Walking the Lario Triangle From Asso to Nesso

In the footsteps of Don Carlo Banfi

This is a relatively long walk that takes us from the heart of the Lario Triangle (the area between the two legs of Lake Como) in the Vallassina to Nesso on the shores of the western leg of the lake.

Sormano Muro Girolombardia Resegone Vallassina

Sormano in the Vallassina seen from the Muro di Sormano

The route follows close to that most likely taken by Don Carlo Banfi when he led 16 Jewish refugees on November 2nd 1943 from Sormano to Nesso and subsequently the following day to Mount Bisbino and across the border into Switzerland. He was one of a number of locals who either led or assisted these so-called ‘viaggi della salvezza’ leading Jews as well as other enemies of the fascist state away from capture and deportation to Nazi extermination or labour camps, as described in our latest article for Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th. Those earlier travellers would have been far too preoccupied over their safety to be able to enjoy and marvel at the tranquil sublimity of the setting for this walk as we are now free to do.

mist-mountains-lake

Mist rising from Lake Como looking north from above Nesso

Allow about six hours for this excursion and be warned there is one particularly arduous section walking up the renowned cycle hill climb known as the Muro di Sormano. The route follows well-established mule tracks and tarmacked road in parts but robust clothing is a must and be prepared for snow over the winter months.

I will break the walk down into four sections as follows:

  1. Asso to Sormano via Caglio
  2. Sormano to the Colma del Piano (1124 metres) via the Muro di Sormano
  3. Pian del Tivano
  4. The Valley of the Nosé leading to Nesso

If based in Como, a €3 ticket on Bus C49 will get you to Asso dropping you off at the terminal in Piazza Mercato. From here walk into the old centre and head for the Ponte Oscuro. At the drinking fountain on the other side of the bridge there is a footpath with only the left-hand fork signposted towards Monte Palanzone. This is our starting point.

Asso to Nesso Map

Taken from Kompass Map 1:50000  No. 91, Lake Como and Lake Lugano showing locations of the numbered photos in the article

Asso to Sormano via Caglio

Asso Nesso Wlak Start

Photo 1. Right hand fork from drinking fountain. Follow path to the left at this point but take all subsequent right hand forks when they occur.

You will get to Sormano eventually whether you take the right or left hand path. However the left option is signposted, is a more distinct path and passes the Agriturismo Enco and the fascinating rock formations known as the ‘Fungi di Terra’. However, as shown on the map, it is not a direct route north. The right hand option is more direct but is not signposted with a path that at times gets indistinct. If you do opt for the right hand option (See Photo 1) , your path will eventually reach the outskirts of Rezzago (Photo 2) where you should follow the tarmacked road with signs pointing to the Agriturismo Enco and the Fungi.

Asso to Nesso Rezzago

Photo 2. Outskirts of Rezzago

Whichever option taken, you will converge at a junction just before the so-called ‘Castagneto di Enco’  which is easily recognisable by the signposting and the hut maintained by the Alpine Club shown in Photo 3.

Asso to Nesso walk Castagneto di Enco

Photo 3: Junction to Caglio. Turn right if coming from Rezzago or left if from Enco and the Fungi di Terra.

Take the path in the direction of Caglio (a right hand turn if arriving from Rezzago and a left turn if coming from Enco and the Fungi di Terra.

The Castagneto di Enco (Photo 4) is a flat area totally populated by chestnut trees. As you walk towards Caglio you then pass the the Jungle Raider Park Xtreme (Photo 5)! Jungle Raider describes itself as ‘…the first extreme adventure park in Italy, with 7 stunning attractions to be addressed in sequence. Great steps with height of 60 meters and ziplines with a length of 130 meters, to take proof of your recklessness.’ This is followed by the calmer Sanctuary of the Madonna of Campoé (16th century in origin – Photo 6).

You now join the tarmacked road and enter into Caglio past the cemetery with the first clear view of Monte Grigna in front of you (Photo 7). Turn left at the junction before arriving in the town centre and then turn left again on to Via Santa Valeria which soon downgrades to an indistinct and unsignposted footpath. Head out in the direction of the church tower of Santa Valeria (Photo 8) to your right.

Santa Valeria Sormano Caglio

Photo 8. Santa Valeria outside of Sormano

When you re-emerge onto the tarmacked road, turn right and descend down by keeping to the left into Sormano. The turning for the start of the next section (the gruelling climb up the Muro di Sormano) is on your left before you enter the town centre.

Sormano to the Colma del Piano via the Muro di Sormano

I’ll describe this section as if you are starting from Sormano (or have decided to enter the town for sustenance before taking on the aforementioned and dreaded Muro).

Head out of Sormano on the Via Santa Valeria turning right where you see the junction shown in Photo 9. Turn off the tarmacked road onto the well-defined path following the course of a river on its left (Photo 10 and 11).

Asso to Nesso

Photo 9. Via Santa Valeria – the road out of Sormano

Muro di Sormano start of walk

Photo 10. Start of the path up to the Muro di Sormano

Muro di Sormano walk river

Photo 11. The walk up to the Muro di Sormano following the river valley

You soon rejoin the tarmacked road which crosses the river and starts its inexorable climb up to the Colma del Piano. This is the Muro di Sormano known throughout the cycling community as one of the most gruelling climbs on any cycling circuit. The statistics state the climb has an average gradient of 17% rising to a maximum of 25%. Over its 1.7km length, we will climb 280 metres with each metre gained marked on the road (Photo 12).

Mro di Sormano metres

Photo 12. Metre height markings on the Muro di Sormano for cyclists as they make this 1.7km climb.

Cyclists take a seemingly masochistic pleasure in climbs such as this and they do not even have the chance to stop and admire the views as their leg muscles burn under the unrelenting pressure of the incline. We instead are free to stop and admire Monte Grigna or to simply catch our breath (Photo 13).

Monte Grigna Muro Sormano Asso to Nesso

Photo 13. Monte Grigna seen from the Muro di Sormano

At the top we reach the Colma del Piano with its Trattoria Bar and Observatory at 1124 metres above sea level – the highest point of our walk. In fact, from this point on our walk is either downhill or on the level.

Pian del Tivano

We keep to the main road to cross the Pian del Tivano, a flat area at about 900 metres above sea level on the southern side of Monte San Primo (1600 metres). As Don Banfi led his refugees down the hill from the Colma del Piano, they would have got a first glimpse of Switzerland looking west to Monte Generoso and the promise of safety (Photo 14).

Pian del Tivano Asso to Nesso Monte Generoso

Photo 14. Descent to the Pian del Tivano with Monte Generoso in Switzerland in the far distance.

At the time of Don Banfi, the Pian del Tivano was where one of the first groupings of armed partisans gathered under the leadership of former army officers unprepared to serve under an illegitimate regime. However they soon had to retreat further into the mountains due to the vulnerability to parachute attack on such a flat terrain.

Keen potholers may want to explore this area further due to the access it gives to kilometres of underground caverns and water courses carved through the chalk rock. Others may well want to take advantage of the numerous bars and restaurants which bear testimony to the popularity of this area for visitors. In the past, when winters were more severe, there were even skiing installations on the slopes of Monte San Primo (Photo 15). Nowadays these only exist on the colder northern facing slopes of the mountain looking towards Bellagio.

Monte san Primo

Photo 15. Monte San Primo’s (1600m) southern slopes. There are still some skiing facilities but only on the colder north facing side of the mountain.

As we come to the far end of the Pian del Tivano, once having passed a road off to the right signposted to Véleso, we take the next tarmacked road to the left and start out on the last section of this walk.

Following the Nosé Valley to Nesso

This section is not signposted until you get relatively close to Nesso but you cannot go wrong if, wherever faced with a fork along the path, you always take the right hand option. Gradually the tarmac gives way to cobble and the descent towards Nesso gets steeper. All along the way, we get glimpses of the hill side settlements of Véleso and Zelbio (Photo 16) on the slopes of Monte San Primo as we walk along the heavily wooded valley.

Zelbio Veleso Pian del Tivano Asso to Nesso

Photo 16. Zelbio and Veleso seen from the other side of the valley beyond the Pian del Tivano

As the descent gets steeper, we also begin to hear the sound of the gushing torrent which has cut a deep gorge whose sides get ever steeper as the valley closes in. The climate also gets milder as the influence of the lake makes itself felt (Photo 17). Once we cross a stone bridge (Photo 18) it is not long before we reach the outskirts of Nesso (Photo 19) and continue down to the main road between Como and Bellagio at the Piazza Castello.

