camminacitta

 

Ossuccio Path 1. A small island amidst great history and old walkways. Points of interest

Stage 1 – From the parking of the Antiquarium to the jetty for the Comacina Island

Hospitale (Hospice) and church of S. Maria Maddalena (St. Mary Magdalene)AntiquariumOlive growing on Lake Como

chiesa e hospitale di S.Maria Maddalena

Hospitale (Hospice) and church of S. Maria Maddalena (St. Mary Magdalene)

 

Information

Location: The Hospitale and church of S. Maria Maddalena form a complex located between the present Strada Statale Regina and the Old Via Regina in Ospitaletto di Ossuccio, on the banks of Lake Como, facing the Comacina island.

Paving: the internal courtyard of the Hospitale complex is paved with flagstones, with two cobbled lateral strips, approx. 1.5 metres wide in the part flanking the right handside of the church. The portico in front of the church of S. Maria Maddalena is paved with flagstones. The inside of the church is paved with stone slabs.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 1.

Access: the path suggests to access the Hospitale of Ossuccio complex by the entrance alongside the old Via Regina, near the lake; alternatively one can enter from the far western end of the car park alongside the Strada Statale Regina, by walking the stairs leading downwards (5 paved steps, followed by a paved landing, then 13 steps – with a handrail on the right -, another landing and 5 more steps), which opens onto the inner courtyard. Access to the church is from the main portal by crossing a low threshold, or by the side entrance on the right, preceded by two steps. To arrange the visit please ask the Antiquarium.

Services: paid parking available in the area, automated teller machine, Municipal Police station.

Leisure and food: one bar-restaurant in the area, “Opera Pia Giovio” public park, which is used as a lido during the summer season.

 

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

The first information on the Hospitale of S. Maria Maddalena is found in a will dated 1169, the year the Comacina Island was destroyed. The complex was built alongside the old Via Regina, very near the lake; it was therefore perfect as a post-house, where one could change or feed horses, i.e. a stabulum in Latin. The old road ran alongside the lake; the Hospitale opened onto the road, welcoming travellers through an imposing  “ghiandone” granite portal, which has now lost its original purpose, while the belfry of the adjacent church signalled its presence. Management was initially shared by laymen and lay brothers, the latter probably Benedictines, linked to the nearby monastery in the Perlana Valley; later on it passed under the “jus patronatus” of the Giovio family, whose role was officially acknowledged by Pope Alexander VI with a papal bull in 1496. At the death of the last descendant of the Giovio family, in 1907, the Hospitale became the “Opera Pia Giovio” Institution and remained active until it was suppressed in 1999 further to a decision by Lombardy’s regional council. The complex now hosts Ossuccio’s Town Hall and the Antiquarium.

The dedication of Hospitalia (Hospices) to Saint Mary Magdalene is quite common, as according to tradition this Saint is the sinner who in the Gospel anointed Jesus’ feet in oil and dried them with her hair, as a sign of welcome and service.

The Romanesque church sharing the Hospitale’s title was an appurtenance of the Hospice itself. Its single nave, with a semicircular apse facing westward, was decorated on the outside by a cornice of blind arches; in the course of time it was often refurbished to meet the varying needs of the Hospice. The church is famous for its beautiful belfry – shaped, too, in Romanesque style – which was heightened between the 14th and 15th century by adding a very peculiar Gothic bell-gable, which, due to the wear caused by the passing of time, was repaired at the beginning of the 20th century. This unusual gable made Lake Como renowned worldwide, almost becoming its symbol. In the 20th century the church, too, underwent rather drastic restoration work: amongst other interventions, in 1932 the ceiling vaults were demolished and replaced with a trussed covering, and the buildings leaning on the apse were knocked down; in 1937-39 the façade was “invented”, and the last nave was opened to become a portico. The church thus reached its present appearance, quite different from when it was originally built. What is left of its inner pictorial decoration is, in the apse half-dome, the unusual representation of the Zodiac signs, and, on the side walls, fragments which may be interpreted as scenes from the Life of Saint Mary Magdalene. Only figures representing the Giovio family and a number of Saints, who probably surrounded an enthroned Virgin, remain of the painting on the counterfaçade, thought to have been made by 16th century Lombard school. The altar frontal is a scagliola stone work dated 1722, made by Pietro Solari, representing at the centre a Repentant Saint Mary Magdalene and the Giovio family crest. Again on the counterfaçade, a marble memorial stone acts as memento for the restoration of the church paid for by the Luzzani family and its consecration by bishop Alessandro Macchi in July 1939.

The side walls carry thirty-three oil paintings by Greek contemporary artist Petros Papavassiliou dedicated to the works hosted by the Sacred Mount of Ossuccio.

On the north wall of the first bay of the portico in front of the church, above a niche, one can see a stone frieze with Monstrous beasts, which art historians date back to the first half of the 11th century, the author of which remains unknown; under it, a 16th century memorial stone remembers the connection between the Hospitale and the Giovio family. A fragment of a late-Roman funerary stele was walled into the wall of the arch on the first bay, carrying a funerary inscription and a torch-bearing winged genius, framed by an arched architecture supported by spiral columns.

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Hospitale and the Church of S. Maria Maddalena:

Comacina Island website – Hospitale

Como Romanesque art website – Church of S. Maria Maddalena

“Associazione culturale Isola Comacina” website – Church of S. Maria Maddalena

Carlo Leone et Mariena Montandon Foundation website

Google books M. Belloni Zecchinelli, L. M. Belloni Hospitales e Xenodochi. Mercanti e pellegrini dal Lario al Ceresio, Attilio Sampietro Editore, Menaggio 1997

Dalla Via Regina ingresso a complesso dell'antiquarium

Antiquarium

Information

Location: the Antiquarium occupies a portion of the old Hospitale de Stabio.

