On the trail of ironworking and the making of world history
Palazzo Manzi (Manzi Palace)
Location: Palazzo Manzi overlooks Piazza Paracchini – the main square – and its entrance is at number 6.
Paving: Piazza Paracchini is paved with porphyry cubes; the pavement in front of the façade is made of porphyry cubes, too, while the palace hallway is paved with stone slabs.
Architectural barriers: to access Palazzo Manzi from the wide pavement which borders the north-eastern side of the square one must cross a low stone threshold leading to a hallway, approx. 4 metres long, separated from the interior by a second door. Beyond this door, after approx. 2 metres, you reach the inner courtyard by climbing 7 steps (a stairlift is available).
Access: access to Palazzo Manzi is by the large monumental portal in Piazza Paracchini.
Services: parking available in the square and in the immediate surroundings; automated teller machine and Chemist in Piazza Paracchini; Tourist Office and Public Library inside Palazzo Manzi.
Leisure and food: bars, cafes and restaurants in the area.
Palazzo Manzi is an austere four-storey building in neoclassic style overlooking Piazza Paracchini, the main square. The façade is marked by central pilaster strips; a large central balcony and two side balconies protrude from the first floor. The centre of the ground floor is opened by an imposing rounded arch stone portal, surmounted by the municipal coat of arms; the bronze doors of the original wooden portal carry the name of the Polti Petazzi family, which had it built in the early part of the 19th century, probably according to a plan drawn by Carlo Polti (who collaborated with Simone Cantoni), but traditionally attributed to architect Pietro Gilardoni. Beyond the portal, in the small hallway, one can find three memorial stones. The first, placed on the right wall in June 1985 «to serve as a warning to anyone still aspiring to enslave the Italian people», commemorates the capture and shooting of Fascist “hierarchs” in April 1945 as a tribute to the victims who fought with the antifascists and the Resistance. The second stone, placed on the left wall, is a memento of the donation of the Palace to the Municipality of Dongo in 1937 by Donna Giuseppina Manzi, the last descendant of the Polti Petazzi family. The third walled-in plaque stone, which, at the bottom, near the floor, shows the flood-level reached by the lake on 29th May 1810, is located on the left wall, too. From the hallway, by climbing seven steps, one reaches the elegant interior courtyard, introduced by four Tuscan-style stone columns.
On the ground floor, on the left, there are a number of offices of the Municipality of Dongo and the Tourist Office (the headquarters of the “Cooperativa Turistica Imago”) accessible from the courtyard, and, on the right, the Museo della Fine della Guerra (End of the War Museum), inaugurated in April 2014 after radical refurbishment, hosting photographic and documentary evidence on this “page” of Italian history which was written right here, on Lake Como.
The upper floor, which can be accessed by a large staircase made of two flights of stairs protected by a wooden handrail, is opened on the right by the magnificent Sala d’Oro (Golden Hall), which takes its name from the profuse gilding on the furniture and decorations. The room, once a hall of honour, overlooking the large central balcony, is a rare Upper Lake Como example of neoclassical style. The vault (with The Parnassus, attributed to Giuseppe Lavelli) and the walls bear frescoes of allegorical subjects, mainly inspired by the typically Enlightenment theme of the civilizing action of reason and the arts, particularly music. The shorter side of the hall, on the right-handside as you enter, is dominated by a large marble fireplace decorated with carved telamons and surmounted by an impressive mirror enclosed in a magnificent gilded wooden frame; the opposite wall is adorned by a sumptuous marble and gilded wood console, topped by a mirror very similar to the one on the right. The family library is kept in the adjacent room, and hosts about four thousand books on history, literature, and natural science, from the 16th and 19th centuries.
On the same floor, at the left of the staircase, one finds the magnificent family chapel, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception – a small jewel of sacred art. A niche, part of the altar embellished with marble and gilding made by sculptor Carlo Vitali of Varenna, hosts a beautiful wooden image of Our Lady. The frescoes which decorate the chapel are worthy of note: at the centre The apocalyptic vision of St. John with the triumph of Mary over the seven-headed dragon; in the corners, four round inlays depict important supporters of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary: from the right, Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus, Spanish Cardinal Francisco Ximenes de Cisneros, and Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV. The fourth round inlay bore the image, unfortunately vanished, of Spanish Jesuit Diego Lainez.
(Drawn from Cooperativa Turistica Imago, La chiesa di S. Maria in Martinico e Palazzo Manzi a Dongo, Associazione Iubilantes, Como 2009)
Municipality of Dongo Piazza Paracchini 6, Dongo; Tel. 0344.81150; firstname.lastname@example.org
Read here to learn more about Palazzo Manzi:
Museo della Fine della Guerra (End of the War Museum)
Location: The “Museo della Fine della Guerra – Dongo Aprile 1945” is located at the ground floor of Palazzo Manzi, Piazza Paracchini 6.
Paving: the Palace hallway is paved with stone slabs; the exhibition area is paved with wooden tiles.
Architectural Barriers: to access the rooms of the museum from the courtyard there is a chute, after which one has to cross a wrought-iron gate. The museum is fully accessible by disabled persons, too.
Access: access to the Museum is by the round floor of Palazzo Manzi.
Services: parking available in the square and in the immediate surroundings; automated teller machine and Chemist in Piazza Paracchini; Tourist Office and Public Library inside Palazzo Manzi.