From here there is a good view of Nesso’s waterfalls, the Orrido di Nesso (Photo 20) or down to the lakefront and Nesso’s famous medieval bridge that spans the Nosé as it enters the lake.

Orrido Nesso

Photo 20. The Orrido di Nesso (Waterfall), seen from the bridge on the main road off the Piaza Castello.

From Piazza Castello you can return to Como by bus C30 or walk down to the lakefront to catch one of the boats from the jetty.

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Heroism and Disaster in the Vallassina – Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th

Sormano Muro Girolombardia Resegone Vallassina

Sormano in the Vallassina seen from the Muro di Sormano

The Vallassina lies in the Lario Triangle between Como and Lecco, based on the town of Asso on the upper reaches of the River Lambro. From September to December 1943 this area hosted numerous refugees from the nazi-fascist state thus witnessing the humanity and inhumanity, the heroism and the disaster caused by the Holocaust.

Quick Historical Background

The armistice signed at the start of September between the Italian government (which had dismissed Mussolini from power back in July) and the allies legitimated the allied occupation in Southern Italy but increased the oppression in the north. Here the Nazis immediately occupied the territory and re-established Mussolini as head of a puppet government known as the RSI (‘Socialist’ Republic of Italy). The short-lived elation created by the armistice was followed by a ratcheting up of repression and the loss of any remaining hope of safety for all of the foreign Jews who had mostly been held in internment since 1940. Now there was no barrier to them being deported to the extermination camps in Eastern Europe. And to their numbers were added all Italian Jews in the occupied zone who now also became subject to arrest and deportation following an order published by the RSI on the 1st December 1943. Thus from this date the Italian Nazi-fascist state acted out its inhuman ideology through its direct involvement in the Nazi Holocaust.

The Vallassina

San Primo Pre-Alps Lario Triangle Vallassina

Monte San Primo (1600m), the highest of the Pre-Alp peaks in the Lario Triangle

The Vallassina was a natural choice for refugees and those seeking to avoid the attention of the authorities. Firstly it was readily accessible by train from Milan (an advantage that proved short-lived since the ease of access also favoured the Nazi authorities). As a holiday destination in the foothills of the Alps, it offered a variety of accommodation in hotels or in many of the second homes owned by those beginning to form part of the active resistance to occupation. Lastly, it was on a route to the clandestine border crossing points into neutral Switzerland that were well known and frequently used by local smugglers (see Como and Contraband – A Romanticised Legacy? for more on the local smuggling tradition).

Alongside the refugees, some initiatives of spontaneous resistance began to take shape in the area; for example the ex-army officer Colonel Gatta set up a partisan brigade based on the Pian del Tivano right by Sormano.

Partisans Alta Brianza Pian del Tivano parachute attack

Pian Del Tivano where some of the first armed partisans in Alta Brianza gathered under the leadership of Major Gatta.

Ada Tommasi Mario de Micheli Sormano 1955

Ada Tommasi and Mario de Micheli were two nationally renowned communists who sought refuge in Sormano and organised ‘viaggi della salvezza’ from there for Jews throughout the Nazi Occupation.

This group in turn connected with the partisans in the Erba/Ponte Lambro area led by Giancarlo Puecher. The CLN (Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale), the organisation responsible for coordinating resistance in the north, set up links through the Vallassina for smuggling out ex-allied prisoners of war. Others such as the communist married couple Ada Tommasi and Mario De Micheli, came to Sormano living there secretly and aiding Jews in making their escape into Switzerland.

The Catholic organisation known as OSCAR was also beginning to co-ordinate the assistance to refugees along the so-called ‘viaggi della salvezza’ offered by priests and parishioners living in the border areas.

Don Carlo Banfi

Don Carlo Banfi priest Sormano 1943

Don Carlo Banfi, Priest of Sormano 1943 – 1945.

The young priest of Sormano, Don Carlo Banfi,  was one who spontaneously set about offering help to those who had arrived on his doorstep seeking safety. He hid and housed Ada Tommasi and Mario De Micheli in the basement of his vicarage. He joined them in organising escapes into Switzerland for Jews, ex-allied prisoners of war or other enemies of the state.  These escapes were led usually by the local smugglers who had detailed knowledge of the clandestine crossing points. These clandestine routes were becoming vital since the Nazi authorities had quickly blocked off the official crossing points in Varese and Como. The Swiss authorities had also closed the border in response to the Nazi occupation.

Sormano 1940s Parish Church

Sormano and the parish church at the time of Don Carlo Banfi. Taken from a postcard in a private collection produced by Edizioni Prato Bambina, Sormano

However, as summer turned to winter in November 1943, these guides reported that the crossings were becoming dangerous due to the cold. Don Banfi wanted to check this for himself and so he decided to join the next planned evacuation. All went well. The refugees had gained safety across the border but Don Banfi was detained by the Swiss Border guards and warned that he was committing an offence in crossing the border secretly. However they allowed him to return home on this occasion. Back in Sormano, a much larger group of Jewish refugees were awaiting safe passage and they were under time pressure since the Nazi authorities were every day securing control of more of the territory. There were even rumours that they planned to parachute troops into the Pian del Tivano to deal both with the partisans forming there and the clandestine refugee traffic. Don Banfi had no time to make proper preparations for this next journey into Switzerland. Instead he left on November 22nd hurriedly leading a group of 16 Jews which included both some young children and some elderly who would face real difficulty in managing the exhausting two-day journey of mountain climb and descent by foot.

November 22nd 1943

Giro di Lombardia Muro di Sormano cycling viaggi della salvezza don carlo banfi

Don Banfi would probably have led his group up this path leading to the infamous Muro di Sormano now renowned as one of the steepest ascents on any road cycling race.

Don Banfi set off on this dangerous journey with 3 accomplices in addition to the group of 16 refugees. Along the way they received help from the country people working in the woods and, when they finally reached the border, from the Italian Customs Police (Guardia di Finanza) who directed them to avoid military patrols and pointed out where best to cross the border fencing. More detail of the heroic role played by the Guardia di Finanza in assisting refugees is reported in our article Como’s ‘Viaggi della Salvezza’ – In Memory of the Holocaust.

Pian del Tivano Monte Generoso Switzerland

Pian del Tivano – the escapees would have got their first glimpse of Switzerland as they entered the Pian del Tivano after descending from the Colma del Piano at 1120m.

The route had taken them from Sormano on to the Pian del Tivano and down to Nesso. They then had crossed the western leg of the lake to get to Torrigia, staying  the night at an inn before crossing over to Switzerland along the border by Mount Bisbino – a long and arduous two-day journey which had left most of the group totally exhausted by the time they had crossed over into Switzerland.

Orrido di Nesso Waterfall

Orrido di Nesso, a welcome sight after the long climb and descent to the lake.

Most were unable to walk any further down into the valley. Don Banfi and his accomplices reported to the Swiss border police advising them to bring down the exhausted refugees to safety. He however could not avoid arrest this time but received a lenient sentence partly thanks to the intervention of the Archbishop of Lugano who also passed on to Don Banfi the advice he had received from the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Schuster, stating he should not in any way attempt to return into Italy since the Nazi-fascist authorities were seeking harsh retribution. So Don Banfi remained in Switzerland working as a chaplain in internment camps until the war ended.

 

Local Holocaust Victims

But back in Sormano, the retribution and repression was mounting.  In spite of this,  many of Don Banfi’s parishioners and the husband and wife team of Ada and Marco De Micheli continued to assist refugees. They were unable to save all Jews as the authorities  increased their control over the territory. A local inhabitant, Liliana Picciotto Fargion, has provided testimony documenting the names of those Jews arrested in Sormano at around this time and subsequently deported to extermination camps.  None of those listed below were to survive. Their names have been  listed here out of respect for their  sacrifice and to illustrate how the disaster of the Holocaust directly impacted Italy under the Nazi-fascist regime of the RSI.