Paving: the internal courtyard of the Hospitale complex is paved with flagstones, with two cobbled lateral strips, approx. 1.5 metres wide in the part flanking the right handside of the church of S. Maria Maddalena. The inside of the Antiquarium is paved with concrete.

Architectural barriers: to access the Antiquarium please mind the low threshold and the two automatic glass doors. The Antiquarium extends over four levels, connected by stairs; the lift makes every room accessible to the disabled, overcoming existing architectural barriers.

Access: access is from the internal courtyard  of the Hospitale complex.

Services: paid parking available in the area, automated teller machine, Municipal Police station.

Leisure and food: one bar-restaurant in the area, “Opera Pia Giovio” public park, which is used as a lido during the summer season.

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

The Antiquarium, a new and prestigious museum, was opened inside the complex of the old Hospitale de Stabio in May 2013, as part of the actions provided for by the Accordo Quadro di Sviluppo Territoriale (Spatial Development Framework Agreement), and hosts the archaeological findings and the artistic artefacts coming from various locations of the Island and the territory of Ossuccio.

The Antiquarium extends over four levels. At ground floor you will find the reception, the info-point, which acts as a starting point and visitor centre for the Comacina Island and its surroundings, plus the bookshop. On the first floor an exhibition space hosts the most significant archaeological findings of the various excavations carried out on the island, such as fragments of architectural decoration from buildings which are no longer standing, a number of inscriptions dating back to the Roman and Paleo-Christian periods, the remains of frescoes which adorned old churches, and more than two hundred everyday objects – ceramic plates and vases, grey stone containers, fragments of glass chalices, coins, work tools and ornamental objects. The exhibition of these objects, which is supported by didactic panels, is arranged to offer an ideal itinerary illustrating in chronological order the history of the Island and the various buildings brought to light. There is also a small room for didactic activities and conferences; worthy of note is the interesting multi-media archive, offering an insight into the results of the analyses which have been carried out so far, while highlighting issues which still remain open with the opportunity of a constant updating. In addition to managing studies and researches and enhancing the archaeological heritage of the Island, the Antiquarium aims to be at the forefront of the development of the local cultural and tourist system, supplying visitors with information and didactic support, and promoting new themed itineraries.

The Antiquarium was dedicated to Luigi Mario Belloni and Mariuccia Zecchinelli Belloni, to remember the multi-faceted and relentless activity of this passionate inquirer into the memories of the Island, to which he devoted himself for a long period, and of his wife, an historian and director of Como’s Museums.

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Antiquarium: Comacina Island website – Antiquarium

Read here to know more about opening hours and ticket prices: Comacina Island website – Information

Read here to know more about Luigi Mario Belloni and Mariuccia Zecchinelli Belloni: Comacina Island website – Belloni-Zecchinelli

Ulivi in riva al lago

Olive growing on Lake Como

 

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

The territory of Lake Como is part of the Distretto Floristico Insubrico (Insubric Region Floral District), covering the area from Lake Garda to Lake Maggiore.

The presence of great lakes, including Lake Como, has a mitigating effect on winter and summer temperatures, reducing seasonal thermal excursions as the mass of water acts as a thermal accumulator, which heats, and loses heat, at a slower rate. The mild climate favours the growth of plant species which are typical of sub-Mediterranean  and Mediterranean environments, such as laurel and nettle trees. Other tree species present on the Comacina Island are black hornbeam, chestnut tree, and limetree. This spontaneous vegetation is often coupled with olive trees, at the northern limit of its cultivation environment, which gives a Mediterranean touch  to the landscape, due to the beauty of its elegant posture and its chromatic tones. The old olive trees, with their silver grey leafy fronds, contribute in creating that picturesque, almost magical, atmosphere which is typical of many views on the banks of Lake Como. Unsurprisingly, the area at the centre of Lake Como between the villages of Lenno and Sala Comacina is known as the Zoca de l’oli (Oil Basin).

Tradition has it that the olive tree reached the area of Lake Como about 2000 years ago, brought by Greek settlers who arrived in Italy with Julius Caesar, and would have then be cultivated almost everywhere during Roman occupation. Poet Claudian (4th-5th century AD), was so fascinated by his visit to the shores of Lake Como that he wrote: «There, where Lake Como covers its shores with  shady trees and imitates the waves of the sea with its sweet waters». Again according to tradition, even the Lombard Court of Queen Theodelinda used to take in supplies of Lake Como oil.  Other sources refer that the oil of the Zoca de l’oli, not only supplied the many abbeys of the area (including S. Benedetto – St. Benedict – and Acquafredda), but was transported by mules across the entire Grisons on the wine route, and then taken to Austria from St. Moritz. Therefore, in the past, olive growing – albeit with its highs and lows – was not only a food source for coastal populations, but a very important element for their economy and welfare.

Quite recently, in 1997, in order to protect, promote and make the most of this local produce, Lake Como olive growers obtained from the European Union a Protected Designation of Origin for the “Laghi Lombardi – Lario” (“Lakes of Lombardy – Lake Como”) extra-virgin olive oil. To bear this title oil producers must comply with strict rules regarding the location of manufacture, the varieties which can be grown, the growing and transformation conditions, and the minimum quality parameters of the oil so obtained.  Lately Lake Como oil has been requested by an increasing number of connoisseurs and experts, by local restaurants, and even by the owners of the  olive groves, who are very proud of this produce.

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Stage 2 – From the landing stage on the Island to the Casa Torre

Casa Torre (Tower House)*

Casa Torre

Casa Torre (Tower House)*

* building totally or partially in ruins

Information

Location: the ruins of the Casa Torre (Tower House) stand on the hillside on the northern shore of the Comacina Island.

Paving: the footpath along the Casa Torre is unsurfaced in that particular section.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 2.

Access: it is an archaeological site, it is therefore advisable to observe it from the outside.

Services: -

Leisure and food: a bar and a restaurant are available on the Island.

