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Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Castelli Di Cannero


On the very first day that I was ever in Stresa, Giuseppe and I drove to Switzerland. Maybe you're wondering why... but that's another story. So there we were, driving towards Locarno, Switzerland, on the road that runs along Lago Maggiore. At one point Giuseppe pulled the car over to the side of the road and stopped, to show me a house that he liked. The house was lower than where we were standing on the road, and so we were looking over it, to the lake beyond. The house was lovely to be sure, a world apart on its piece of land on the edge of the lake. But it was the view that the house had, of the lake, that captured me. Were those castles?

Castles... or more precisely ruins of castles, were floating on two small islands in the lake, really only a stone's throw from this house. Giuseppe was nonchalant... here on Lago Maggiore it could easily happen to have a view of castles from your house apparently. Remember, it was only my first day on the lake... I didn't know yet about the magic in all its corners.

So what were these castles? Here's a bit of their story, interspersed with some stunning photographs of them.


They're called i Castelli di Cannero, the Castles of Cannero, due to their location only a short distance from the shores of the lake in the town of Cannero. And they are the remains of the Rocca Vitaliana, a fortress constructed between 1519 and 1521 by Ludovico Borromeo, who named them Vitaliano in honor of his illustrious grandfather, Vitaliano Borromeo. But those ruins, they were built on the top of other preexisting ruins. The earliest fortifications on the islands date to the 12th century. And in the early 1400s the five Mazzarditi brothers used the islands as their headquarters during their cruel reign. They had captured the village of Cannobio, and this began an era of domination, violence and raids that the Mazzarditi inflicted on all the people living in the coastal villages and towns. The Mazzarditi reign of terror ended when the Visconti lay seige to the fortress, forcing the Mazzarditi to surrender by leaving them to starve on the islands. Their buildings fell into ruin and were distroyed, so much so that not even a trace remains of them today.


But the Rocca Vitaliano, it was a defense used by the Borromeos against the Swiss raids in this eastern region of Lago Maggiore. The principal part of the fortress, that being the part more to the east, is still a massive wall of stone, rising directly from the surface of the water, following the irregular course of the rocks; and the towers also still remain partially intact.


On the smaller island however, there remains now only one lone tower, cut off from the others, and some remnants of wall that continue to slowly crumble.


The Castelli di Cannero are visible from many places along the waterfront, and many of the ferries that traverse that part of the lake will go as close to them as possible for photos and gazing. They are now, at the time of this writing, undergoing a renovation of sorts by the Borromeo family, possibly for touristic purposes, a subject somewhat controversial, as the renovation was fought against by certain environmental groups. But when I saw them on that first day, unrenovated and unanticipated in the lake, they became for me instantly one of the symbols of the magical nature of this beautiful and strange place.


All photos courtesy of Lago Maggiore, le sue Valle, i soui Fiori, www.illagomaggiore.com.

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