Oliviero Ruggero Barda was arrested in December 1943, sent to Auschwitz, killed on 25th September 1944. Salamone Barda and Renata Hannuna, were arrested together also in December 1943, sent to Auschwitz and subsequently killed on 10th April 1944. Simeone Barda, also arrested in December 1943, sent to Auschwitz, with date of death unknown. The married couple Alessandro Bardavid and Violetta Pontremoli were arrested 13th March 1944, sent to Auschwitz. The date of their death is unknown. Elia Bardavid was arrested along with her parents on the 13th March 1944, also sent to Auschwitz, killed after 22nd January 1945.

The younger daughter of the Bardavid family, Graziella, was saved since she had been entrusted to a married couple living in Asso named Maria Bonaiti and Giuseppe Mazza. Both Maria and Giuseppe were awarded the title ‘Just Among Nations’ in 1998 by the Israeli organisation Yad Vashem.

Ponte della Civera medieval bridge Nesso Lake Como

This medieval bridge at the foot of the Orrido di Nesso as the river enters the lake would have marked the end of the first day’s gruelling ‘viaggio della salvezza’ for Don Banfi’s party of 16 Jewish refugees.

Reward with the title ‘Just Among Nations’ was also conferred on the communist couple, Ada Tommasi and Mario De Micheli as well as on Don Carlo Banfi.

Don Carlo Banfi was also honoured with the Gold Medallion in 1955 by the Union of the Italian Hebrew Community. He returned to Italy after the war and took up the priesthood in Varese until the 1970s. He is an unsung hero whose impact went well beyond his deeds through the example of moral and physical courage he provided to colleagues and parishioners alike. Thanks to his example, other locals were inspired to maintain their humane values and to continue providing assistance to  evacuees wherever possible in spite of the threats and acts of state retribution. For me what I find the most inspiring is his willingness to work alongside whoever had a humane spirit irrespective of their political or religious affiliations. This attitude, exemplified by people such as Don Carlo, was apparently briefly but gloriously shared by many during those years of resistance and its spirit dominated the positive collaboration across ideologies in the drafting of the constitution after the war.

The sources of information for this article came from the research undertaken by the Istituto Di Storia Contemporanea ‘Pier Amato Perretta’ based in Como and to the publication issued by the Sormano Comune, the Sormano Alpine Group and the Parish of Saint Ambrogio entitled ‘Don Carlo Banfi: Un Eroe Sconosciuto’.

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Como – How Green is Our City?

If looking down on Como from any of the surrounding mountains and seeing it nestled at the end of its glimmering lake, who would ever think to question the ecological purity of such a stupendous setting?

Como Lake Como Cernobbio Moltrasio

Como in the foreground looking north to Cernobbio and Moltrasio

Yet looking south or west there is another Como – the industrial city of textile production or the city of commuters making their daily way north into Ticino or south into the Milan conurbation – a city of over 80,000 people of whom most may get to glimpse the lakefront only ‘en passage’ or for an occasional weekend passeggiata.

Looking down on Como city south to the Baradello Tower and the Pianura Padana

Como looking south from San Donato towards the Torre Baradello and on to the Pianura Padana towards Milan.

And in fact the latest figures released last October by the Italian NGO, Legambiente, detailing the environmental performance of all the provincial capitals in Italy, show that Como is an ecological curate’s egg –that is, good but only in parts!

The report from Legambiente entitled ‘Ecosistema Urbano 2017’ places all provincial capitals such as Como within a regional (Lombardy for us) and national ranking identifying those who fall below the standards set by the European Union. The data has been synthesised and then published by Como’s Camera di Commercio (Chamber of Commerce) with the full report available from this link. However here follows a summary of where we stand nationally and compared with fellow provincial capitals in the region such as Varese, Lecco, Monza and Milan.

AIR QUALITY

Milan

Via Dante looking towards the Castello Sforzesco, Milan

Milan and other cities in the Pianura Padana, including Como, have historically fared badly in measures of air quality recording some of the highest levels of smog across Europe and on a par only with some parts of Poland. So it is of no surprise to discover that our record in this category is classified as ‘poor’ meaning we exceed the levels set for at least two out of the four measures of air quality. We fail in our average levels of nitrogen dioxide and the number of days registering high levels of ozone. For nitrogen dioxide we are ranked 91st out of about 115 cities with Milan at 95. Our average level is 46 micrograms per cubic metre, 6 points above the EU standard set at 40 micrograms. However, other cities in Lombardy and the Pianura Padana fare much better with Mantova ranking only 19th nationally. In fact, Mantova is the shining example for most of the ecological measures in the report and is by far overall the greenest city in Lombardy.

Green Como 2

How high is the ozone level on a lovely summer’s day?

Excessive ozone is another problem we share with other cities in the Po Valley aggravated by the high temperatures in the summer months and the relative lack of wind. Como had 37 days in the year when the ozone level exceeded the safety standard. It appears that for this measure at least we are not helped by the mountains that flank us on two sides since these tend to trap the air above the city if there is no wind to disperse it. Varese managed much worse than us with 70 days above safety level whilst the cleanest city in Lombardy was Sondrio with 10 days. Genoa was the worst across the nation with a staggering 155 days above safety level.

One positive aspect for us in terms of air quality is the relatively low level of small particles in the atmosphere where we score within the safety level and Sondrio again gets the cleanest score in Lombardy.

WATER

Water

Lake Como

Sustainability requires us to reduce as far as possible the daily consumption of fresh water. The national average daily consumption per person is apparently 151 litres (although drought conditions in some parts of Italy, e.g. Agrigento, can explain some spectacularly low consumption figures in some areas). Como’s average daily consumption per person is 185 litres. The lowest level in Lombardy is Varese at 131 litres and the highest is Milan with 209 litres.

Another measure of sustainability is the percentage of fresh water lost in the system through leaks or damage to the supply network. Como has a positive record in that 21% of fresh water is lost which is below the national average. Varese loses 33% of its fresh water whilst Monza is the most efficient losing only 10.8%.

Water 1

Point where the Cosia flows into the lake having passed through the purification plant on Via Innocenzo. Villa Olmo in the background.

This last year even the beach areas around the city were deemed clean enough to allow for swimming in the lake. This was due to recent improvements in the amount of waste passing through purification plants. Most cities in Lombardy put all their waste through purification plants however Como, although showing improvements, manages only 88% – the lowest level in Lombardy. Nationally however Benevento scores the lowest with only 22% of waste passing through a treatment centre.

REFUSE

 

Transport

Concordia enters port – old methods of transport still hold good

The challenge for the future is to reduce the amount of waste generated per inhabitant and then to recycle as much as possible of what is generated. In terms of waste generation the Comaschi create a yearly average per person of 466 kilos which is well below the national average of 536 kilos. We were outdone by the virtuous Monzese with a figure of 430 kilos yet far better than the Bresciani who produced a scale-tipping 675 kilos per person.

We are also quite virtuous recyclers exceeding the government target of 65% recycling set in 2012 by achieving 66.5% last year. However the truly virtuous triumvirate of cities are in the North East with Trento at 81.6%, Treviso at 85% and Pordenone with an impressive 86.6% of all refuse sent for recycling. In sad contrast Siracusa could only manage to recycle 2.8%.

MOBILITY

Transport 1

Como’s special form of public transport – the funicualr railway to and from Brunate

The availability and use of public transport is another effective measure of the extent to which city councils are facing up to the challenges of providing for a sustainable future. More use of public transport could be expected in large cities or those with exceptional circumstances such as Venice which naturally tops the national ranking in the average number of journeys on public transport per inhabitant. Each Venetian travels almost twice a day on public transport whilst for cities the size of Como, Brescia scores highest with 195 journeys per year. Como’s score is 75 which is a higher rate of public transport use than most other cities of a similar size in Lombardy.

However the number of journeys undertaken on public transport obviously depends on how much public transport is available. Milan has the greatest score with 91 kilometres of transport availble per inhabitant. Smaller cities would have proportionally less with Como having 28 kilometres which puts it above Mantova, Varese, Lecco and Monza. Sondrio has surprisingly few kilometres of public transport (6 km) and a correspondingly high level of private car ownership.

Transport 2

Vintage car on the lakefront

Car ownership is however unsurprisingly low in Venice with 43 cars per 100 inhabitants. Milan scores the lowest in Lombardy with 51 whilst Como has 61 cars per 100 inhabitants, amongst the highest levels in Lombardy.