Description

«The best preserved example of the buildings used for housing or public use in the Island is the so-called Tower house. The remains of the Tower house stand 3 meters high. The building is almost square in plan (5×5 m). Approximately one third of the southern wall is cut into the rock, while the other three walls were built of ashlar masonry bonded with mortar. On the eastern side of the building there is a splayed door-jamb and a small slit window. On the lakeside wall there is a second slit window.

Though the structure of the building is very simple, as it was built in order to take advantage of the slope and the rock face, the dating is extremely uncertain. Similar structures have been built almost up to present day. However, the first settlement of the island was probably made between Late Roman times and the twelfth century».

(Drawn from the descriptive panel on site)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about Casa Torre:

Comacina Island website – Casa Torre

Stage 3 – The area around the church of S. Giovanni

Basilica of S. Eufemia (St. Euphemia)*Church of S. Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist)The feast of St. JohnAula battesimale biabsidata (The Twin Apse Baptismal Hall)*

Area di S. Eufemia

Basilica of S. Eufemia (St. Euphemia)*

* building totally or partially in ruins

Information

Location: the remains of the old basilica of S. Eufemia lie on a wide green plateau at the east end of the Island.

Paving: the adjacent path is grassy.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 3.

Access: it is an archaeological site, it is therefore advisable to observe it from the outside.

Services: -

Leisure and food: the surrounding green plateau is equipped with benches and small wooden tables for anyone wishing a break. A bar and a restaurant are available on the island.

Description

«The basilica of S. Eufemia (St. Euphemia) is the most remarkable monument on the island and the first to have been discovered by archaeologists.

The remains you see here were part of the Church built in 1031 by Litigerius, bishop of Como (historical sources document the deed of foundation). It was demolished by the city of Como in 1169. Archaeological excavation has revealed the existence of an earlier religious building, erected during the Early Christian period or the Early Middle Ages. The earliest ruins date back to Roman times.

The Romanesque building was a large three-aisled basilica (22×62 m); the aisles, separated by octagonal masonry columns, terminated in three semicircular apses facing east. A central staircase of 9 steps allowed visitors to ascend to the raised presbytery while in the wings two smaller staircases led down to the crypt. Given the composition of the terrain (for the most part bedrock), the right apse was placed at the same level as the aisles while the left apse was built on a somewhat higher level.

A portico with two side wings containing several graves was built in front of the façade. In the left wing a staircase led to a raised plateau and the religious complex of S. Giovanni with its twin apse baptismal hall. The granite threshold of the entrance portal is still visible in the middle of the wall which once was the façade of the church.

The fragments of fresco found by Monneret de Villard (who unearthed the remains of the church in 1913) indicate that the interior of the church was probably plastered and painted».

«The stone staircase on the north wall provided access from the central nave to the bell tower. The Romanesque bell tower was found to be a late Roman square tower. It is one of a series of earlier structures identified beneath the nearby complex of S. Giovanni and probably extending over the area occupied by S. Eufemia».

(Drawn from the descriptive panels on site and in the Antiquarium)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Basilica of S. Eufemia:

Comacina Island website – Basilica di S. Eufemia

Chiesa di S. Giovanni

Church of S. Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist)

Information

Location: the church of S. Giovanni Battista lies on a rocky buttress at the East end of the island.

Paving: the footpath leading to the church is grassy; the portico has a flagstone paving, as has the church interior.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 3; to access the church one must cross a low stone threshold.

Access: access is through the façade entrance, under the portico. To arrange the visit please ask the Antiquarium.

Services: -

Leisure and food: the surrounding green plateau is equipped with benches and small wooden tables for anyone wishing a break. On the left side of the church there is a small fountain. A bar and a restaurant are available on the island.

Description

«The first building erected in this area, which dates to Roman times, was probably a patrician villa or sanctuary. A small church was built during the Early Middle Ages. The church was demolished in 1169 by the rival city of Como, allied with Frederick I Barbarossa. Excavations conducted by Belloni [between 1958 and 1963] uncovered the walls of the church (13.5 x 4 m), built on a levelled surface of the rocky outcrop on top of the remains of earlier Roman and late Roman buildings. Several graves were excavated both inside
and around the church.

Legend has it that at the end of the fifteenth century an oratory was built on the ruins of the old church. By the time of Bishop Lazzaro Carafino’s pastoral visit of 1635 the church had been entirely reconstructed. The bell-tower was built between 1670 and 1675. The building you visit today is similar to that described above. Inside the building you can see eighteenth century fittings and a late nineteenth century pictorial decoration».

«The inside of the Church is a single nave divided into three bays, with a rectangular apse. The recent church restoration of 2008 has brought back to life the notable pictorial decoration from between 1875 and 1899.

The decoration of the vaults of the first and third bay is particularly interesting. A large rose is depicted in among bunches of flowers.

In the second bay you can see, within a quatrefoil frame, the symbols of the Eucharist, the chalice and host silhouetted against an azure sky and surrounded by angels. One of them is holding a thurible or metal censer. To the left, within a triangular frame, there are symbols from the Old Testament (Moses’ staff, the Tablets of the Commandments and a Jewish priest’s mitre); to the right you can see symbols from the New Testament (the cross with the standard of the risen Christ, the crosier, a Papal tiara and a bishop’s mitre). The Eucharistic symbols of the mystic lamb and the cross with the standard of the risen Christ, silhouetted against an azure sky and surrounded by angels, are painted on the vault of the presbytery within a quatrefoil frame».

Worthy of note is the «altar frontal painted with chalk paste (scagliola) depicts St. John the Baptist in the middle (to whom the church is dedicated), St. Peter on the left, and St. Paul on the right. Inscribed on the back is the date 1706».