Leisure and food: bars, cafes and restaurants in the area.
Other information: for opening times and ticket prices, visit the Museum’s website.
Museum videos are available in 4 languages (Italian, English, German and French).
(text by Alessandra Mutti on behalf of Cooperativa Turistica Imago)
Dongo is the place where Benito Mussolini and the “hierarchs” of the Italian Social Republic were captured and taken to the Town Hall, Palazzo Manzi, in order to formalize the arrest. Only a few days before, the Golden Hall, the palace’s hall of honour, had been arranged as mortuary for the Partisans slain by the fascist brigades. Thus, the Palace became the backdrop for memorable historical events and is now the ideal setting for their recollection in a museum. And thus the innovative “End of the War Museum” was born in Dongo in April 2014: a virtual and interactive journey into the depths of one of the most controversial pages in Italian history. Advanced multimedia technology thrusts visitors into the tragic contraposition which saw Italians fight against other Italians, which characterized the Resistance on Lake Como, as throughout the rest of Italy. Visitors will be able to experience the capture and execution of Mussolini and his “hierarchs”, the dramatic epilogue of the twenty-year long Fascist period. The exhibition takes place in the ground floor rooms of the historic Palazzo Manzi: an enthralling multimedia narration, where the visitor is caught in a web of memoirs and tales. Video projections and soundscapes bring the heroes of the Resistance and the defeated of the War back to life, in an immersive journey designed to interest and provide extensive information to people of all ages.
The seven rooms are organized as follows:
ROOM 1 – The days of Liberation
Room 1 is an introduction to the Museum: it presents the situation in Italy in April 1945 and a wall-sized print shows Palazzo Manzi in those days. The newspapers hanging from the ceiling are there for all to read: one could say it’s “raining news.” Audio tracks broadcast Radio London announcements (coded messages and news), during which the voices of Sandro Pertini and of colonel Stevens are clearly recognizable.
ROOM 2 – Events in Dongo
There is a rather original “video” in Room 2, which is totally dark for the occasion: objects on a mirror-wall are lit-up. They narrate the capture of the fascist “hierarchs” and of Benito Mussolini. Finally, archive footage shows the execution of Mussolini and the hierarchs, including original images not shown before.
ROOM 3 – The years of Resistance
Room 3 is dedicated to the memory of Partisans. The walls host photographs of Resistance combatants, while you can hear a voice quoting excerpts of Partisans’ texts and letters.
ROOM 4 – The Red and the Black
Divided in two by a curtain carrying the colours of the Italian flag, room 4 consists of images and words written on panels which offer an account on the two conflicting themes of the resistant factory (Falck) and the Black Brigades’ headquarters.
ROOM 5 – Memories of the Resistance: household stories
Possibly the most fascinating room of all: chairs are disposed around the fireplace as a recollection of when granddads, at night, told their grandchildren their stories. In this particular case they are the stories of Partisans, combatants, or whoever has memories of war or the Resistance.
ROOM 6 – The War beyond Dongo
Many are the themes touched on in this room, dealing with a territory which crosses the boundaries of Lake Como and covers other areas of Europe, too. In fact, one wall covered by panels narrates events relevant to the fight between Partisans and Fascists in the Como area and the phenomenon of contraband. On the opposite wall, the scenario extends to Europe, and the events of the war between ’43 and ’45. Particular emphasis is given to the Arromanches-les-Bains events, Dongo’s twin town: Arromanches is in fact one of the Normandy locations where D-Day took place on 6th June 1944. Special attention is paid, too, to the liberation of the city of Como by the Partisans and the subsequent arrival of the Allies on the shores of the lake.
ROOM 7 – Snapshots of the Liberation
The room is an immersive environment: the video is projected onto the white walls of the room by means of mirrors. Images are reflected following an erratic pattern, so as to convey emotional disorientation. The videos narrate the days immediately prior to Mussolini’s capture, when on the hills overlooking Dongo, Fascist soldiers killed many Partisans (including Giulio Paracchini, to whom the square where the Museum is located is now dedicated), creating a ill-feeling in town, just three days before the capture of Mussolini.
End of the War Museum – Dongo April 1945. The Resistance on Lake Como and the capture of Mussolini Piazza Paracchini 6, Dongo; Tel. 0344.81333; email@example.com; www.museofineguerradongo.it
Read here to learn more about the “End of the War Museum – Dongo April 1945”:
The Execution of the “hierarchs” of the Italian Social Republic
«Walter Audisio “Colonnello Valerio” and Aldo Lampredi “Guido”, a CVL (Corpo Volontari della Libertà – Volunteer Corp for Freedom) officer, arrive to Dongo from Milan in the early afternoon of 28th April 1945, coming from Milan. They are at the head of a group of Partisans from the “Oltrepò pavese” area. Their equipment and new uniforms generate suspicion among the Upper Lake Partisans, who fear a blitz by the Fascists, and it is only after a thorough check of their credentials that they transfer command and prisoners to them. “Valerio” communicates the order received from the CLNAI (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Alta Italia – Committee of National Liberation for Northern Italy) to execute the main figures of the Italian Social Republic, and draws up a list of those condemned to death. Mayor Rubini, who is not in favour of the execution of the arrested men, resigns in protest. The prisoners are assembled in the “Golden Hall” of Palazzo Manzi and then led through the square filled with people. Fifteen Fascist government ministers and hierarchs are shot shortly after 5 pm of April 28th by a firing squad led by Alfredo Mardini “Riccardo” in front of the railing on the lake, which still carries the marks of the shots fired on that occasion. At the time of the execution, Marcello Petacci, the brother of Claretta, tries to make a run through the streets of the town and dives into the lake, where he is mortally wounded. The bodies are immediately transferred to Milan on a truck, and, along the way, in Giulino di Mezzegra, the corpses of Benito Mussolini and Claretta Petacci are picked up. They will all be brought to Piazzale Loreto, a symbolic location where, on 10th August 1944, fifteen Partisans and Anti-Fascists taken from the S. Vittore prison in Milan, had been shot by the soldiers of the “Muti” Legion and abandoned in the square as a warning to the people of Milan».