How safe are our roads, or statistically, how many deaths or injuries arise from traffic accidents per 1000 head of population? Bergamo’s streets are the most dangerous with 10.7 incidents per 1000 inhabitants. Sondrio, despite its high level of car ownership, is amongst the safest cities with 3.4 whilst Como is in 39th place nationally with a figure of 7.0.

Reggio Emilia heads the national charts in the provision of cycle paths with 41 metres per 100 inhabitants. Cremona and Mantova in Lombardy are not far behind (lovely flat cycling in the Pianura Padana!). Como is unfortunately below the national average of 7.53 metres with only 2.9 metres.

URBAN STRUCTURE

The city most well-endowed with pedestrian areas unsurprisingly is Venice. They offer an average of 5.3 square metres per inhabitant. In Lombardy Cremona heads the list with 1.2 square metres followed by Mantova with 0.9 and Milan  with 0.5. Como is 12th nationally with 0.3 square metres whilst Lecco and Monza at 0.1 are two of the least pedestrianised cities in Itay.

Street

Streets in the old town within the ZTL – or pedestrianised area

Obvious signs of ‘greenery’ are the number of trees in public spaces with Brescia leading the national chart with 59 trees per 100 inhabitants well ahead of Como with 11, the lowest level in Lombardy. We do better in the amount of public green space coming 11th nationally. At 69 square metres per inhabitant, we are the second most green city in Lombardy after Sondrio.

Power

Life Electric – Libeskind’s sculptural homage to Alessandro Volta and his city.

And finally we almost lead the way just behind Lodi in Lombardy in the generation of renewable energy from solar power. We are in 10th place nationally generating 11.6 kilowatts per 1000 inhabitants. The leader is Padua with 30.3 kilowatts.

CONCLUSION

So what can we make out of this somewhat confusing set of statistics. Can we in any way profile a city through figures of this sort? They clearly don’t give any precise indication to the heart and soul of a place although the consistently positive scoring of a city like Mantova could lead us (quite rightly I believe) to assume it’s a city well and imaginatively managed.  And as for Como? What should be our judgement? My daughter used regularly to come back from school with a report repeating the judgement ‘discreto’ over a range of subjects. Maybe this also applies to Como since we obviously need to improve on our air quality. There is also no reason why we should not be purifying all of our water waste like every other city in Lombardy and nor should we be wasting over 20% of fresh water given how supply is becoming ever more variable. No real issues with waste management but more to do on mobility particularly in the provision of cycle paths which would in any case be much appreciated by resident and visitor alike. Perhaps it is a bit disappointing that we, as a city with a worldwide reputation as a spectacular tourist destination, cannot manage to lead in at least one of these ecological measures.  And why not just pedestrianise the whole of the lakefront, if not permanently at least at weekends as happens along parts of the river bank in Paris.

Private cars

A lakefront without cars? Wouldn’t that be nice.

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Como Companion Tries Out a Social Media Strategy

The ongoing support and interest of you, the readers of Como Companion, have encouraged me to link a Facebook page to this online newsletter.

 

Facebook banner for Como Companion page - Hotel Vista Lago Como

Banner of the new Facebook page for Como Companion

Our Facebook presence will mainly give notice of upcoming events in the Como area that may be of interest to English-speaking residents and visitors. The newsletter has not previously covered this type of content. For example, it will be able to share details of events organised by followers of this blog like  Irma Kennaway‘s presence at the ‘I Did It’ Exhibition at the nhow Hotel, Milan.

Irma Kennaway I Did It Exhibition

Some of Irma Kennaway’s works at the ‘I Did It’ exhibition, nhow Hotel, Milan. The artworks will remain on show until April 2018.

In addition to the standard events that occur throughout the year, e.g. the Christmas activities put together by Città dei Balocchi, it will inform you of one-off events organised by local restaurants and wine bars as well as those activities organised by social and sporting associations.

Crib 3

One of the cribs on show at San Giacomo Church – this event organised by Citta Dei Balocchi is the first to be posted on CC’s Facebook page.

The newsletter will continue to post articles describing walks, aspects of local history, interviews with local artists such as Ester Maria Negretti and Mr. Savethewall, etc.. It will maintain its eclectic mix of industrial, touristic and cultural subjects. The aim of discovering and sharing knowledge of this fascinating and beautiful area remains unaltered other than possibly to align ourselves ever more firmly to the tenets of sustainability and the ‘slow’ movement – with slow food and, of relevance to residents as well as tourists, slow tourism.

Cherub in fountain at Villa Olmo Winter 2017

Freezing Cherub in Villa Olmo Fountain – Winter 2016/17

The newsletter will continue to update its calendar which tries to include postings on events of possible interest to English speakers. So we exclude items such as drama performances in local dialect (of which there are a fair few),  or more typically, presentations and discussions held exclusively in Italian. However you can turn to the CC Facebook page for greater detail on some of the more accessible upcoming events for ex-pats and visitors.

 

Piazza Volta Christmas lights Como Alessandro Volta statue

Latest Instagram photo – Alessandro Volta looks down from his plinth on the Christmas lights in Piazza Volta.

There is also a Como Companion Instagram account used mainly to share photos of this beautiful area where we either live or visit. The challenge is to combine the use of these three channels in a coherent self-supporting way. I foresee the newsletter content becoming more stable and less time-specific with the Facebook page taking on the more dynamic content. Instagram will hopefully alert you to what has been published on either of the other two channels as well as continuing to offer me the chance of wallowing in the visual beauty of Como, its lake and surrounding hills and mountains. However this optimistically-named strategy turns out, I thank all of the Companion’s readers and followers for your support over the last year and I hope you stay on board over the years to come.

Misty lake

Misty Lake – Winter chill

 

 

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Civiglio to Civiglio – A Circular Walk on the Slopes of Mount Uccellera

This post has now been moved to Civiglio to Civiglio: A Circular Walk on the Slopes of Mount Uccellera

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Como’s December Delights

As the nights grow longer and temperatures get lower, Como goes through another of its periodical metamorphoses – producing a set of seasonal December delights.

Piazza Duomo 2

Piazza Duomo

What better way can there be of exploiting the increased hours of winter darkness than by staging spectacular light shows? The 8208 Lighting Design Festival (see images in our Photo Gallery) has just been an artistic aperitif to sharpen the appetite for the so-called Città dei Balocchi’s lighting extravaganza across the city’s main piazzas and monuments which started last Saturday. Why not also while away the dark hours immersed in the latest ‘noir’ crime fiction and finally, celebrate the opening of a modern, well-conceived and engrossing museum in the Art Nouveau masterpiece in Cernobbio by visiting the Villa Bernasconi.

Piazza Volta

Merry-go-round in Piazza Volta

The switching on of the lights has become the symbolic start of the Christmas holiday season with Como going all out to attract as many visitors and shoppers to its streets. The Città dei Balocchi, now into its 24th year and sponsored primarily by local business, encompasses not just the light shows but also the Christmas market in Piazza Cavour at the heart of which is the outdoor ice rink, the vintage merry-go-round in Piazza Volta and the Ferris wheel in the lake gardens and much else.

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Christmas market, Piazza Cavour

In fact a full range of Christmas activities comes under the ‘Città dei Balocchi’ umbrella. Details of all events are available on their dedicated website  in Italian only or also on the Comune’s newsletter available also in English.

Another major seasonal attraction, hopefully on course to also becoming a tradition, is the Noir in Festival event. This celebration of crime and detective fiction moved from Courmayeur last year. It is actually held over two centres with all events between 4th and 6th December held in Milan and those from 7th to 10th December held in Como. This is a must for all lovers of ‘noir’ crime fiction.

noir in festivalAll events in the festival are free, consisting of film screenings and discussions with a variety of authors. Those films shown in Como are mainly international in original language with Italian subtitles. The live authors are mainly Italian. Como is also the location for the presentation of the prestigious Raymond Chandler Award which goes this year to the Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood.

margaret atwood

A ‘noir’ and regrettably apposite quote from a young Margaret Atwood

The auditorium of the Teatro Sociale is the location for the film screenings and the award ceremony whilst the meetings with authors are held in the elegant Sala Bianca on the theatre’s first floor.  The film  screenings at the Teatro Sociale are listed in our calendar whilst details of these and all other events are available from the Festival’s website which is available in English.