(Drawn from the descriptive panels on site)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Church of S. Giovanni Battista:

Comacina Island website – S. Giovanni Battista

Sagra di San Giovanni

The feast of St. John

Legend has it that in 1435 a mysterious pilgrim who arrived in Ossuccio amidst  calamitous weather phenomena, led a villager to the Island. Showing him a walnut tree, he told him that by digging under it he would find the church and altar of St. John the Baptist, and if he and his fellow villagers were to go back to the Island every year for a pious pilgrimage on Saint John’s day – taking with them the holy relics and celebrating Mass – they would be preserved from other calamities.   And so they did. The villagers dug where they were told to and found what was promised to them. The church of S. Giovanni, recovered in such a miraculous manner, was rebuilt, and, in the 17th century, renovated in the shape that one can still see today; and, since 1600, the yearly Mass is celebrated  as was originally required. Calamitous events – they say – happened only when people forgot to keep the vow.  The procession took place with boats adorned with flowers, one of which carried the urn with the sacred relics of the Wood of the Holy Cross and the Martyr Saints which Abundius is believed to have donated to the Island church. The procession was accompanied on the Island by various “tableaux vivants” of a sacred representation dedicated to the story of St. John. The feast is still held nowadays, with a great participation of the faithful: a line of boats adorned with flowers, which carry the band, the Authorities, the Archpriest, the priests, the figurants dressed in historical costumes, and the Priors of the Brotherhood, land on the Island on the morning of the Sunday nearest to St. John’s day, taking with them the holy relics so as to renew the old vow. A more recently introduced tradition is the fireworks display held on the preceding evening inspired by the fire which set the Island ablaze in 1169. In 2009, on the occasion of the feast, the church of S. Giovanni was reconsecrated and returned to the faithful for worship, after five years of excavations and restoration work. The conditions of the church were such that for many years the annual Mass could not be celebrated there, but “in open air” at the ruins of S. Eufemia. The restoration work has enhanced the importance of the old apse and the relevant altar, a sign of how heartfelt is the worship of St. John and the unchanged sacred role of the Comacina Island.

(Drawn from S. Fasana, A. Garancini, Sui passi dell’anima. Luoghi della devozione nel territorio lariointelvese, Comunità Montana Lario Intelvese, Bellavite Editore, Missaglia 2009)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Aula biabsidata

Aula battesimale biabsidata (The Twin Apse Baptismal Hall)*

* building totally or partially in ruins

Information

Location: the ruins of the Twin Apse Baptismal Hall are located on the left handside of the church of S. Giovanni Battista, on rocky buttress at the East end of the Island.

Paving: the footpath leading to the church begins as a grassy track running alongside the  church for approx. 15 metres, then turns into a stone platform (be careful because there is no protection at the end).

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 3.

Access: it is a partly fenced archaeological site, it is therefore advisable to observe it from the outside.

Services: -

Leisure and food: the surrounding green plateau is equipped with benches and small wooden tables for anyone wishing a break. On the left side of the church there is a small fountain. A bar and a restaurant are available on the island.

Description

«The oldest religious building on the Comacina Island is probably the baptismal hall».

«The first baptismal building probably dates to the fifth century. It was a single room (approximately 16×7 m) aligned East-West. The lateral walls converged into a single apse.

The floor of the apse was adorned with mosaics depicting marine scenes. Only one fish figure has survived. The nave was paved with cocciopesto (mortar mixed with powdered brick).

The baptismal font used for the immersion of adults was an octagonal pool built of bricks mixed with cocciopesto and clad with marble. The underlying rock, which prevented the construction of a water drainage system, is probably why the font had to be placed in an off-centre position. The two square rooms discovered under the church of S. Giovanni were probably associated with this building.

Two graves date to the same period. The first (an arcosolium) was placed in a niche hollowed out of the western wall of the apse, the second lies almost in the centre of the room».

«The dimensions of the niche of the arcosolium have led scholars to believe that this was the original location of Bishop Agrippinus’s grave stone [approximately + 617]. It was taken to the church of S. Eufemia in Isola (Ossuccio) in 1169 after the destruction of the baptismal hall. There it was used as the altar table until 1875. It can now be seen to the left of the choir».

«The construction of the twin apse hall dates to the Early Middle Ages. During this period the nave was paved with Moltrasio stone slabs; the mosaics of the two apses were re-laid and the walls were frescoed with geometric designs that can be dated between the eighth and ninth centuries.

In 1169 the baptismal room and all the other buildings on the island were demolished».

The existence of this building is particularly significant, as it testifies the importance of the Island as the “cradle” and core for the spreading of Como’s Christianity.

(Drawn from the descriptive panels on site and in the Antiquarium)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Twin Apse Baptismal Hall:

Comacina Island website – Aula battesimale biabsidata 

 

Stage 4 – The ridge of the Island leading to the complex of Ss. Faustino e Giovita

Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso (Shrine of Our Lady of Help) and Sacro Monte (Sacred Mount)Abbazia dell’Acquafredda (Acquafredda Abbey)Church of S. Maria col portico (St. Mary with the portico)*Church of S. Pietro in Castello (St. Peter at the Castle)*Religious complex of the Ss. Faustino and Giovita (St. Faustinus and Jovita)*

Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso

Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso (Shrine of Our Lady of Help) and Sacro Monte (Sacred Mount)

Information

This point of interest is not located along the itinerary but can be admired from a  panoramic point on the Island’s crest

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

On the slopes of the hill overlooking the built-up area of Ossuccio stands the Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso (Shrine of Our Lady of Help).

