Of the agricultural land, 1.4% is used for growing crops and 12.9% is used for alpine pastures. All the water in the municipality is in lakes.
The municipality is located in the Lugano district, between Lake Lugano and Monte Arbostora. It consists of the village of Morcote, the village of Vico until 1803 and between 1803–16, Carabietta.
The blazon of the municipal coat of arms is Per fess gules a shepherdess sitting on a garb all argent and vert a sow and her piglets also argent.
The Chapel of S. Antonio Abate with its monumental staircase, the Parish Church of S. Maria del Sasso with Oratory, the Cimitero monumentale (Cemetery) and Scherrer Park are listed as Swiss heritage site of national significance. The entire village of Morcote is part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites.
The church of Santa Maria del Sasso was probably built in the 13th century. It was completely rebuilt in 1462 in the style of the Renaissance. In 1758 it was renovated in the baroque style, while in the 18th century a monumentual staircase was added to the front of the church. The church tower was built in the Middle Ages and made taller during the 16th century. The church contains several valuable frescos from the 16th and 17th Centuries including one painting that is dated to 1513. The sacramental chapel contains carvings from 1591 and paintings from 1611. In the chapel on the opposite side contains an example of illusionistic architecture painting from the 18th century.
Near the church is the Chapel Sant' Antonio do Padova which was built in 1676 with an unusual octagonal floor plan and dome.
In 1750 a large cemetery was added near the church. In the beautiful terraced cemetery overlooking the lake, many artists are buried, among them Alexander Moissi, actor, Georges Baklanoff, Russian baritone, Georg Kaiser, German author, and Eugen d’Albert, German composer and pianist.
The chapel of Sant' Antonio Abata, consecrated before 1591, was originally a hospice run by the Antonines order of Vienna. The interior houses several frescoes from a 15th-century master artist from Seregno, as well as other newer paintings.
The arcades along the lake shore date partly from the Late Middle Ages and include several noble houses from the 16th to 18th centuries. One of the most interesting is the Palazzo Paleari which was built in 1483 and renovated in 1661.
In 1965, Scherrer Gardens, the former home of wealthy St. Gallen textile merchant, was opened to the public. The gardens are rich with luxurious subtropical vegetation and many kinds of buildings and art, both original and copies from all over the world. The gardens include palm trees, camellias, wisteria and oleanders, cedar and cypress trees, camphor and eucalyptus, magnolias and azaleas, orange and lemon trees, bamboo and many other kinds of fragrant plants.
Morcote has a population (as of December 2016) of 755. As of 2008, 33.4% of the population are resident foreign nationals. Over the last 10 years (1997–2007) the population has changed at a rate of 11.4%.
Most of the population (as of 2000) speaks Italian (70.2%), with German being second most common (18.8%) and Serbo-Croatian being third (3.8%). Of the Swiss national languages (as of 2000), 142 speak German, 14 people speak French, 529 people speak Italian, and 2 people speak Romansh. The remainder (67 people) speak another language.
As of 2008, the gender distribution of the population was 47.5% male and 52.5% female. The population was made up of 229 Swiss men (30.7% of the population), and 125 (16.8%) non-Swiss men. There were 270 Swiss women (36.2%), and 122 (16.4%) non-Swiss women.
In 2008 there were 6 live births to Swiss citizens and 1 birth to non-Swiss citizens, and in same time span there were 3 deaths of Swiss citizens and 1 non-Swiss citizen death. Ignoring immigration and emigration, the population of Swiss citizens increased by 3 while the foreign population remained the same. There was 1 Swiss man and 3 Swiss women who emigrated from Switzerland. At the same time, there were 5 non-Swiss men and 8 non-Swiss women who immigrated from another country to Switzerland. The total Swiss population change in 2008 (from all sources, including moves across municipal borders) was a decrease of 14 and the non-Swiss population change was an increase of 11 people. This represents a population growth rate of −0.4%.
The age distribution, as of 2009, in Morcote is; 33 children or 4.4% of the population are between 0 and 9 years old and 45 teenagers or 6.0% are between 10 and 19. Of the adult population, 65 people or 8.7% of the population are between 20 and 29 years old. 111 people or 14.9% are between 30 and 39, 121 people or 16.2% are between 40 and 49, and 106 people or 14.2% are between 50 and 59. The senior population distribution is 125 people or 16.8% of the population are between 60 and 69 years old, 73 people or 9.8% are between 70 and 79, there are 67 people or 9.0% who are over 80.