Finally, it’s great to hear of a new museum opening in Como – or at least in nearby Cernobbio. The Villa Bernasconi, a Liberty-style masterpiece built for the owner of what was the largest textile mill in Italy (see Como Silk) has been renovated internally and now opens its doors to the public as a rather unique form of museum.

There are so many good reasons to visit this new museum. Here are some of them: 1) The Building – is a masterpiece of art nouveau design and craftsmanship. The interior has been restored to show the marvelous work in stucco, wrought iron, stained glass and fresco.

2) The Story – Davide Bernasconi, the factory owner who commissioned the villa, developed the largest textile mill in Italy and his company was one of the main silk producers in the Como area. The museum provides a lot of information about the silk industry bringing it alive through the reproduction of personal testimonies. It acts as a true compliment to Como’s Silk Museum in that the Villa Bernasconi illustrates the actual lives of both the factory owners and their workers. 3) The Methods – the museum has used some effective multi-media and interactive ways of conveying its story making the the content very accessible to all including English speakers since most of the material presented (orally and visually) is in two languages.  I can heartily recommend a visit to the Villa for anyone interested in art, architecture, or the history of the local silk industry.

The museum is open from Monday to Friday from 15.00 to 18.00, and from 10.00-18.00 at the weekends. Entrance costs €8 or €5 for those over 65. Those under 14 or over 75 enter free. More information is available from their website.

Villa Bernasconi front

Villa Bernasconi, Largo Campanini 2, Cernobbio

 

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Cantù – The Good, (The Bad) and The Beautiful

Galliano_mappa_1582

Cantù in 1582

Cantù is famous for its master craftsmen and its long tradition of artisan furnishings and cabinet making.  It is the spiritual home of the Brianza-based  furniture industry yet, at only 10 kilometres from Como, remains off the main tourist map. Undoubtedly this would not have been the case if it had only been able to retain its monumental medieval city walls. Fortunately two of its historical gems do remain and those are the Basilica di San Vincenzo and its baptistery shown here on the map as Gaiano or as spelled today, the monumental complex of Galliano. Hopefully this article will convince you of at least two good reasons for visiting modern-day Cantù.

 

When arriving at the city, head for its main piazza, Piazza Garibaldi, at the top of the hill. Take the tall bell tower of the San Paolo church as your landmark standing  on the northern edge of the piazza with a view over the city. This church was to take over the role as Cantù’s parish church from the Basilica di San Vincenzo when built towards the end of the 11th century.

Piazza Garibaldi

Piazza Garibaldi

On the western side of the square a dominant neo-classical building houses the ‘Permanente Mobili’ – an exhibition space for showing off the work of Cantù’s artisans in the design and production of both classical and contemporary furniture. Students of design should definitely include this exhibition in any itinerary of Milan and its hinterland, particularly if the Permanente is hosting exhibitions like the recent one dedicated to architect and designer Gio Ponti, the architect of Milan’s Pirelli skyscraper. Gio Ponti worked with many of the Cantù artisans to produce the furniture he designed for the Rinascente chain.

Gio Ponti Rinascente

Designed by Gio Ponti for Rinascente, displayed at the Permanente Mobili Cantù

What he and other designers appreciated was not just the quality of the local craftsmanship but the evidence of creativity and imagination in the use of materials and in the application of new production techniques.

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Cantù craftsmanship on display – marquetry topped table, Permanente Mobili Cantù

Cantù’s artisans have a long tradition of maintaining and updating their skills and knowledge thanks to the foresight of ancestors like the town’s mayor from 1881 to 1885, Mosè Arconati. He encouraged local craftsmen to start exhibiting their works in Milan. He set up the Scuola d’Arte that ensured continuity and growth in the design skills needed for both the silk and furniture industries. espo permanente garibaldiHe also established the first co-operatives designed to combine purchasing power and thus acquire the craftsmen’s raw materials at reduced prices. It was this approach that led on to the establishment of the Permanente as a means of marketing the products directly to the public. In the post-war heyday of the sixties and seventies, the exhibition hall would be full of members of the general public, many coming up from Milan at the weekend to view the latest in modern furniture design, as in the work of Gio Ponti’s fellow collaborator, designer Carlo de Carli.

carlodecarli1969

Leather and chrome armchair, by Carlo de Carli 1969, on display at the Permanente Mobili Cantù

With the globalisation of markets, the role of the Permanente as a sales channel has declined significantly in recent years, alongwith the associated services that used to be provided to all active members. However, for the casual visitor, it still offers examples of work by some of the most influential designers of the last century and an ongoing testimony to the skills of Cantù’s local craftsmen. The ground floor exhibition space is dedicated to local furniture makers Emmemobili, whose products go to show how Cantu’s craftsmen’s reputation for quality, innovation and design is still very much evident.

Hubert by Ferruccio Laviani for Emmemobili

‘Hubert’ dresser by Ferruccio Laviani for Emmemobili

(The Bad)

Piazza Garibaldi 2

Legitimate change of management or forced out from Piazza Garibaldi?

(Whilst modern day politicians might well profit from working out how they can best support rather than hinder artisans in competing in the contemporary marketplace, they do also need to pay attention to the ever-present threat to civil life from organised crime. It came as a shock recently when nine members of an ‘ndrangheta mafia clan were arrested in Cantù. Details of these arrests for threats and violence against local bar and club owners in and around Piazza Garibaldi are covered in our update to our article on the Mafia in the North available at this link.)

The Beautiful

Complex exterior

The Monumental Complex of Galliano in Cantù

Let’s turn our attention now to the other glorious reason for visiting this small city – the monumental complex of the Basilica di Galliano. This is a fifteen minute walk from Piazza Garibaldi leading you to the slight hillside rise on top of which sits the Basilica alongside the baptistery. These austere Romanesque structures were started towards the end of the 10th century under the  instructions of Ariberto da Intimiano, who later went on to become Bishop of Milan. The basilica and baptistery were built to replace pre-existing Christian buildings erected in the 5th century on a site that had sacred significance for the Romans from as early as 300 BC.

Basilica Crypt with Madonna della Latte

The Crypt with the Madonna della Latte to the right

The buildings have had a checkered history over their 11 centuries of existence being deconsecrated for a while and falling into use as modest dwellings for farm workers. However, even throughout this period, the local population used to come to pray in front of the image of the ‘Madonna Della Latte’ in the hope that she would bring fertility.

This fresco is from the mid 14th century. However the true artistic treasures are the 11th century frescoes adorning the concave walls of the apse and the two sides of the nave. Needless to say, few 11th century frescoes remain and these also are not in the best of condition. However they are of such a quality that they still carry visual impact and provide a tantalising glimpse into the mindset of those early Christian devotees whose priests and bishops wielded the bible in one hand and a sword in the other.

Basilica Apse

The apse of the Basilica with 11th century frescoes

The Baptistery is pure austere beauty, maybe enhanced for our modern tastes by the simple whitewashed walls that contrast with the bare stone facades.  It is an intimate space which focusses all eyes towards the central font and to its one and only purpose.

Baptistry Interior 4

The Baptistery of Saint John

Ariberto

Fresco of Ariberto presenting a model of his basilica

As you walk around this complex, you can view out towards the Alps on the northern horizon. The location conveys an indescribable sense of calm and serenity. It is no surprise that it has performed some form of spiritual function from Roman times, and possibly even earlier. This sense of calm persists even though the town has grown around the Basilica. Ariberto intended it as a gift of spirituality and artistic excellence to both God and his patrons. It has now passed through all the vicissitudes of eleven centuries to become a gift for us to enjoy – well worth the visit to Cantù!

FURTHER INFORMATION

Basilica di Galliano

Many more photos of the Basilica are available in our Photo Gallery.

A more detailed description of the interior and history of the Basilica and Baptistery is available from Wikipedia but there is also an excellent brochure in three languages available at the site published by Iubilantes.

Opening times: Summer (April to September) Closed Monday, Tuesday to Friday 15.00-18.00, Saturday and Sunday 09.30-11.30 and 15.00-18.00. Winter (October to March) as during the summer but it closes an hour earlier in the evening.

Permanenza Mobili

The Permanenza Mobili’s exhibition halls are open from Monday to Friday all day but closed over lunch, and on Saturdays in the morning only.

Follow this link for the Permanente’s website.

Follow this link for Emmemobili’s website.