According to local tradition, the worship of Our Lady is linked to the discovery of an old white marble statue of Mary, probably dating back the 14th century, by a deaf and dumb girl, who immediately was healed. A first small chapel was erected here, then enlarged in the 16th century, and later modified and embellished as we can see it today. The Strine was consecrated in 1699 by bishop Bonesana; nowadays this venerated statue of Our Lady lies in a 19th century chapel on the left handside. Another image of Our Lady, this time with the Child, is worshipped in the Shrine: it is a fresco made in 1501 depicting the Virgin with Saint Euphemia, to whom the Parish Church of the Island is dedicated, now partially hidden by the decoration of the Baroque altar on the left wall. The 18th century stuccoes and frescoes in the vault are the work, respectively, of Giovanni Battista Muttoni and Salvatore Pozzi, both from Puria, in Valsolda. A large 19th century painting by Francesco Grandi depicting Saint Joseph, donated by Pope John XXIII in 1964, adorns the altar of the chapel of Saint Francis and  Saint Anthony, which opens onto the right handside of the Shrine. The belfry, perched over the valley, was completed in 1719, twenty years in the making, based on a plan drawn up by architect Giovan Battista Bianchi.

From the square, one can enjoy a marvellous panoramic view of the lake’s body of water, known as Zoca de l’oli (Oil basin), that sweeps from the Comacina Island and the small peninsula of Balbianello, to Tremezzo, Bellagio and Varenna; along the horizon rise the Grigna Mountains, Mount San Primo, and, behind these, the peaks of the Alps.

The Shrine is preceded by a sacred path, originating from the old hamlet of Molgisio (part of the territory of Lenno), flanked by fourteen Baroque chapels visually narrating the Mysteries of the Rosary (the fifteenth is represented on the  Shrine’s main altar). The path was starter by Franciscan monks Lorenzo Serenato and Timoteo Snider, the latter probably with an important, albeit not clearly definable, role in its design, too. The chapels were built for the most part in the second half of the 17th century through the generosity of wealthy local families and the work of many artists, including sculptor Agostino Silva from Morbio and painter Giovanni Paolo Recchi from Como. The chapels, along with the Shrine, constitute a very worthy example of Sacred mount, one of the nine existing at the foot of the Alps included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2003.

Contacts

Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso Tel. 0344.55211

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso and the Sacro Monte:

Friars Minor Capuchin of Lombardy website – Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso e Sacro Monte

Wikipedia – Sacro Monte di Ossuccio

Website of the “Isola Comacina” cultural association – Santuario della Beata Vergine del Soccorso

Carlo Leone et Mariena Montandon Foundation website

Read here to know more about Sacred mounts:

Website of Centro di Documentazione dei Sacri Monti, Calvari e Complessi devozionali europei (Documentation Centre on European Sacred Mounts, Calvaries and  Devotional Complexes)

 

Abbazia Acquafredda, facciata

Abbazia dell’Acquafredda (Acquafredda Abbey)

 

Information

This point of interest is not located along the itinerary but can be admired from a  panoramic point on the Island’s crest

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

The Acquafredda (Italian for coolwater) Abbey takes its name from the water gushing from a spring  nearby, and rises over the centre of Lenno, at the foot of Mount Ossino; it is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saint Peter, and Saint Agrippinus. It was erected on land donated in 1142 to the Cistercians of Morimondo by Attone, nicknamed the Peregrino, from the Comacina Island.

The new Abbey, formally established in 1143, developed quickly and was an important cultural centre, also due to papal and imperial privileges. However, it progressively entered a period of decline from the 15th century onwards.

Abandoned by the monks, the deterioration became so irreparable that in 1527 the Governor of Como ordered that it be set on fire and demolished.

The complex came back to life in the 17th century, in a newly baroque style, and enjoyed a further period of splendour. At the beginning of the 18th century it was restored once again, but, at the end of the century, by order of the Austrian government the abbey was suppressed, its properties secularized, and the monks moved to the Certosa of Pavia. The complex lived alternating fortunes, until it was acquired by the Lombardy Province Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in 1934.

Of particular interest is the church, whose 17th century and 18th century  features are embellished by stuccoes and decorations centred around the Marian theme and the worship of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the “heart and soul” of the Cistercian reform; among the paintings, those attributed to Giovanni Mauro della Rovere nicknamed the Fiamminghino deserve a special mention. At the left of the choir stands the old chapel dedicated to saints Peter, Agrippinus and Dominica; it is very likely that the mortal remains of Saint Agripinnus, thirteenth bishop of Como, and his sister Dominica were transferred here, presumably after the destruction of the parish church of S. Eufemia on the Island (although a local tradition has it that the transfer took place earlier, to  “put them in a safe place”).

The relics of bishop Agrippinus, however, are not at the Acquafredda Abbey anymore: now they are in Delebio, in Valtellina, in the parish church of S. Carpoforo (St. Carpophorus), where they were taken in 1785 after the Abbey was suppressed, with the aid of count Francesco Peregalli, who acquired the properties that the Abbey itself held in Delebio.

Contacts

Abbazia dell’Acquafredda Tel. 0344.55208.

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Acquafredda Abbey:

Lombardy Province Order of Friars Minor Capuchin website – Abbazia dell’Acquafredda

Abside S. Maria col Portico

Church of S. Maria col portico (St. Mary with the portico)*

* building totally or partially in ruins

Information

Location: the ruins of the church are on the Island’s crest.

Paving: the footpath which runs alongside the church is grassy, and small rocks surface here and there.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 4.

Access: it is an archaeological site, it is therefore advisable to observe it from the outside.

Services: -

Leisure and food: the surrounding green plateau is equipped with benches and a small wooden table for anyone wishing a break. A bar and a restaurant are available on the Island.

Description

«The building is a single hall with a semicircular apse facing East (exterior measurements 30 x 9.70 m). A rectangular room identified as a portico ran across the flattened rocky surface in front of the church. The ruins of many of the walls can still be seen. The floors are made of grey Moltrasio limestone.

Excavation revealed the existence of an earlier apsed building, perhaps a small chapel built during the Early Christian era (fifth century).

Thanks to fragments of frescoes found among the rubble, the most recent church has been dated to the Romanesque period (eleventh-twelfth centuries)».

«During excavation some graves came to light behind the apses of both the earlier and later church».

«The archaeological data, tied together with twelfth century archive evidence led to the identification of the ruins of the Romanesque building as those of the church of S. Maria col Portico cited in a legal act of 1145».