(Drawn from the descriptive panel on site)
The executed in Dongo were:
Alessandro Pavolini, General Secretary of the Republican Fascist Party
Francesco Maria Barracu, colonel, Under-Secretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers
Ferdinando Mezzasoma, Minister of Popular Culture
Augusto Liverani, Minister of Communications
Ruggero Romano, Minister of Public Works
Paolo Zerbino, Minister of Interiors
Luigi Gatti, former Prefect of Milan, Mussolini’s Secretary
Paolo Porta, Party Secretary of Como
Idreno Utimpergher, commander of the Black Brigade of Empoli
Nicola Bombacci, one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party (1921), who later adhered to Fascism
Pietro Calistri, captain and pilot of the National Republican Air Force
Goffredo Coppola, rector of the University of Bologna
Ernesto Daquanno, journalist, director of the “Agenzia Stefani” press agency
Mario Nudi, employee at the Fascist Copnfederation of Agriculture
Vito Casalinuovo, colonel of the Republican National Guard, Mussolini’s adjutant.
Read here to learn more about the “End of the War” project:
Church of S. Maria in Martìnico (St. Mary in Martìnico)
Location: the church of S. Maria stands, in a slightly elevated position, alongside the old road that runs through the hamlet of Martìnico.
Paving: via Lamberzoni is asphalted; the churchyard is cobbled; the interior of the church is paved with stone slabs. Architectural Barriers: the churchyard is in a raised position with respect to via Lamberzoni; our itinerary suggests to access the churchyard by climbing 7 + 3 stone steps, separated by a small landing. At the end of the visit, and having admired the façade, when leaving the churchyard area please be careful, as there are three concrete flower holders placed transversally.
To enter the church by the side entrance, one has to cross a small but wide threshold which leads into a small vestibule. From here, through a second wooden door, you can access the interior of the church.
Access: access is by the side entrance nearest to the façade, which is usually open.
Leisure and food: -
Other information: the church is generally open for visits. Per Click here for Mass times
«The oldest document that mentions the church of S. Maria in Martinico (St. Mary in Martinico), housed in the State Archives of Milan, dates back to 1299, but the simple façade and the presence of some architectural elements similar to the ones which characterize the church of San Nicolò (St. Nicholas) in Piona suggest the church is of the same period, thus built not after the start of the 12th century. Over time the building endured different changes, the most obvious of which took place in the 17th century, when new Baroque forms altered drastically the original Romanesque lines. Between 1903 and 1912 restoration work, supervised by arch. Federico Frigerio of Como, reintroduced the old Romanesque shapes by the rebuilding of the apse and belfry and the elimination of Baroque additions. The superintendent was surveyor Aldo Rumi, who designed, among other things, Dongo’s schools». Several other interventions followed in the Fifties and Seventies of the past century.
«The left side of the church, made of beautiful local stone masonry, is the most visible and immediately strikes the visitor. Its main features are an oculus, three beautiful single-lancet windows and two portals, of which the monumental one, towards the apse, is characterized by a rounded arch, with a cylindrical strong course supported by columns with carved bases and capitals, and enriched by interesting anthropomorphic masks on the shelves of the architrave. A lion-like figure, leaning out from where the angle closes the left side towards the apse, seems to be guarding this ancient portal. The arches of the single-lancet windows and portal display the classical alternation of black and white stones; the wall culminates in a frieze of rounded hanging arches – these, too, dichromatic -, many corbels of which are carved to resemble anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. Some sculptural decorations can also be found in the intrados of the hanging arches. Above the frieze there is a fluted decoration, surmounted by a moulded cornice. The façade of the church is very simple, gabled, interrupted only by two slits, and, at the top, by a cross window; below is the simple portal, the architrave being decorated by a sculpted cross».
