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Monday, October 11, 2010

The Medieval Hamlet Of Carmine Superiore And Chiesa S. Gottardo

Carmine Superiore.


Carmine Superiore is off the beaten trail, but ironically, it's only by being literally on the beaten trail that you can find it. To reach this tiny, almost uninhabited medieval hamlet one must find the right dirt path from the main road near Cannobio and Cannero Riviera on Lago Maggiore. Then, climb steeply for 100 meters to reach the rocky outcrop and the remains of the village. When you arrive, stand in front of the 14th century church and gaze out over the lake and the surrounding mountains. If there are no boats in view it is extremely easy to imagine that what you're seeing is much the same as what the first inhabitants of Carmine Superiore saw, one thousand years ago.

I walked up this path on a warm August morning with an Italian teacher and a group of American seminary students from her language school. The winding path up now has metal handrails on some of the steeper spots and sharp turns. After the last twist, the first view of the village is an imposing and misleadingly rustic side of the church. Narrow paths, sometimes of natural rock, lead maze-like around the homes; it feels safe and comfortable up there, and yet, at the same time, somehow precarious.

Sign on the main road marking the beginning of the trail.


We were there for a special treat. One of the very few current inhabitants of the village had kindly agreed to meet us and unlock the large wooden doors of the church, San Gottardo.

Its origins go back to the years right at the end of the first millennium, at a time when the land around Lago Maggiore first became permanently populated. And in the 1500s, when the Mazzarditi brothers, who lived in the Castles of Cannero, were tormenting the area, little Carmine Superiore was a refuge and a sanctuary to those in need.



The students and I wandered around the church, which was begun in the early 1300s and consecrated by Cardinal Carlo Borromeo in 1574. It was named for the Saxon bishop of Gottardo, who traveled through these parts on his journeys to and from Rome. Only one thing tells us we are in the 21st century, the spotlights that have been embedded in the floor of the church to highlight some of the frescoes on the walls. Mostly partial frescoes now, the 15th and 16th century paintings depict bible stories. They had been covered with lime during a plague in the 17th century, in an effort to sterilize the building after it had been used as a hospital. They were only uncovered again in the past twenty years.



The small terrace area outside had been a cemetery, but now it holds a couple of long tables, and it is where we unwrapped our panini and opened a couple of bottles of Freisa d'Asi and had a small pranzo, lunch, before beginning our descent down the trail. There is no way to reach the village with a car. The church is used only on very special occasions. It was opened just five times last year for services. Again, spotlights apart, it is not difficult at all to imagine it is another time, another century. What a special opportunity to get a glimpse of a place much unchanged for hundreds of years.

Want to read more about those castles?: I Castelli di Cannero

Visit more churches: churches

Or take some more walks: walks

Directions to find Carmine Superiore

By car: from the A26 motorway, exit towards Verbania and continue along the lakeside SS34 towards Switzerland. The hamlet of Carmine Inferiore is shortly before Cannobio. Leave your car in the car park and take the path to the church (15 min.).By train: the nearest railway station is Verbania-Pallanza, 29 km from Cannobio. You can reach Carmine Inferiore by the frequent bus service, from the station and then from Intra. The bus makes a stop directly at the base of the path.


aerial photo courtesy of illagomaggiore.com

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