(Drawn from the descriptive panels on site and in the Antiquarium)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more  about the Church of S. Maria col portico:

Comacina Island website – Church of S. Maria col portico

S. Pietro in Castello

Church of S. Pietro in Castello (St. Peter at the Castle)*

* building totally or partially in ruins

Information

Location: the ruins of the church of S. Pietro in Castello are on the summit of the Island’s crest, traditionally known by the name of “Castello (Castle)” or “Castél”.

Paving: the footpath which runs alongside the church is grassy, and small rocks surface here and there.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 4.

Access: it is an archaeological site, it is therefore advisable to observe it from the outside.

Services: -

Leisure and food: the surrounding green plateau is equipped with benches and a small wooden table for anyone wishing a break. A bar and a restaurant are available on the Island.

Description

«The church of S. Pietro is mentioned in documents dating back to the twelfth century (before the island was destroyed). In particular in a will of 1129. The building consists of a single hall with a semicircular apse facing East (exterior measures about 22 X 8 m). The church was built on a rocky surface. It probably replaced the remains of earlier buildings, perhaps part of the fortified area of the “castle”.

The walls are made from grey Moltrasio limestone. A masonry grave structure was found in the room, near the façade. The inside of the grave was plastered with mortar. It contained the bones of several individuals with no grave goods. The traces of ancient fabric imprinted on the mortar are of particular interest.

Based on the documents and the masonry technique, the church can be dated to the Romanesque period (eleventh-twelfth centuries)».

(Drawn from the descriptive panel on site)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Church of S. Pietro in Castello:

Comacina Island website – Church of S. Pietro in Castello

 

Fianco chiesa Ss.Faustino e Giovita

Religiuos complex of the Ss. Faustino and Giovita (St. Faustinus and Jovita)*

* building totally or partially in ruins

Information

Location: the complex is on the northern shore of the Island.

Paving: the footpath which runs alongside the church is grassy, and small rocks surface here and there; the ground floor of the church is made of concrete, while the gallery is  built with small timber beams.

Access/Architectural barriers: access to the inside of the church is by the left side entrance, marked by an arch, where one has to cross a low threshold and pass through a small vestibule. To access the upper part reach the back of the building through the passage running alongside the apse (please mind the step); by crossing a threshold you will then reach a wooden platform protected by two handrails on the right and on the left, approx. 1.20 metres high (please consider that the front is not protected). To access public toilets, which are on the ground floor to the left of the building, one has to climb two steps with a stone riser and a cobbled tread, and cross a threshold.

Services: at the round floor of the former monastery’s building there is a public toilet.

Leisure and food: a bar and a restaurant are available on the Island.

Description

«The church of the Benedictine women’s convent of St. Faustinus is mentioned among many other churches in the documents concerning the “Castle”. The church is also mentioned in a document dated 994, while the convent is mentioned for the first time in 1101.

The south and north walls, and the lower part of the apse of the medieval church are well preserved. The surface of the wall is very regular with large square ashlar blocks and Lombard bands at the uppermost course of the wall.

The original interior of the building has been lost due to alterations. The ceiling, covered with cross vaults, has been lowered and replaced with a barrel vault. A crib, a basin and a stone bench have been propped against the partially preserved walls. The two small apses are still well preserved.

Judging by the style and the masonry the church is likely to have been built after the twelfth century. Although tradition has it that the inhabitants left the island in 1169 after its complete destruction, we have reasons to believe that even after that year there was some activity in the area».

(Drawn from the descriptive panel on site)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Complex of St. Faustinus and Jovita:

Comacina Island website – Complex of St. Faustinus and Jovita 

Stage 5 – Artists’ paradise

Houses for Artists in Rationalist styleVilla Rachele, formerly Beccaria

Prima casa razionalista

Houses for Artists in Rationalist style

Information

Location: the three Houses for Artists in Rationalist Style were built on the northern shore of the Island.

Paving: the footpath running alongside the houses is grassy, paved with flagstones in some points.

Architectural barriers: information on accessibility is available in the description of Stage 5.

Access: it is a private property, it is therefore advisable to observe it from the outside.

Services: in the building of the former monastery of Ss. Faustino e Giovita, there is a public toilet at ground floor.

Food and leisure: a bar and a restaurant are available on the Island.

Description

«The building project for artists’ lodgings on the Island of Comacina dates back to 1920, when the Island, originally donated by Augusto Caprani to King Albert I of Belgium, and subsequently by him to the Italian State, was left in the hands of the Brera Academy.

In 1933 Pietro Lingeri (1894-1968) took charge of the project. The architect from Tremezzo was already known for many projects he had carried out in his this country, including the renovation of the Villa Mayer park and the AMILA (Italian Motorboat Association of Lake Como) head office (1927-31). Three years later, when Italy had just started out on its imperial adventure, the radical modern projects of Lingeri were rejected by the fascist regime. Lingeri studied new solutions, in which functionalism and local tradition could coexist, along the lines of Le Corbusier who had experimented this language some years before.

The final version of the houses saw the light of day between 1937 and 1939. The material execution only took a year, so by the end of 1940 the houses were ready. It’s a functionalist reinterpretation of Lake Como vernacular architecture. Elements of rural architecture – wooden planks or open galleries – coexist with typical elements from the modernist repertory, such as the ribbon windows or the glass block walls. There are three different versions of the same plan: on the ground floor a dinette, kitchen and double study, while on the first floor a bedroom and small bathroom. The walls are built from Moltrasio stone blocks, plastered with lime on the inside and with a glossy stucco in bathrooms and kitchens. The upper floors, the inside stairs, the doors and windows are made from chestnut wood, while the load bearing structure and the roof frame (with reversed pitches and covered with slate) are made of pine wood. The composition, which juxtaposes the stone planes of the walls against the inside volume of wood, is most evident at the points of contact.