The single nave interior preserves but a few traces of «the fine old fresco decoration, visible in particular on the right wall. Only a few fragments remain of the oldest decoration, dating back to the second decade of the 14th century, among which a fragmentary Our Lady of Mercy, possibly one of the first to be painted in Lombardy, where some fine vestiges of angels who are apparently supporting the Virgin’s mantle can still be identified. Some scholars found similarities between this fresco and the work of the anonymous “Master of St. Abundius”, the undisputed protagonist of the painting scene in Como in the early 14th century. On the other hand, the fragments of larger frescoes – which are still visible in the highest section of the right wall and the counter-façade, greatly damaged by the vaults, later removed during the 20th century restoration work, can be dated back to the end of the 14th century. With regard to this cycle, we are left with a number of Saints, including a Saint Peter enthroned, and, albeit visible only in small fragments, a Saint Anthony Abbot. Their quality and Late Gothic taste would suggest that they were commissioned by refined local people and made by a painter close to the Visconti Court, if not for taste alone. The few surviving frescoes (Saints? Prophets?) still identifiable on the presbytery arch, particularly on the right, appear to have be of 15th century workmanship. The cycle of paintings by the Fiamminghino, probably completed in 1623, has been partly lost. There remain, on the right wall, three of the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary (the Nativity, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the Dispute with the Doctors), and two large figures, possibly Prophets, characterized by the fluent line of their clothes and pleasant chromatic effects. On the left, once again part of the Fiamminghino cycle, there are figures of little angels, possibly fragments of an altar frieze». The central single-lancet window of the apse preserves a delicate small 16th century stained-glass window depicting the Virgin Mary. From the right side of the church it is possible to access the Baroque Oratory of the Brotherhood. A monumental marble cornice above the altar hosts a statue of the Virgin Mary. The altar, enclosed by a beautiful balustrade with marble inlays from 1687, is embellished by a frontal made in scagliola stone with Our Lady of the Rosary at its centre.
(Drawn from Cooperativa Turistica Imago, La chiesa di S. Maria in Martinico e Palazzo Manzi a Dongo, Associazione Iubilantes, Como 2009)
Read here to learn more about the Church of S. Maria in Martìnico:
Stage 2 – From the church of S. Maria in Martìnico (St. Mary in Martìnico) to the church of S. Stefano (St. Stephen)
Valle Albano (Albano Valley)
The Albano Valley borders northwards with the Liro and San Jorio Valleys, and southwards with Valleys Sanagra and Cavargna. It runs on a longitudinal axis on an East-West direction and is furrowed at its centre by the Albano river, from which it takes its name; it is also known as Dongana Valley, due to the connection with the village of Dongo, which acts as a geographical “anteroom” of sorts. In the course of centuries the San Jorio Pass (approx. 2015 m) has been an important bridge between Italy and the Swiss Federation thanks to cultural and trade exchanges between the two territories. The Albano river springs from the hollow of Sommafiume at 1750 metres, and, as all other waterways in the area, is characterized by sudden and impressive changes in the flow, the average values of which are extremely variable.
The peculiarities of the valley are linked in particular to naturalistic, historical and ethnographic aspects. For instance, if we consider the valley from a naturalistic point of view, an important feature of the river Albano is the presence of the brown trout – a fish otherwise rarely to be found nowadays, due to genetic and environmental pollution; moreover, the river hosts many species of amphibians and aquatic invertebrates such as mayflies and caddis-flies, which act as ecological indicators of the good health of waters. The lower portion of the sides of the valley is occupied by beeches, mountain maples, aspens and sycamores, while coniferous forests, mainly characterized by spruce-trees, can be found higher up. However, the most widespread vegetation formations are grasslands, which are the home to deer, chamois and wild boars, while shrubs are colonized by white hares, dormice, black grouse and many warblers. As far as ethnography is concerned, the typical buildings used for farming and agricultural activities, called masoni, are worthy of mention. In order to preserve this territory, the “Parco Locale di Interesse Sovracomunale” (Inter-Municipal Park) of the Albano Valley was created in 2005, further to Provincial Government Decision no. 365/53042 of 17th November 2005. The protected area – located at the head of the valley and covering approx. 650 hectares, now entirely under the Municipality of Gravedona ed Uniti -, is the home to many species which are typical of the Alps and is of utmost importance for the safeguard of biodiversity and mountain environment.
Read here to learn more about the Inter-Municipal Park of the Albano Valley:
Download number 4-2006 of the “Natura e Civiltà” magazine, published by the “Gruppo Naturalistico della Brianza” (Naturalistic Association of the Brianza area), which includes a comprehensive summary of the thesis by Silvia Confalonieri, who graduated in Environmental Sciences at the Insubria University of Como (supervisor prof. Ezio Vaccari, co-supervisors dr. Adriano Martinoli and dr. Silvia Metzelin):
Via del Ferro (The Iron Trail)
(Comunità Montana Valli del Lario e del Ceresio)
The Via del ferro is a thematic itinerary that traces the ancient tracks that linked the valleys Cavargna and Albano (Lombardy) and Morobbia (Ticino), through the Motto della Tappa or Cima Verta (2078 m asl.) and their mining and steelworks sites. These places preserve important vestiges of the activities of the past: settlements, charcoal, post stations and routes between mining areas (quarries, mines);artifacts related to the processing (blast furnaces, forges, hammers of water hammers) and the disposal of the products. The iron industry in these valleys is attested starting from 8th century but begins to have a signifiant impact in the second half of XVth century, thanks to Muggiasca, wealthy merchant family of Como that settled in Bellinzona. In the last two decades of the XVIIIth century the steel industry purchases a more industrial character: the fist blast furnace of Bergamasco and Norwegian type was built in Forni Vecchi in San Nazzaro,while in Val Morobbia the doctor Giovanni Bruni from Bellinzona rebuilt the steel complex of Carena. The Longest activity is placed in Valle Albano: the fist company was founded in 1801 and, between 1842 and 1845, when it became Rubini Falck, Scalini & C., in this factory was built the fist Italian rolling-mill for iron. The new Lombard Anonymous Company of Steelworks and Foundry dates back at 1906 and it was owned by the Falck group until the 80s of the last century.