Much of the production from Cantù’s artisans is done on behalf of the many design houses based in Brianza such as Poltrona Frau or Emmemobili. However you can contact some of the workshops directly if you wish to commission your own made to measure pieces, for example kitchen or bathroom furnishings. The following three websites are intended just to give an idea of the skills available. I can personally recommend the work of Colombo Giovanni, a family run carpentry business linked to a consortium of other artisan workshops to provide complete solutions including design.  Other sites are Boiserie Italia, and another Colombo, the Fratelli Colombo.

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Streetscape 6  – Facing a Credibility Crisis?

streetscape

Como is currently hosting the 6th edition of the street and urban festival called Streetscape – a total of 10 (+1) installations are dotted around or just outside the old town. Well established in its 6th year, Streetscape now forms part of the changing seasonal agenda when the city shifts focus from the lake attractions of high summer to a more cerebral celebration of its urban structure in autumn. This year Streetscape runs from mid-October until 19th November, coinciding partially with another art/technology event, the 8208 Lighting Design Festival, which also consists of art installations dotted around the town. Whilst the Lighting Design installations can only be appreciated after nightfall, Streetscape is ideal for those looking for a good reason for walking around the old town during the day. Just pick up a copy of the exhibition’s brochure, unfold it and follow the map! Last year I was unable to track down at least two of the art works. This year I have found all of them except the one flagged as being in Via Petrarca.

savethewall

The Great Wave by Mr. Savethewall, on the wall of the Caffe dei Viaggatori , Via Giovio 13

However I did discover the +1 unlisted in the brochure which officially is unattributed but has the hallmark of Como’s resident street artist and polemicist – Mr. Savethewall. Full details of this work are available on the Facebook site of Pierpaolo Perretta  – aka Mr. Savethewall. (Follow this link for CC’s recent interview with Mr. Savethewall). ‘The Great Wave’ has all the characteristics of a Savethewall classic, namely ambiguity, iconic referencing to other artworks and cultures, political polemics and social awareness.

biblioteca

Dicotomania by Alberonero in the courtyard of the Biblioteca Civile.

Viewing art seems by necessity to include a degree of personal evaluation ranging from emotional or aesthetic  impact leading possibly on to personal interpretations of ‘meaning’.  Part of this process for street art may well include considering how the work fits into its urban setting.  For example the work by Alberonero entitled ‘Dicotomia’ is described as ‘using squares as a means of pure expression of single colours chosen to reproduce the modularity of the architectural elements present on the site’. If this is the case, are we left to judge the work negatively if we don’t ‘get it’?

spiderman

Spiderman by Domenico Pellegrino at Via Volpi 1.

One work whose setting most definitely sparked off a lot of consecutive thoughts for me was ‘Spiderman’ in Via Volpi. I loved the contrast between the domestic scale of its Como location to the original Marvel Comic habitat of its superhero antagonists. And it prompted a warm glow of affection for the human scale and warm colours of this Como environment compared with the distopian vision of Gotham City or wherever it is that Spiderman normally hangs out.

castelnuovo

Hoarding in Via Castelnuovo by Waone

One challenge for the curators of an exhibition of this sort must be balancing the needs for security with the sometimes conflicting need for free access. After all, the nature of street art is something freely available to all, to be enjoyed almost accidentally and accessed with the minimum of restriction. But these are works by professional artists who may not take kindly to public modification or outright vandalism of their work. Maybe the one work from a well-established artist which manages to maintain all its street credentials including spatial impact without the need for additional security is the work by Ukrainian street artist Waone on Via Castelnuovo. Installed as an advertising hoarding on a nondescript section of dual carriageway on the periphery of the old town, this is a truly accidental treasure for those who come across It – a gem of fantasy to brighten the day of those driving to and from work on this stretch of road which offers little else in the way of visual stimulation.

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Work by Andrea Fiorino installed in the old greenhouse, Piazza Martinelli

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Work by Francesco Diluca, Museo Archeologico

Unfortunately the need for security has in most other instances driven the installations behind railings or within the secured grounds of the art gallery or Civic Museum.

If your art is installed behind railings, it should preferably be two dimensional and bright – as is the case with Andrea Fiorino’s work behind the railings of the old greenhouse in Piazza Martinelli. Last year’s installation in this spot was two dimensional but not colourful and so had the impact of a dirty rag slung across a clothes line.

You can also look through the railings of the Museo Archeologico to view Francesco Diluca’s work in the museum’s courtyard but do try to go inside to view this sculpture in the round so as fully to appreciate it.

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Work by Icio Borghi under the portico of the Chiostrino Artificio

Icio Borghi’s work in cardboard is safely installed within the Chiostrino Artificio under the portico thus protected from the elements. Here the restrictions on access (only visible when the Chiostrino is open) are of less importance than the fact that the artwork is upstaged by the charm and beauty of its setting. The Chiostrino is a glorious architectural gem worth visiting at any time or for any reason.

pinacoteca

Filippo Borella at the Pinacoteca

Security gets even more severe to the point of paranoia at the Pinacoteca where Filippo Borella’s wooden sculptures are not just accessed within the inner courtyard of the art gallery but in addition close contact is barred by a security tape as used to partition off crime scenes. The sanctity of their display area was also reinforced by the lady on reception warning me to respect the taped-off ‘scene of the crime’.

However the ultimate security arrangements are reserved for Nei Alberti’s piece entitled ‘I.C.’ for Italia Como dislocated from below the Broletto. This work has been removed ostensibly due to problems of bad weather and has been replaced by a photograph of the original installation. This goes beyond irony .

broletto

A photo of the photo of the uninstalled installation by Nei Alberti under the Broletto.

Yet perhaps I am not being fair in making fun of the security conscious curators particularly when considering the installation on the stone wall of Como’s Lago railway station. This installation consists of a variety of shoes stuck to the wall to make the word GO. Some of these shoes have already either fallen or been taken from their setting – thus underlining the fragility of art put before the masses, or the need for some people to match up a much-loved but singular shoe.

shoes

Work by Urbansolid, Como Lago Station

Fears of vandalism seem not however to have afflicted the curators of the 8208 Lighting Design installations. This urban exhibition went live on Friday 4th November and runs until the 27th November with 6 different works to be seen. These also offer a good excuse for walking around the city although obviously after dark. Two of the installations are in the Giardini di Tempio Voltiano, and at Porto Torre, Molo di Sant’ Agostino, Via Pretorio and finally at the Villa Bernasconi in Cernobbio. ‘Horizontal Interference’ by Kasjo Studio is also interesting enough during the day without artificial light!

giardini

Horizontal Interference, by Kasjo Studio – part of 8208 Lighting Design Festival.

The Comune di Como is to be congratulated for their imagination in supporting these urban art initiatives but maybe the Streetscape curators need to be just a little less risk averse when seeking to protect the authenticity of their artists’ works.

pinacoteca light festival.pngAfter all, Street Art should by definition be open to public modification yet as it too assumes ever increasing commercial value, its authenticity requires greater protection which in turn causes it to become ‘gallery art placed outside’. Street artists need to be prepared in the manner of Mr. Savethewall,  to have their art modified, vandalised or even removed as the price to be paid for true street credibility.

 

Streetscape 6 runs until the 19th November. The 8208 Lighting Design Festival consists of the 6 installations around town, an exhibition at the Pinacoteca Civile named ‘Black Light Art’ and a number of other events. Details are available on their website.

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The Poetry and Joy of Urban Portraiture – Adriano Caverzasio

If you aim to impart joy through your art, you best do it with a big smile – just like Adriano Caverzasio’s when I met him recently! And, if your art is intended to bring pleasure to all ages, how much better it is when the company of the artist himself gives as much pleasure as his artistic output. For it was certainly a great pleasure for me when I interviewed him during his exhibition entitled ‘Visioni Arbitrarie’ at the gallery of San Pietro in Atrio on Via Odescalchi.

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Adriano Caverzasio alongside two of his studies of the Asilo Sant’Elia designed by Giuseppe Terragni.

This exhibition was mainly but not entirely devoted to his study of some of the iconic buildings in Como, treated in either two or three dimensions. It also included portraiture with a series of some of the most influential artists from the 1900’s.