As of 2000, there were 344 private households in the municipality, and an average of 2. persons per household. In 2000 there were 282 single family homes (or 71.6% of the total) out of a total of 394 inhabited buildings. There were 41 two family buildings (10.4%) and 45 multi-family buildings (11.4%). There were also 26 buildings in the municipality that were multipurpose buildings (used for both housing and commercial or another purpose).
The vacancy rate for the municipality, in 2008, was 1.34%. In 2000 there were 643 apartments in the municipality. The most common apartment size was the 3 room apartment of which there were 174. There were 45 single room apartments and 169 apartments with five or more rooms. Of these apartments, a total of 339 apartments (52.7% of the total) were permanently occupied, while 272 apartments (42.3%) were seasonally occupied and 32 apartments (5.0%) were empty. As of 2007, the construction rate of new housing units was 1.3 new units per 1000 residents.
The historical population is given in the following chart:
In the 2007 federal election the most popular party was the FDP which received 49.18% of the vote. The next three most popular parties were the SP (18.65%), the SVP (12.94%) and the Ticino League (7.36%). In the federal election, a total of 205 votes were cast, and the voter turnout was 46.0%.
In the 2007 Gran Consiglio election, there were a total of 446 registered voters in Morcote, of which 297 or 66.6% voted. 5 blank ballots and 1 null ballot were cast, leaving 291 valid ballots in the election. The most popular party was the PLRT which received 148 or 50.9% of the vote. The next three most popular parties were; the SSI (with 45 or 15.5%), the PS (with 44 or 15.1%) and the PPD+GenGiova (with 14 or 4.8%).
In the 2007 Consiglio di Stato election, 5 blank ballots and 1 null ballot were cast, leaving 291 valid ballots in the election. The most popular party was the PLRT which received 139 or 47.8% of the vote. The next three most popular parties were; the PS (with 56 or 19.2%), the SSI (with 38 or 13.1%) and the LEGA (with 35 or 12.0%).
As of 2007, Morcote had an unemployment rate of 3.68%. As of 2005, there were people employed in the primary economic sector and about businesses involved in this sector. 33 people were employed in the secondary sector and there were 6 businesses in this sector. 228 people were employed in the tertiary sector, with 39 businesses in this sector. There were 341 residents of the municipality who were employed in some capacity, of which females made up 41.3% of the workforce. In 2000, there were 233 workers who commuted into the municipality and 211 workers who commuted away.
The municipality is a net importer of workers, with about 1.1 workers entering the municipality for every one leaving. About 24.5% of the workforce coming into Morcote are coming from outside Switzerland, while 0.9% of the locals commute out of Switzerland for work. Of the working population, 6.7% used public transportation to get to work, and 57.5% used a private car.
As of 2009, there were 3 hotels in Morcote with a total of 40 rooms and 79 beds.
From the 2000 census, 555 or 73.6% were Roman Catholic, while 87 or 11.5% belonged to the Swiss Reformed Church. There are 92 individuals (or about 12.20% of the population) who belong to another church (not listed on the census), and 20 individuals (or about 2.65% of the population) did not answer the question.
In Morcote about 74% of the population (between age 25–64) have completed either non-mandatory upper secondary education or additional higher education (either university or a Fachhochschule).
In Morcote there were a total of 69 students (as of 2009). The Ticino education system provides up to three years of non-mandatory kindergarten and in Morcote there were 6 children in kindergarten. The primary school program lasts for five years and includes both a standard school and a special school. In the municipality, 17 students attended the standard primary schools and 2 students attended the special school. In the lower secondary school system, students either attend a two-year middle school followed by a two-year pre-apprenticeship or they attend a four-year program to prepare for higher education. There were 16 students in the two-year middle school, while 9 students were in the four-year advanced program.
The upper secondary school includes several options, but at the end of the upper secondary program, a student will be prepared to enter a trade or to continue on to a university or college. In Ticino, vocational students may either attend school while working on their internship or apprenticeship (which takes three or four years) or may attend school followed by an internship or apprenticeship (which takes one year as a full-time student or one and a half to two years as a part-time student). There were 11 vocational students who were attending school full-time and 5 who attend part-time.
The professional program lasts three years and prepares a student for a job in engineering, nursing, computer science, business, tourism and similar fields. There were 3 students in the professional program.
As of 2000, there were 14 students in Morcote who came from another municipality, while 52 residents attended schools outside the municipality.