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The village of Tremezzina

The ashore central zone of Lake Como, which goes from Colonno to Cadenabbia di Griante, is known as ‘Tremezzina’ after the name of the village of Tremezzo, which is situated right in the middle of the western coast of the lake.
It is very likely that the origin of its name is due to its geographical position ‘Tra-mezzo’ (in the middle) of the road which runs from Como to the end of the lake

Lake Como originated at the end of the glacial era about 11 thousand years ago. During the many glacial periods, the continuous advancing and withdrawing of the glacier dug the lake bed, which was then filled with the water from the melting of the ice to form Lake Lario, better known as Lake Como. Its peculiar “Y” shape is due to the mountains of the “Lariano Triangle” that opposed and deviated the glacier way. The lake reaches its deepest (475 mt.) and widest most point just before the peninsula of Bellagio that splits it into two branches. Its main tributary and effluent is river Adda, although it receives the water of the many streams that runs down from the surrounding Prealps. In ancient times, the lake was wider as it reached the banks of Val Chiavenna. The many Alpine and Prealpine passes that links the territory to the lands beyond the Alps, the abundance of drinkable water, the mildness of the climate, the navigability of the lake –which for centuries on end was the main, if not the only, way of connection from north to south- the easiness to get food, either by fishing or hunting, and the plentiness of timber, due to the forest that covered the nearby mountains, were the characteristics that favoured the settlement of the very first nucleus of permanent houses. For sure, the area was inhabited since prehistorical times, probably by some tribes from beyond the Alps such as the Reti, who settled in the northern area of the lake, and the Celts that, with their different tribes, occupied a wide area in northern Italy. As far as we know, these people did not possess any kind of writing; consequently there are no documents that describe the local historical events of that time. Nevertheless, the finding of some tombs with items of daily life, datable to the bronze and iron era, certify their presence on the area.

The many and comparatively easy Alpine Passes in the upper Lake Lario stirred the attention of Rome, always in search of quick and easy ways to reach the Central European Lands both for conquering them and for controlling the colonies already under their power. Maybe that was one of the reasons why Rome decided to conquer Como and its territory. The path that from Como allowed to rapidly reaching the Alps proved to be of vital importance for the Romans. So, after having founded the New Town of Como by the lake, the Romans built a wider and more linear road alongshore, which responded to the characteristics they needed for a quick move of their troops beyond the Alps. They partially utilized the ancient path and called the new road Via Regia. It was also necessary that the road was safe enough for them to percour so, for a better patrolling of the territory, Julius Caesar ordered the colonization of the lands along the lake. Many wealthy families from the Great Greece (Magna Grecia) were sent over here to found new villages or simply to settle in those already existing. Following their habits, the Romans started to build villas, hot baths and temples and, as the climate proved to be mild enough, they introduced the cultivation of olive trees and vines. In past years, a good number of items and coins of the Roman era were discovered and taken to the Archaeological Museum of Como. Among them there were two pieces of columns with Corinthian capitals, rescued from the lake at Lenno in 1847, which belonged to one of the villas Pliny the Young had on Lake Como. Some of the alongshore villages of Tremezzina owe their name to their Greek-Roman origin, as for example Colonno, Lenno and Tremezzo, while some others have kept in their name their more ancient etymological root.

The comparatively easiness to overpass the Alps, together with the declining of the Roman supremacy attracted to Italy people from the lands beyond the Alps, who were still grouped in tribes and whom, maybe because of their uncultivated beards, were given the general name of Barbarians. Led by uncultured, fierce and bloody chiefs and taking advantage of the weakness of the decaying Roman Empire, they swarmed down from the Alps looking for easy richness. With them, it started a long period of bloody wars, robberies, destructions and plagues that afflicted the natives for centuries on end. The first to invade the area were the Goths. They took possession of all strategical positions to patrol both the lake and the roads that lead to the southward plains (to Como and Milan), the eastward mountain passes (to Bergamo and Austria) and the westward ones (to Saint Jorio Pass, Bellinzona and Germany). For better patrolling the lake, they occupied Isola Comacina where they rebuilt the fortress they had previously destroyed and later strenuously defended when the Byzantines, in their attempt of conquering back the lands of the late Roman Empire, assaulted it. The Byzantine’s power over the area was short as it only lasted until the Lombards came down from the Alps. The new invaders conquered a vast area in Northern Italy, where they definitely settled down giving their name to the Region. The Lombards were a German people, who derived their name from the long bards, or lances, with which their soldiers were equipped. Differently from the previous invaders, they gained the esteem and love of the natives, who under their rule knew a relatively peaceful and prosperous period. No doubt, their conversion to Christianity - that was wide-spread in the area since the paleo-Christian era - was the main reason for them to be accepted. The author of this conversion was the beloved Queen Theodolinda. Many local legends are bound to this queen; one of them tells that Via Regina (the Roman Via Regia), either the one that come from the State Border at Oria, along Lake Ceresio, or the one that runs along Lake Como, were traced to enable her to pass through these lands on her way to Monza and Pavia. People’s love for this mythical queen survived through the centuries, and even nowadays nearly every Lombard village claims her presence, or at least her passage, on its territory.