Adriano explained the importance of some of these artistic figures to me later in the interview but I wanted to start by understanding more about his interest in architecture.

heroes 1

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Ritratti’ 2017, Acrylics on chipboard. From left to right:  Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keefe and Sergio Giacometti

 

AC: More than anything else, I have borrowed from architecture so as to do my own thing. In the way children seek to dismantle their toys to find out how they work or are put together, I have sought to do the same with architecture. I pull things apart to get rid of the austerity and to uncover the soul or heart of a construction. I do the same with my portraits – I want to see what’s inside the subject – to bring out the most simple, pure, clear aspects.

Adriano has developed a very singular way of representing architecture to render the ‘spirit’ of the individual constructions visible and appreciable within the limits of a picture frame.

Novocomum

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como ‘Novocomum 1’’ 2017, Acrylics on canvas. Based on the building designed by Giuseppe Terragni.

These studies are examples of urban landscapes but given a very distinctive treatment; such that the pictorial or sculptural art form that arises adds to the appreciation of the architecture that originally inspired it. So his art has impact – the images or sculptures have their own identity and cohesion but they also convey an appraisal of the original structures. Perhaps it may be best to describe these studies not as urban landscape but as urban portraiture given Adriano’s purpose in seeking to make evident the ‘soul’ or inner spirit of the buildings.

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Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como ‘Teatro Sociale’’ 2017, Acrylics on canvas

For those of us who have lived in or visited Como, many of Adriano’s architectural subjects are well known. Como has a rich heritage of architecture ranging from the original Roman fortifications, through to the renaissance villas, neo-classicism, art nouveau and then more recently, international renown for the rationalist masterpieces of Terragni and others, inspired by the designs of the visionary modernist, Antonio Sant’Elia. Given this local patrimony, it is maybe not surprising that Adriano, born and raised in Como, would have reflected on it at some time during his artistic career.

Tempio voltiano

Tempio Voltiano, designed by Federico Frigerio in 1927.

Most of the architectural studies in this exhibition were of neo-classical buildings, such as the Teatro Sociale or the Tempio Voltiano, or the works of Giuseppe Terragni. The Tempio Voltiano was designed by a contemporary of Terragni’s, Federico Frigerio, who represented the traditional eclectic school of architecture that was prevalent before the rationalists and modernism gained influence. The two best-known architects working in Como in the first part of the 1900s, Terragni and Frigerio, could not have been more different in style. This difference has led some to take sides in a rather fruitless debate as to who may have been the ‘better’ architect. Adriano was not going to enter into any polemic on this.

Casa del Fascio Actual

Casa del Fascio designed by Giuseppe Terragni in 1932

AC: No, the point is they were just different. Terragni was following the revolutionary principles of the Bauhaus. He was designing for simplicity and purity. Frigerio instead was continuing the established neo-classical and Liberty styles and doing it very well – but his was a style designed to display luxury. Rationalism however was born out of the idea of providing stylish housing for a less rich class of person. To keep costs down, they designed out all superfluous elements so as to arrive at the heart of the building. It is that ‘heart’ which interests me.

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Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como ‘Transatlantico’’ 2017, Acrylics on canvas. White building designed by Giuseppe Terragni attached to a building in the eclectic style on Via Rosselli.

The portrayal of the Transatlantico, also known as the Casa Giuliani Frigerio, seemed to me at least to reveal a preference for the clean lines of the rationalist design compared to what is depicted as the barely distinguishable planes of the building fronting onto Via Rosselli.

AC: I have developed a deconstruction/reconstruction technique to get to the core of an architectural structure. I deconstruct the static shape by dividing the design into different zones and then give each zone its own supporting planes and its own perspective. I then ‘reconstruct’ by hanging these different zones together again, to create a feeling of depth.

This little snippet on technique was delivered quickly as if wanting to move on to the more important aspect as to why the technique is deployed – and the answer to that was in the sub-heading to his brochure – poetry. ‘There’s a danger of losing the poetry if you stay too focussed on the technique,’ he stated.

Azilo Sant Elia Actual

 Asilo Sant’Elia designed by Giuseppe Terragni in 1935.

With all this talk of architecture, Adriano wanted to point out that this recent exhibition was merely a reflection of current work and not representative of all his areas of interest. He remarked on how figurative art and architecture used to be taught locally within the same institution, the Brera Academy of Art in Milan, up until the 1930s when both disciplines borrowed freely from each other as he has done. Yet this was the third of his exhibitions to have been held during his career in San Pietro in Atrio, with each one having a different thematic focus. This mention of the Brera in Milan and the development of his art led me to ask about his own artistic education and training.

Madonna by Torildo Conconi

 Apparition of the Madonna di Caravaggio , wall painting by Torildo Conconi

AC: I qualified originally in Industrial Art here in Como and then followed a series of courses as a student of Torildo Conconi – a famous Lombardian artist. Then I worked as a furniture and textile designer until I went full-time as a professional artist in 2003. I was then finally able to realise my dream. I had my first exhibition here in 2005 but being able to dedicate myself fulltime to my painting and sculpture has since allowed me to make faster progress – and of course, scope to make the occasional mistake!

On a first visit to the recent exhibition, I had the impression that many of the paintings were monochromatic and I wandered if this was possibly due to rationalist architects not dealing in many colours other than white. Adriano’s response prompted me to pay closer attention!

AC: It’s not true to say they are all monochromatic – it depends. For example my paintings of the Teatro Sociale (see above) and Frigerio’s Tempio Voltiano are. That’s because it would seem strange to me to depict them with a celestial blue sky or an emerald green lawn. Instead I want to keep the viewer’s focus on the main subject of the painting – without distraction. You’ll see that other paintings do have more colour. It depends on each situation.

asilo sant elia

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como – Asilo Sant’Elia 5’’ 2017, Acrylics on canvas.

This one for example (pointing to his painting ‘Como –Asilo Sant’Elia 5’ shown above) is achromatic because there’s a night-time sky but with the school in daylight creating a surrealistic effect. What I look for are simple visual effects which will not distract so I will use colour if it helps achieve that.

 

The brochure to the exhibition entitled ‘Arbitrary Poetry’ stated that Adriano, in executing his designs, functioned without ‘premeditation’. This statement seemed to need some clarity so I was keen to understand what was this ‘arbitrariness’.

AC: It means that I am primarily guided by instinct; although for each project there is an initial period of research and reflection on how I might deconstruct and restructure my work. But after this, I allow myself to be guided by my own sensibility or instinct. I don’t like to do much prior calculation. When you think too much, you can end up just confusing yourself. I prefer if forms take shape naturally.

war memorial

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como ‘Monumento ai Caduti 2’’ 2017, Acrylics on canvas. 

My art is not conceptual – for me conceptual art is more like literature – mine is visual. I took inspiration from a group of Italian artists working in the 1970s who called themselves the ‘Transavanguardia’.

The Wikipedia summary of this movement states:

(they)…. responded to the explosion of conceptual art which found many mediums of expression, by reviving painting and reintroducing emotion―especially joy―back into drawing, painting and sculpture.[4] Transavantgarde marked a return to figurative art, as well as mythic imagery, which was rediscovered during the height of the movement.[5] The artists revived figurative art and symbolism, which were less frequently used in movements after World War II like minimalism. The principal transavantgarde artists were Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola de Maria and Mimmo Paladino.

Adriano was later to use the word ‘joy’ himself when summarising the impact he sought from his works.

Displayed at the back of the hall was the series of semi life-sized portraits of leading 20th century artists mentioned at the start of this article. Whilst these are not necessarily Adriano’s heroes, they do represent for him the major influences in pictorial art over the last century. They are Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Georgia O’Keefe, Andy Warhol, Sergio Giacometti, Mario Schifano and Keith Haring. As elsewhere during my interview with Adriano, I found myself learning from him – here it was from his insights into these artists. I am particularly grateful for the attention he placed on Duchamp, Haring, O’Keefe and Schifano since they were previously little known to me. When reading about  Giacometti, who was brought up in the nearby Swiss canton of Ticino, I came across this quote from him which might also serve as an insight into Adriano’s work. When asked how he came to sculpt his emaciated elongated human forms, he stated:

‘Figures were never a compact mass but like a transparent construction.’

Asilo Sant'Elia transparency

Transparency at the  Asilo Sant’Elia designed by Giuseppe Terragni.

I think the same could be said about how Adriano sees his architectural studies, of course aided by the rationalists’ own desire to maximise transparency as in the examples of the Casa del Fascio and the Asilo Sant’Elia.