Sistema museale territoriale alpi lepontine: (+39) 0344/85218 (int. 2);
Gruppo per la Valle Morobbia: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.gpvm.ch; fondazione valle morobbia, cP 13 – 6582 Pianezzo;
Ufficio Turistico Bellinzona: (+41) 091 8252131; email@example.com; www.bellinzonese-altoticino.ch
Ferriere di Dongo (Dongo Ironworks)
The first document to mention the presence of iron ore mines in the area dates back to 1412. In 1792 Pietro Rubini, former estates manager of Count Cesare Giulini, purchased the mines, the furnace and the forges which the nobleman had in Dongo and employed almost 90 people.
In 1833, Georges Henri Falck, an engineer and ironworks expert from Alsace, was called by the Rubini family to work as a consultant; in 1839 the new company “Rubini, Falck, Scalini e Comp.” was established. It was thanks to Falck’s competence that important technical innovations in ironworking methods were introduced to Dongo, such as the use of rolling mills in lieu of power hammers, piston blowers, and, above all, the English version of the blast furnace, which until then had never been used in Lombardy. Among the many public recognitions, in 1841 the company was awarded the Gold Medal. The political events of 1848-1849 led to changes in company policies, and decisions which might lead to immediate remuneration replaced the search for technological innovations. The contribution of Giorgio Enrico Falck was no longer necessary and in 1850 the new “Rubini e Scalini” company was established, with a business based mainly on iron smelting, and the processing and trade of iron. In 1863 the technical management of the Ferriere di Dongo was entrusted to Enrico Falck, the son of Giorgio Enrico, who had married Irene, daughter of Giuseppe Rubini, in the same year. In 1880, at the death of Giuseppe Rubini, the management of the Company was taken over by his son Giulio, who definitively abandoned the extraction of iron from local mines and shut down the blast furnace, inaugurating a new industrial phase mainly focussed on manufacture and trade. He thus dissolved the existing company and founded the new “Ditta Rubini e C.”.
Rita Pellegrini in her book “Dongo. Oltre il conosciuto. Mille anni di storia” writes: «The Ferriere di Dongo, however, thanks to the insight and initiative of Giorgio Enrico Falck [jr., the son of Enrico Falck and Irene Rubini], would later become part of a far more ambitious project, which materialized on 26th January 1906 with the foundation in Milan of the “Società Anonima Acciaierie e Ferriere Lombarde”», which included the plants in Vobarno and the area of land in Sesto San Giovanni, later to become the site of an imposing complex of factories, which, among other things, was to result in the intensification of production in Dongo, bringing the number of workers from 400 to 1800.
In his book “Dongo 1892-2003” Giancarlo Della Fonte writes: «It was here in the Ironworks that most of the Dongo working people were to sweat out their weary existence, and where an entire community were to deliberately link their destiny to the work of those people».
The Dongo factory was transferred on 26th February 1990 from “Acciaierie e Ferriere Lombarde Falck” to the Cagiva Group. There have been various failed attempts at reviving the activity, but the present situation (2014) would seem to indicate that this industry, which had such an influence on the area, is destined to cease forever.
Read here to learn more about the “Acciaierie e Ferriere Lombarde Falck” and the Falck family:
G. Della Fonte, Dongo 1892-2003, Libreria “L’Agorà”, Dongo 2004.
R. Pellegrini, Dongo. Oltre il conosciuto. Mille anni di storia, Edizioni Nuovaera, 2012.
Santuario e Convento della Madonna delle Lacrime (Shrine and Friary of Our Lady of Tears)
Location: the Shrine stands alongside Viale della Rimembranza; the friary is adjacent to the church, to the right of the portico.
Paving: the portico is paved with stone slabs; the interior of the church is floored with tiles.
Architectural barriers: our itinerary suggests to access the 18th century portico located in front of the Shrine by the arch on the right; it is advisable to keep to the centre of this opening, where the base of the columns which support the arch has an opening. The portico floor is at a slightly lower level, therefore one has to overcome this difference in height by descending one step. On the front of the portico, i.e. the side overlooking Viale della Rimembranza, the base hosting the columns presents three gaps, corresponding to the three arches; here, too, you need to descend one step in order to reach the portico floor. To enter the church one has to cross a threshold made of stone.
Access: entrance is through the central bronze portal with bas-reliefs by Fra’ Guglielmo Schiavina, made on the occasion of the Jubilee of the year 2000. The portal, usually open, does not give immediate access to the interior of the church but is separated from it by a rather long enclosed area (the so-called bussola) with two entrance doors, one on the right and one on the left.
Services: parking available in the area; automated teller machine in Piazza Virgilio Matteri.
Leisure and Food: bars and a restaurant (trattoria) in the area.
Other information: the church is generally open for visits.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Tears (or church of S. Maria del Fiume, as indicated in historical documents) contains a picture of the Virgin Mary known in the past as Madonna del Fiume (Our Lady of the River), painted in a small country chapel, which is believed to have shed some tears on 6th September 1553. The first people to witness this event were a woman, Maria de’ Matti, and a priest, don Bernardo Bonizio. After the miracle the people of Dongo started to erect a sacred building around the chapel, which over the years became progressively larger thanks to the many donations by the faithful. In the second decade of the 17th century, the Reformed Friars Minor settled here, building a friary and gradually widening and embellishing the church.