The early and widespread Christianisation of the Lario area made it compulsory the building of places for the new religion. As it happens for any cultural superposition, at first there was a partial or total destruction of the pagan temples immediately followed by the reconstruction of buildings for the new cult, which were usually built over the pre-existing ones by reutilising the materials rescued from the previous demolition. This cultural stratification, or historical superposition, is shown in many churches of the central and upper area of Lake Como. Not only, when Christianity was structured into an ecclesiastic organization, there was also a superposition of liturgical festivities by giving a new meaning to the pagan celebrations deeply rooted into the popular habits and traditions. As the centuries went by, the already hegemonic Church of Rome gained an enormous political and economical power, too. Its influence conditioned any political decision of Kings and Emperors in a nearly analphabetic Europe. The Church had become the only depositary and custodian of the antique knowledge and of the Holy Scriptures, books that were kept and transcribed in the “Scriptorium” of Benedictine Monasteries. In Tremezzina the Monastery of Acquafredda in Lenno built in 1153, had a “Scriptorium”, the only one in this area. Middle Ages was characterised by the building of new churches and, moreover, of Monasteries. Some of them had actually become centres of power as, for instance, the little Isola Comacina. After having been a military fortress for several centuries, in Middle Ages Isola Comacina became a religious centre that grew so powerful to dispute, protestant “ante litteram”, with the Church of Rome. The many convents and monasteries spread on Tremezzina area, together with the parish churches of the nearby villages were under its religious, political and economical rule. The fate of these villages – form Colonno to Griante Cadenabbia – was indissolubly bound with the historical events of the See of Isola Comacina that, during the "Communes times", sided with Milan against Como, which sided with Emperor Fredric the Red-beard. It was because of this alliance with Milan that Isola Comacina was assaulted and completely destroyed in 1169, when the island was set on fire not to be inhabited ever since. In Tremezzina there are many buildings that date to Middle Ages; the great majority of them are Romanesque churches and convents, mainly set on the land and villages closer to the island: Ossuccio and Lenno.

In 1300, except for the upper lake area, the Lario territory belonged to the Dukedom of Milan under the rule of the Sforza, followed by the Visconti, who reorganised it. At the end of 1400, on Lombard soil, broke out endless and bloody wars for the succession to the Dukedom of Milan, which ended with the peace of Constance signed on the 28th August 1529. From the Alps swarmed down the Grisons, a Swiss people who fought the French who, in turn, were fighting against the Hispanic – Germans, who also claimed the possession of the Dukedom of Milan. The Lario land was turned into a battlefield; moreover it became a pass through land for hordes of soldiers of venture, who caused destructions, famine and plagues. It was in this historical contest that took place an event, although marginal, with tragic outcomes for Griante and Tremezzo. It was bound to the figure of Giovanni del Matto di Brenzio, born in the See of Dongo, who at first was a soldier in the Venetian Republic Army, then he became admiral of his own fleet, devoting himself to piracy on Lake Como. He was politically allied with the Grisons, who eventually gave him the command of an army of Lansquenets and stranded Italian soldier of Imperial faith, with the task of conquering Como from the French. Defeated at Borgo Vico because of the desertion of the Lansquenets, he sought shelter in his castle at Griante where he was followed by the Como- French army, captured and executed in 1521. But Giovanni Del Matto’s death did not bring peace along the lake for another highwayman, Gian Giacomo De’ Medici, called the Medeghino, who had already fought under Del Matto, took his place and stormed over the lake till 1532. Later he became a well known Captain of Venture and was acknowledged Lord of Musso and Marquis of Marignano. During this troubled period, also a number of religious wars were fought on this territory. As a matter of facts, the Grisons, who had embraced the Lutheran faith, in their attempt to impose the new religion to the natives, set villages, churches and archives on fire and destroyed and robbed any valuable item. In order to save the most valuable sacred ones, moreover the statues of the Blessed Virgin, some willing believers secretly hid them into some difficult to reach caves on the nearby mountains where they were left forgotten for over a century. After the Council of Trento, failed any attempt to reconcile with the Protestants and having sent the Grisons back beyond the Alps, with the advent of the Counter Reform, in the Sub Alpine region were encouraged the building of Sacred Mounts as a barrier against the spreading of Lutheranism. And it was during this period that on the mountains were discovered some effigies of the Blessed Virgin, giving way to the legends bound to the building of the Marian Shrines in Tremezzina. In 1500, in the reports of the pastoral visit of Feliciano Niguarda Bishop in Como, we can read: “We visited the Oratory of the Blessed Mary of Succour on the mountain above Ustio (Ossuccio) in the Parish of Insula (Isola Comacina); it is one mile and a half of a difficult walk from the church. Before, there was a capital topped with an image of the Blessed Virgin, which is still visible, and because of some miracles of healing from infirmity it was then enlarged into a church.” So, when it was decided to build the Sacred Mount of Ossuccio, there was already a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of Succours. Like many other Shrines, also the one at Ossuccio was built on the spot where there was a pre-existing chapel dedicated to a statue of the Blessed Virgin believed to have thaumaturgical powers, which in turn was superposed to a place of pre-Christian cult.