The houses have been used by Italian and Belgian artists for short summer stays».

(Drawn from the descriptive panel on site)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about Houses for Artists in Rationalist Style:

Comacina Island website – Houses for Artists in Rationalist Style

Carlo Leone et Mariena Montandon Foundation website

 

Villa Rachele e il suo parco

Villa Rachele, formerly Beccaria

Information

This point of interest is not located along the itinerary but can be admired from a  panoramic point at the West end of the Island.

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

On the “puncia” (a local term meaning “point”, peninsula) facing the Comacina Island, in Sala Comacina’s territory, stands a three floor mansion – Villa Rachele, formerly Beccarla – built on three floors between the second half of the 18th century and the first part of the 19th century, on a large semicircular terrace overlooking the lake.

In the surrounding park, based on a plan by architect Giuseppe Balzaretti, enriched by laurels, olive trees, cypress-trees, cedars and magnolias, there rises a moving funerary monument of Marquis Giulio Beccaria (who died in 1858), the son of the famous Cesare and maternal uncle  of Alessandro Manzoni, and of his wife Antonia Curioni (who died in 1866): a small sic column trabeate temple surmounted by a semi-spherical  dome, under which there is a statue of a young woman in prayer, the work of sculptor Bassano Danielli. After the death of Giulio the villa was transferred to Cesare Cantù, scholar and patriot, and his daughter Rachele, the wife of Angelo Villa Pernice, an MP at the first Italian parliament in Florence, who set up a literary salon known as the “Accademia dei pedanti (Academy of the Pedants)”, animated by leading figures of the Italian culture of the time, such as Antonio Fogazzaro, Tommaso Gallarati Scotti and Ettore Verga, historian and director of the Archive of the Sforza Castle in Milan, to name but the most renowned. At the death of Rachele Cantù, the villa was inherited by Rachele Martelli, the wife of Emilio de Marchi, who wrote here “Col fuoco non si scherza (Do not play with fire)” (1901), a novel mostly set in the villa itself, which from then on was named “Villa Rachele”. It is now a private property.

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about Villa Rachele, formerly Beccaria:

Municipality of Sala Comacina website – Villa Rachele

Lombardia Beni Culturali website – Villa Beccaria

Stage 6 – The old Via Regina and the church of S. Giacomo

The old Via Regina in OssuccioChurch of S. Agata (St. Agatha), formerly of S. Sisinnio (St. Sisinnius)Church of S. Giacomo (St. James)

La Via Regina a S. Giacomo di Spurano

The old Via Regina in Ossuccio

Description

(Ambra Garancini)

The name Via Regina indicates the old route, which, running along the Western shore of Lake Como, in Roman times linked Como, and, earlier still, the Milanese plain, with Valchiavenna, whereby, through its natural extension, the Via Francisca, it reached Chiavenna, the “starting base” for the mountain passes towards Rhaetia. Presumably it was created as a connection of the old existing paths to support/link local traffic, subordinately to the more important lake route. The name Via Regina “Regina Road” (i.e. “strada regia”, main, public paved – strata – road) – which was given to it much later on – is documented for the first time in the year 1187. Together, the waterway, i.e. Lake Como, the way of sailors, soldiers and merchants, and the Via or Strada Regina used for local traffic, with parts suitable for vehicles, mule tracks, or pedestrian paths, for centuries constituted a true “Lake Como system”, an articulate network of routes pointing northwards, to the Alpine passes, and southwards, towards Milan, the hub for the Padana Valley, which had Como, the military and commercial centre better linked to Milan, as their barycentre, and the Western shore of Lake Como as their axis, due to the fact that it geographically converged on Como. In the course of centuries the so called Via Regina became increasingly important and during the whole of the Middle Ages it was kept by the lake village communities by virtues of specific Statutes. The road, however, continued to be subordinate to the lake, as the “difficult” morphology of Lake Como banks was an obstacle to its adequate widening. When, starting from the 16th century, the Milanese area passed under Spanish, and, later on, Austrian rule, caused the gradual shift of major traffic to the eastern shore of Lake Como, due to the need of faster connections between the Habsburg Empire and Milan. The “Lake Como system” of the Western shore, which had marked the history of Lake Como territories so deeply, lost its importance once and for all, passing on the baton to the Lecco-Colico axis. At present the old Via Regina is reconstructed and partially and can be partially travelled over, in some sections as the “Lake Como Greenway”. It touches some of the most beautiful landscapes of the lake and it awaits to be adequately enhanced as an important cultural itinerary at European level.

Some of the most significant sections of the old road have survived in Ossuccio, in particular those alongside the Hospitale complex and the Church of S. Giacomo.

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Iubilantes via G. Ferrari 2, Como; tel. 031.279684; e-mail: iubilantes@iubilantes.it

Read here to know more about the Old Via Regina:

Via Regina website

Chiesa dei Ss. Sisinnio e Agata

Church of S. Agata (St. Agatha), formerly of S. Sisinnio (St. Sisinnius)

Information

Location: the church overlooks a churchyard of approx. 5m x 5m onto via Cesare Giovio, at the heart of the historic centre of Ossuccio.

Paving: via Giovio is cobbled, as is the churchyard; the church interior is paved with stone slabs.

Architectural barriers: access to the church is through the entrance on the façade by crossing a low threshold, or through the right entrance after climbing three steps.

Services: free parking available in the area.

Leisure and food: there are bars and restaurants in the surroundings.

Description

The church of S. Agata (previously dedicated to St. Sisinnius) stands in the historic centre of Ossuccio. It has a simple gabled façade overlooking the small churchyard; the single nave interior has a chapel on the right dedicated to St. Agatha and a large space  beside the presbytery, again on the right handside.

«The oldest document referring to the church is dated 1299; it mentions its dedication to the sole St. Sisinnius, as does the report on the pastoral visit of Bishop Ninguarda in 1593; only at the time of the pastoral visit of Bishop Carafino in 1644 does the dedication to St. Agatha finally appear.