Following the Napoleonic suppression in 1810, the friars were forced to abandon the friary; the Polti Petazzi family purchased it from the State on the same year and in 1838 granted the friars the right to use it. They were again sent away from the convent further to the provisions of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy in 1868, but once more the intervention of the Manzi family, the heirs of the Polti Petazzis, enabled the Franciscan community to return.
In 1936 the last heiress of the family, Giuseppina Manzi, donated the property to the Lombardy Province of the Friars Minor by a notarial deed. Mons. Teresio Ferraroni, Bishop of Como, included this Shrine among those to visit during the Jubilee years 1975 and 1983; his successor, Alessandro Maggiolini, renewed the same privilege for the Jubilee of the year 2000. Moreover, on 1st November 2004 a decree by the same Bishop declared Our Lady of Tears “Patrona delle Tre Pievi” (Patron of the Three Parishes).
The church has a single nave and four side chapels. The first chapel on the right, dedicated to Saint Francis, was opened in 1619 and funded by Tommaso Scanagatta, and is decorated by paintings which tradition attributes to Fra’ Emanuele from Como (1625-1701) and by an altar-piece with The Impression of the Stigmata, deemed to be the work of Fra’ Gerolamo Cotica from Premana. Opposite is the chapel of Saint Anthony, quite probably built with funds from the Schola Panormi (i.e. with remittances from people who emigrated to Palermo), with a statue of the Saint to whom the chapel is dedicated flanked by statues of the protectors of the Franciscan Third Order, Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Louis IX. The chapel of Saint Francis is followed, again on the right hand-side of the church, by the chapel of the Crucifixion, which, together with the chapel facing it, dedicated to the Last Supper, were probably opened in 1602. Both are dominated by groups of wooden statues which represent the relevant scenes from the Gospels, made by Fra’ Diego from Careri between 1648 and 1653 on a mandate by the Minister General, Father Daniele Cossoni, who was born in Dongo. The presbytery is frescoed with Old Testament Biblical figures with prophecies related to Our Lady (in the intrados of the entrance), Episodes from the life of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne (in the ovals of the vault), Stories from the life of the Virgin Mary (on the side walls), the work of Gian Domenico Caresana from Cureglia (Ticino). The marble altar is dominated by a fresco of the miracle, in a gilded cornice above which the dove representing the Holy Spirit stands out among the rays of the sun.
The friary adjacent to the Shrine hosts a library with approximately 18,000 volumes, among which about thirty incunabula and over 600 16th century editions.
As a witness to the growing and marked importance of this library there is a papal bull, dated 13th February 1682, bearing the signature of Benedetto Odescalchi, Pope Innocent XI, who was born in Como. This decreed excommunication for anyone who stole as much as one volume from the library. Indeed, by means of the Quaderni della biblioteca del Convento francescano di Dongo/ (Notes from the Franciscan Friary of Dongo library) – a publication which is highly appraised and respected in scientific circles -, all sorts of information about the art, culture, tradition and history of the area is published and discussed.
Franciscan Fraternity and Shrine Viale della Rimembranza 8, Dongo; Tel. 0344.81338; firstname.lastname@example.org
Read here to learn more about the Shrine and Friary of Our Lady of Tears:
Giancarlo Petrella, “L’oro di Dongo” ovvero per una storia del patrimonio librario del convento dei frati minori di Santa Maria del Fiume (con il catalogo degli incunaboli), Leo S. Olschki, Firenze 2012
Sasso di Musso (The Musso Rock)
The territory of Dongo and Musso is dominated by an imposing rocky limestone spur, called Sasso di Musso (Musso Rock), which seems to be diving straight into the lake. The well known hard and compact white-greyish local marble, which has been extracted since the time of the Romans, was widely used in the construction of monuments and churches, including the Cathedral of Como. Due to the close proximity of the quarries to the waters of the lake, the marble blocks were lowered with ropes and then with metal cables along a paved lane which ended in the port. Waste blocks, on the other hand, were carried by mule or by cable cars up to the mill by the lake, where they were crushed.
At the very top of the first buttress of the Sasso di Musso stands the small church of S. Eufemia (St. Euphemia), which was part of a fortified system, probably in existence since the Early Middle Ages, but documented only in 1335 as fortress of the Malacrida family, and, from 1522, of Gian Giacomo de’ Medici, also known as the Medeghino. Defined by Cesare Cantù as a «pirate, king, rogue, traitor, rebel, murderer, hero», he had his strategic headquarters here, from which he directed the raids on the lake and the surrounding territory. In 1532 he was defeated by the allied armies of the Three Leagues and Francesco II Sforza, who destroyed much of the impressive system of defence, of which only a few remains are still visible.
In the lower part of the Sasso, between 1858 and 1883, the nobleman Giovanni Manzi created the “Giardino del Merlo” (Blackbird’s Garden), where, in addition to autochthonous species, he introduced plants from all over the world, which grew luxuriantly thanks to the mild climate of the lake. The result was a garden where ingenious architectural flights of fancy (stairways, galleries, grottos, arcades, bridges, balustrades, and an entire apartment built into the rock and hidden from visitors) blended harmoniously with the natural environment, creating a most fascinating composition, to the point of being mentioned in European tourist guides of the time as a destination of high artistic-monumental and landscape value.