The establishing of the Hispanic domination on the territory of the Dukedom of Milan also affected the along shore villages of lake Como. People’s way of life, the Hispanic Squires’ prevarications, the Lansquenets’ robberies and distructions that brought famine and plague in the area during that particular period, are wonderfully described in Alessandro Manzoni’s masterpiece “The Betroths”. This novel takes place on the eastern branch of lake Como, but it depicts the historical events that characterised the whole area starting from the plain at the north, which is still called “The plain of Spain”. There, at the confluence of the roads that runs southward (to Como and Milan), eastward (to Valtellina and Spluga Pass), and westward (to Val Mesolcina, Saint Jorio Pass and Bellinzona) the Spaniards had a fortress built in order to oppose the many soldiers of venture swarming down from the Alps. The ruins of Fort Fuentes, that also gave its name to the area, are now being restored and can be visited with guided tours. The signature of the Pyrenees Peace put an end to the hostilities that for centuries on end opposed French to Spain. This put a stop to the raids of mercenary troops that caused famine and plague wherever they passed. The war of succession in Spaine ended the Hispanic domination in Lombardy, too. All through 1700, there was a flourishing of building and rebuilding of churches, palaces and villas in Tremezzina. The historical events and wars of the 1700 and 1800, marginally, and mainly administratively, affected the along-shore villages of Lake Como. Their relative quietness and the mildness of their climate attracted many wealthy and noble families from Lodi, Milan and Como that come here to spend summer, off the troubles of their towns. Cesare Beccaria from Milan had a villa built at Sala Comacina, where Alessandro Manzoni used to spend long periods. At Lenno, Cardinal Durini from Como bought the decayed Monastery of Balbianello and turned it into a de lux villa. At Tremezzo, in villa La Quiete lived Giuseppe Parini, who worked as a tutor for Serbelloni’s children. Marquis Clerici from Lodi had a country villa built at Cadenabbia, destined to become one of Lake Como landmarks with the name of Villa Carlotta. Count Melzi D’Eril from Milan had a villa built at Bellagio to compete with Count Sommariva from Milan, who then owned villa Clerici, for the beauty of their gardens, decorations and works of art.

The age of tourism in Tremezzina started astride the end of 1700 and the very beginning of the 1800, when Giuseppe Gianella bought the old Inn set by the port of Cadenabbia, which for centuries has been a referring point for all boatmen sailing the lake with their cargoes of goods and merchandise toward the upper lake and the lands beyond the Alps. He turned it into a hotel for visitors and tourists. Soon, the beauty of the place, its particularly mild climate together with its tranquillity made the Hotel della Cadenabbia – then Hotel Belle Vue - well known among travellers and visitors from all over the world. To house the increasing number of people coming here, were built some other hotels and villas along shore. Tremezzina and the Central area of the lake became a resort for tourists. A large colony of British and German people settled in its villages, but this time, their pacific invasions brought prosperity to the native.

The World Wars fought during the 20th century had as immediate consequence the temporary suspension of tourism and an economic recession, in Tremezzina. During the First World Was, some trenches were dug on the mountains along the lake, as they were considered border zone, and the hotel were requisitioned and turned into military headquarters and field hospitals. At the end of the first World War, the Italian State annexed the properties belonging to German people as booty of war, among then there were Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo Cadenabbia and Villa Monastero at Varenna. After nearly thirty years of prosperity, with the advent of the Second World War the area had to face another difficult period. Tremezzina was the protagonist of the historical event that ended the war, Fascism and the Nazis occupation in Italy. On the 27 April 1947, along the road between Musso and Dongo, a Partisan division captured Benito Mussolini while, together with Claretta Petacci and some members of his last Government, was attempting to flee from Italy through one of the Alpine Passes at the north of Lake Como. The Government members were taken to Dongo and executed in the village square, while Mussolini and Petacci were to be taken to the Allied Headquarter in Como. But, as they reached Mezzegra, probably because of the partisans’ different opinions on what had to be done, it was decided to spend the night in that village. In the hamlet of Giulino they requisitioned Casa De Maria, where the two prisoners spent a troubled night. On the following morning they left the house to go to Como, but as they reached Via XXIV Maggio, at number 14, before the gate of a villa, the Partisan Colonel Valerio ordered the prisoners to be executed. The corps were then taken to Milan and hung at Piazzale Loreto. Fate wanted that that was the very first time of Mussolini on Lake Como. In the ‘50s, the first German Chancellor chose Griante Cadenabbia as his summer residence. In the peacefulness of Villa La Collina it was conceived the idea of a United Europe that later became reality with the ratification of the Treaty of Rome.


Texts by Bina Battistella Fraquelli
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