The restoration work carried out between 1993 and 1995 enabled to reconstruct the various historical stages regarding the building: from a primitive cemetery chapel, to which an apse is added (beginning of the 6th century) to an Early Middle Ages church (between the 8th and 10th century) and, lastly, the Roman rebuilding (presumably in the 12th century), partially well preserved to this day with its original altar, a splendid holy water font decorated in high-relief with fantasy animals, remains of frescoes, some of which undressed, others hidden in the attic, the gracefully splayed window openings.

Starting from the end of the 17th century the church underwent substantial interventions, eventually leading to the appearance it has today.

The belfry, after the plaster was stripped off in 1989, is now one of the nicest bell towers in the Como area.

The church hosts – at the side of the presbytery – a Roman votive altar, probably dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century AD, which, in addition to being a memento of the ancient pagan cult, has the great merit of having handed down the place name of the old Roman pagus and its inhabitants: the Ausuciates».

Of interest is the altarpiece depicting Our Lady with the Child between Saints Sisinnius (dressed as a bishop, although according to tradition he was a deacon) and Agatha, inside a splendid gilt wood frame, dated 1577 and signed by Giulio De Grassi. On the altar-step Scenes from the Martyrdom of Saints Vincent and Euphemia before their judges and two figures with tables carrying warnings on the respect that is due when entering a sacred place.

(drawn from the following website: http://www.acisolacomacina.it)

Contacts

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the Church of S. Agata, formerly of S. Sisinnio:

Como Romanesque art website – Church of St. Agatha

Lombardia Beni Culturali website – Church of St. Agatha 

Chiesa di S. Giacomo

Church of S. Giacomo (St. James)

 

Information

Location: the church of S. Giacomois located alongside the old Via Regina, a little south of the hamlet of Spurano di Ossuccio, facing the Comacina Island.

Paving: the old Via Regina, which runs alongside the church, is cobbled in this section; the first five steps connecting it with the small square in front of the entrance are cobbled, too, followed by a green plateau and small surfacing rock, then by another  grassy step. The small square in front of the entrance is stone paved. The interior of the church is paved with stone slabs.

Architectural barriers: 4 irregular stone steps, followed by a green plateau with a small surfacing rock and other 2 steps give access to the small paved square in front of the entrance of the church. To enter the church one must cross a low stone threshold.

Access: access is by the façade entrance.

Services: parking available in the area.

Leisure and food: bars and restaurants available in the area.

Description

(Silvia Fasana)

The church of S. Giacomo  is a small Romanesque jewel built in undressed  Moltrasio stone, located alongside the old Via Regina. It was mentioned for the first time in a deed of gift dated 1169, the annus horribilis when the Island was destroyed. Its foundations lie partly on the shore’s rock, partly on two arches supported by pillars, the bases of which sink in the lake waters. The simple gabled façade is decorated with a series of small arches and has two round windows and one shaped as a Latin cross. The bell gable with two fornices which rises from the front tympanum, at the back of the church, was probably built in the 14th century. From the second half of the 20th century access to the church is exclusively through the portal which opens on the façade, but probably in origin the main entrance was at the side, alongside the Regina Road, now partially cladded and reduced to a window. This opening is surmounted by a 17th century fresco on a red background, depicting Saint James the Greater who, with his pilgrim’s staff, seems to be still watching over travellers. Ambra Garancini and Silvia Fasana write in their book Sui passi dell’anima. Luoghi della devozione nel territorio lariointelvese: «In actual fact  the church is also dedicated to the apostle Saint Philip, and this has led to believe that in origin the saint to whom it was jointly dedicated was the apostle James the Minor. Philip and James the Minor are always worshipped together, a san aid and defence in times of great affliction. However, nowadays the Saint who is actually worshipped in the small church is James the Greater, the “Santiago” who made Compostela the destination of genuine pilgrims. If a “transfer” of worship between James the Minor and James the Greater has truly taken place, we like to think that it was due to the propagation in our area, too, of the pious practice of the Jacobean pilgrimage, the real “backbone” of Christian Europe’s pilgrimage routes. If things did happen this way, the “transfer” would, on the other hand, demonstrate the importance of the Lake Como artery as a pilgrimage route». The interior, with a single nave and semicircular apse, is decorated by fragments of interesting paintings. The older group includes, on the right wall, the figure of a Man in Prayer and a large Saint Christopher, patron of pilgrims, dated back to the first or second decade after the year Thousand, of Ottonian taste, drawing inspiration from the Roman-Imperial figurative tradition. This last fresco is placed right in front of the side door, well visible by travellers who walked along the Via Regina. On the left wall, the oldest paintings are arranged in two registers: in the upper register, starting from the presbytery (here a niche hosts a painting of the Last Supper), one can see The Washing of the Feet, Jesus in the Olive Grove, The Capture of Jesus, Jesus Mocked; in the lower register, under the Last Supper, there is a representation of what seems to be a Deposition, then, continuing along the wall, The Hospitality of Abraham and Sarah at the Oaks of Mamre and The Original Sin. These paintings from the Middle Ages are side by side with later works of art: on the right wall, a sweet Our Lady with the Child, Saint Jerome and Saint Simon of Trent, from the 15th century; on the left wall a 14th century Saint Michael Weighing Souls, and a Saint Anthony Abbot from the second  half of the 16th century.

The church also hosts a fine wooden altarpiece of Our Lady of Loreto, most likely dating back to the end of the 15th century.

Contatti

Antiquarium – Isola Comacina via Somalvico, Ossuccio; Tel. 0344.56369; e-mail info@isola-comacina.it

Read here to know more about the church of S. Giacomo:

Como Romanesque art website – Church of  S. Giacomo

Comacina Island Association website – Church of S. Giacomo

Carlo Leone et Mariena Montandon Foundation website