Saint Luigi Guanella, who was parish administrator in Pianello del Lario from 1881 to 1890, and a friend of Giovanni Manzi, visited the garden and wrote a short essay entitled “Memorie passate e presenti intorno alla Rocca di Musso (Past and recent memories on the Musso Rock)”, published in segments on the Como newspaper L’Ordine in 1884, pointing out the importance of paying a visit to this location «in the guise of wayfarers […] in order to deepen one’s knowledge of the best examples of Christian art and of nature created by God». «From this perspective the eye spontaneously turns to those prospects of green knolls and groves, paths, bridges, and fountains… Houses, caves, and galleries form such a rare complex of beauty of work, nature, and art that the visitor is left in astonishment. And when the eye needs a rest, one finds here a horizon made of the clearest sky covering hills and valleys, plains and plentiful waters» (L. Guanella, Memorie passate e presenti intorno alla Rocca di Musso. Impressioni del visitatore, 1884, 1913).
While showing a very thorough knowledge of botany, Father Guanella describes the different parts of the Garden with the various plants present, drawing from each one, and from the surrounding landscape, a symbolic meaning and moral teaching. Poetic wonder seeps from these pages: Father Guanella was able to see the greatness and goodness of God in the beauty of nature.
At Giovanni Manzi’s death, in 1883, his granddaughter Giuseppina continued to care for and embellish the Garden until she died, in 1945. The heirs of the noblewoman transferred the area to the “Società Scalini”, a company which opened three marble quarries, and built a furnace for the production of lime, too. After the company went bankrupt, in 1967 the Colturri family purchased the defaced and damaged Garden at the bankruptcy auction, in order to try and save it and bring it back to life.
At present the Garden is owned by the “Giardino del Merlo” non-profit organization of social utility, founded by the Colturri family, the Lake Como and Lake Lugano Mountain Community, and the Municipalities of Musso and Dongo.
Associazione “Il Giardino del Merlo” Onlus Tel. 0344.81158
Read here to learn more about Gian Giacomo de’ Medici aka the Medeghino:
Read here to learn more about the Giardino del Merlo:
Read here to learn more about the Giardino del Merlo and Father Luigi Guanella:
Area Memoriale dei Caduti (Area dedicated to the memory of the Fallen)
Location: the three Monuments to the Fallen (Alpini, Carabinieri and Finance Guards) are located on the area which borders the right hand-side (when looking at the façade) of the archpriestal church of S. Stefano. The area is limited by a row of cypress trees lined along via Cimitero, at the feet of which small plaques in memory of the fallen and missing in action of World War II have been placed.
Paving: the walkway leading to the area, which has three terminations – one for each of the three monuments – is made of porphyry cubes.
Architectural Barriers: to access the green area one must climb a small step.
Access: it is possible to access the area dedicated to the memory of the Fallen from a porphyry walkway to the right of the archpriestal church of S. Stefano’s churchyard.
Leisure and Food: beach and camping area in the surroundings.
The green area to the right of the archpriestal church of S. Stefano is almost like a precious casket enfolding the memory of the Fallen.
At the centre stands the Memorial of the Fallen “Alpini”, designed by architect Vittorio Mapelli, and commissioned by the Governing Board of the Dongo Alpini Corps Association in 1970. It was inaugurated on 28th May 1972 on the occasion of the centennial of the foundation of the Mountain Troops of the Italian Army (Alpini). On a low basement – of approx. 7 metres x 7 – paved with stone slabs and surrounded by a chain held by grenades, stands a tall, slender, pen-shaped, concrete tower, approximately 22 metres high. The lower part of the tower carries a grey stone bas-relief representing Alpini going to war; while a cross surmounting a large crown of metal-thread thorns dominates at the top. Adjacent to the tower is a 20 centimetre high stone step, which supports a boulder with the coat of arms and the motto of the Fifth Alpini Regiment «Nec videar dum sim (Not wishing to appear, but wanting to be)». A simple stone altar has been placet on the large base; each side of the war memorial is “guarded” by a howitzer.
The left section of the area is occupied by the Memorial of the Fallen “Carabinieri”, commissioned by the Dongo Section of the National Carabinieri Association. It is a concrete memorial stone, placed on a low step; the stone, surmounted by a metal Flame – the symbol of the Carabinieri, carries a metal bas-relief with the Corps’ coat of arms and relevant motto «Nei secoli fedele (Faithful throughout the centuries». Two flower holders – one on each side of the memorial – carry the Flame of Arm and the inscription «ANC», Arma Nazionale Carabinieri (National Corps of Carabinieri).
On the right of the area stands the Memorial of the Fallen “Guardia di Finanza” of the Company of Menaggio, who died on duty along the impervious Swiss-Italian border in the fight against smuggling, commissioned by the Sections of the Italian Finance Guards National Association of Dongo, Gravedona, Porlezza, and San Fedele Intelvi.