The other way that Adriano has explored representing the soul of a building is through his sculpture which consists mainly of three dimensional artworks within a picture frame.

casa del fascio from the side

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como – Architettura’ 2013′, sculpture from treated wood.  Side view.

Just by adding 20 centimetres of depth to his works, the viewer enters into the shadows and spaces that are opened up. He himself had previously defined architecture as being a concrete art creating spaces you see from the outside which you can then enter and occupy. Pictorial art instead is made to contribute to or compliment the spaces we live in. His sculptures offer a more enhanced three dimensionality in order to convey the essence of these spaces we can normally enter. I have tried to capture the effect of this depth by taking side view photos of the sculptures.

Reaction to architecture must of course be personal but I have found that buildings in Como like the Casa del Fascio or the Asilo Sant’Elia give me an intense visual pleasure when I see them.

teatro sociale sideview

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Como ‘Teatro Sociale 2’’, 2017, Sculpture with treated wood. Side view.

There is no need necessarily to stop and analyse why that might be – but my guess is that it is down to the very qualities that Adriano is also seeking in his works, namely purity, clarity and simplicity achieved through perfected proportions in the treatment of space. Adriano has managed to encapsulate and represent that nebulous ‘spirit’ within these perfectly proportioned buildings and represented it in microcosm in a different form of visual experience – not as space itself but as a pictorial compliment to space. And just as with the artists of the transavanguardia, he hopes this will above all convey a spirit of poetry and joy. He hopes we will view his works with the same uncomplicated pleasure of children as they perceive and explore the world around them. His exhibition certainly gave me a sense of joy only matched by the pleasure of listening to his explanation of it.

portrait

Adriano Caverzasio, ‘Portrait’ 2017 Acrylics on canvas.

For those of you not prepared to wait until Adriano holds his next exhibition in San Pietro in Atrio, he is always delighted to receive visitors in his studio if they call in advance to arrange their visit. The studio is right by the ‘Er Piu’ restaurant in Via Castellini 17. His telephone numbers are +39 031 267454 or mobile +39 340 3076881.  His website is www.adrianocaverzasio.com.

For details of art exhibitions in and around Como, check out our Exhibition listings on this blog or refer to the official Como newsletter.

For more information about Antonio Sant’Elia, check out our blog post entitled ‘Como’s Internationally Renowned Urban Visionary’.

 

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Cortesella – The Mythical Heart of Old Como

As Les Halles was to Paris or Seven Dials to London, so was the Cortesella to Como – the lost heart of the old town. The Cortesella (named after Via Cortesella) was a warren of narrow streets and alleyways to the south of Via Fontana running from Piazza Volta to Piazza Cavour and north of Via Muralto. It used to provide a tortuous route through to Piazza Cavour which was Como’s port until built over in 1869. At its centre was the church of San Nazaro built on the site of a roman basilica and supposedly housing a splinter from the cross as well as a tooth of St.Andrew’s.

Over time the district deteriorated as the buildings became ever more chaotic, the population ever denser, and the sanitation and services ever less adequate. Plans for its redevelopment were made from as early on as 1840. Further plans were put forward in 1891 and 1910 but nothing was actually done until demolition began in 1938 and ended finally in 1946.

piazza cavour

Piazza Cavour today looking east – Cortesella was to the south west of the piazza.

Yet as with Les Halles and other colourful inner city districts, the reasons for redevelopment were numerous. The primary motive was financial. Cortesella lay beside the wealthiest part of the old town alongside Piazza Duomo and so redevelopers were more than willing to invest in the project. Secondly the area had become anarchic in the eyes of the fascist regime which was paranoid about social control and the opportunities the area provided for ‘clandestine’ meetings in its maze of streets.

via vittani 2

Via Vittani, an extension of the Cortesella that still survives showing the Osteria del Gallo which unfortunately is not necessarily the site of the Osteria del Cervo

After all, it was already home to the irrepressible socialist barber Ercole Bianchi whose waiting clients in his hair salon had ample opportunity to bad-mouth the authorities. Ercole later moved his salon just out of the Cortesella into nearby Via Vittani which had a reputation as ‘off-limits’ to the authorities going back to the French Revolution when its Osteria del Cervo was known as a coven for Jacobins.

Additionally the area was increasingly seen as an affront to public decency housing at least three brothels or as they are euphemistically called ‘case di tolleranza’. And from an urban planning perspective, there was a need to open up north-south access to Piazza Cavour and the lakeside.

The left hand map is a detail of Como circa 1850 – note the curved outline to the Cortesella district leading some to suggest it was built around a former Roman arena. Piazza Cavour was still Como’s port until 1869. The right hand map shows the 1938 renewal plan. The dotted line is the boundary of the redevelopment area. The black outline identifies original facades to be maintained. The red outlines new construction e.g. Banca d’Italia superimposed on the Church of San Nazaro.

macelleria pubblica cortesella

Cortesella’s Macello Pubblico built in 1716 as the town’s meat market.

Yet, as with Les Halles, the demolition of the old quarter has provoked growing nostalgia for this lost popular district – for its spirit of independence, its transgressive atmosphere and for its lost architectural gems. Those gems included the 12th century villa of the Corticella family which collapsed ‘spontaneously’ during the demolition, the 13th century Casa Vietti which was initially saved from demolition but, with financial interests pushing for a blank canvas for redevelopment, was set on fire with only a few columns from the loggia and courtyard saved and now stored ignominiously in the cellars of the Civic Museum. Additionally the communal slaughter house and meat market, built in 1716, was destroyed. This was originally built to do away with all the individual butchers in the area and improve hygiene. The meat market existed in this building until the end of the 19th century when it turned to selling fish and vegetables.

cortesella mcelleria pubblica Vasconi 1928

Cortesella’s flood in 1928 with the Macello Pubblico on the right. Vasconi 

 

 

 

 

 

cortesella 2

Via Juvara, behind the Banca d’Italia where San Nazaro once stood – a modern glimpse of the old quarter.

The church of San Nazaro was destroyed but its interior fittings were reused in the modern church built in the outer district of Lora in 1938, the Chiesa of Santi Simone, Giuda e Andrea. Presumably the splinter from the cross and the St. Andrew tooth were transferred as well. The loss of this architectural heritage occurred in spite of the efforts of Como’s two most renowned architects, the rationalist Giuseppe Terragni and the mannerist Federico Frigerio.

 

Over time our attitudes towards conservation have become more favourable and no doubt the council’s outright rejection of Terragni’s plan to incorporate the courtyard of the Casa Vietti within his modernist structures would not happen today.

banca d'italia

Banca d’Italia built in 1950

Whilst old Les Halles has been immortalised in the works of Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and others, and Seven Dials by Charles Dickens, old Cortesella has instead been immortalised on film (now safely digitised and available to all on YouTube thanks to Nodo Libri). Nodo Libri safeguarded their copy of a documentary made before and during the demolition works by Ico Parisi, a Comascan designer.

cortesella 4

The AXA Building, Via Boldoni and the corner of Piazza Perretta.

The state sponsors of the film have managed to lose both the original and any of the copies entrusted to them. It is a silent black and white work with occasional losses of quality but very well worth watching for the everyday life it captures and for its skillful cinematography. It was intended originally to be a ‘before and after’ study providing propaganda for this major urban renewal project. However only the first part was completed and its effect seems to be totally opposite to that intended. It conjures up a way of life lost in the past, victim to the redevelopment goals of a paranoid police state. Scenes of the fascist military hierarchy staging their involvement in the demolition with delicate strokes of their pickaxes reveals if unwittingly the arrogance of power. Even if possibly unintended, this film ensures the immortality of the quarter and the ongoing transition of the Cortesella from living memory through nostalgia and into myth.

cortesella terragni project

Terragni and the CM8’s  initial non compromising redevelopment plan 

Sources of Information

The following sources of information were used for this article:

  1. Vasconi photographs. Three generations of photographers and an archive of images of Como and the lake.
  2. Comocomera.it. A collection of old images and illustrations.
  3. JSC – Nodo Libri. Nodo Libri is a local publishing house and an invaluable source of historical and cultural information about Como. The site is in Italian.
  4. Politecnico di Milano. The Politecnico has published a series of articles in English about the development of Como’s old town.

 

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