The monument, which consists of a stone stele placed on two stone steps and incorporated into a pyramid-shaped metallic structure, carries the coat of arms of the 6th Legion of the Finance Guard, which, having replaced the Royal Finance Guard in 1945, was assigned to check the entire border area between Varese and Como, up to Sondrio and Lecco. Three metal sheets carry the names of the Fallen «for the Nation of Italy»; in 1994 the name of the Servant of God, don Quintino Sicuro was added: «Don Quintino Sicuro, deputy sergeant of the Finance Guard, soon to be raised to the glory of the altars. Melissano (Lecce) 29th May 1920 – Balze di Verghereto (Forlì) 26th December 1968».
«Prior to becoming a priest and later a hermit in a deserted place of the Romagna Pennines Don Quintino Sicuro was a sergeant of the Finance Guard and took service in Val Chiavenna and the Finance Guard barracks scattered along Upper Lake Como when smuggling was a day-to-day business, a source of survival for those who lived in those almost forgotten areas» (from the www.donquintinosicuro.com website).
Elisa Denti in an article published on 8th November 2012 on the online newspaper vaol.it for the twentieth anniversary of the inauguration of the Monument: «For the most part Finance Guards came from Central and Southern Italy and were often not prepared to tackle the mountain environment and the winter cold. Many died in mountain accidents, under avalanches, or due to the cold temperatures, and were forced to operate amidst the hostility of the people, which derived from the latter’s instinctive solidarity towards local smugglers».
To learn more about don Quintino Sicuro:
Church of S. Stefano (St. Stephen)
Location: the façade of the archpriestal church of S. Stefano overlooks a large square at the junction between via Cimitero, Mons. Via Bellesini and via dei Cossoni, not far from the lakeshore.
Paving: the portion of the square farthest from the sacred building is asphalted; the part surrounding the church is paved with porphyry cubes, with a cobbled central strip which continues on the façade, describing a Tau of sorts. Right in front of the main entrance the cobbled strip presents a square insert of 3.5 m x 3.5 m, paved in stone, with a flower decoration at its centre. Two large green areas with lawns and trees, one at each side, are located near the porphyry strip.
Architectural Barriers: in order to access the sacred building from the central portal one has to climb a low step and cross a threshold; two steps precede each of the two side doors.
Access: entrance to the church is through the central portal; however, actual access to the interior is by a late 18th century enclosed area (the so-called bussola).
Leisure and Food: beach and camping in the surroundings.
Other information: the church is usually closed to the public.Click here for Mass times:
The archpriestal church of S. Stefano (St. Stephen), which dominates the lakeshore landscape, is one of the largest churches of the Diocese of Como, to the point that Alessandro Macchi, bishop of Como between1930 and 1947, liked to refer to it as “his cathedral”. The oldest documents kept in the parish archive date back to the 12th century, but the oldest remains that have so far been found belong to not earlier than the 14th century, the Gothic period.
The church was rebuilt on the foundations of the previous building, which by then had become seriously damaged by repeated flooding from the lake. Construction began in 1716 and was completed in 1735, but during the entire 18th century and beyond the church continued to be endowed with fine works of art and decorations. The new church was consecrated by Bishop Carlo Rovelli on 14th June 1804 and in the course of the twentieth century many refurbishment and restoration works were carried out.
The austere rectangular façade, divided into five parts by pilaster strips ending in simple molded capitals, connected by an equally plain stone cornice, is split into two storeys by a large overhanging cornice and culminates in a tympanum. The lower part has a main door opening at the centre and two smaller side doors. An 18th century belfry stands on the south-side of the church.
The interior is made of a single nave, with four side chapels. Along the nave, about halfway up along the wall, there are ten niches, each hosting a large stucco statue, the 18th century work of Stefano Salterio, the important sculptor from Laglio who tied his fame to the decoration of the Shrine of the Crucifix in Como. The statues represent St. Stephen, to whom the church is dedicated, and the patron Saints of nearby parishes which in the past were served from the parish of Dongo.
Proceeding down the nave, the first chapel on the right is dedicated to Saint Peter, and is decorated by refined frescoes depicting Episodes from the life of the apostle, made by Carlo Scotti of Laino in 1782. On the altar there is a 17th century oil canvas with Christ giving Peter the keys of his Church by Fra’ Gerolamo Cotica from Premana, who worked, too, for the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Tears and the adjacent Franciscan convent. Further down there is the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows, with a rich fresco decoration, of Baroque taste, carried out in 1743 by Giulio Quaglio on the subject of the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary.
The area of the presbytery, decorated by Carlo Scotti from Laino according to a rich iconographic programme centred on the Life of Saint Stephen, is dominated by the polychrome marble main altar. The right of the presbytery leads to the sacristy, obtained from the 14th century apse and a later extension; the left gives access to the Oratory of the Brotherhood, obtained from the other lateral apse of the old church. These two areas preserve the remains of the 17th century frescoes which decorated the previous church. Paintings on eucharistic themes decorate the walls of the apse. They, too, are from Carlo Scotti.
Having returned to the nave, on the left one finds the Neoclassical chapel dedicated to the Crucifix painted by Filippo Bellati in 1807 on the subjects of the Passion and Resurrection of Christ; this chapel is followed by the one dedicated to Saint Martha, the fresco decoration of which is attributed to the Torricelli brothers of Lugano, who are believed to have painted it in1780.
(Loosely based on Cooperativa Turistica Imago, La chiesa di S. Stefano a Dongo, Associazione Iubilantes, Como 2007)
Read here to learn more about the Church of S. Stefano: