Comacina Island: The Island that’s here and demands attention!
It’s small, wild and unique in the area – and its surrounding inhabitants love it!
For sure it must be said the Island’s setting is more than fortunate; the various landslides and glacial retreats caused it to ‘arise’ in a particularly picturesque location that frames its beauty … but the debt of gratitude goes both ways, for who would appreciate the beautiful landscape so much if it was not framing such a glorious subject. The two elements lend a hand to each other to create one of the most photographed and admired scenes on Lake Como.
This is why exploring the Island’s paths is such a pleasure! Wherever you turn you uncover priceless views, believe me!
But its fame does not just rest on this!
This little strip of land has witnessed everything and its history reads like a novel.
The Romans are involved as is Saint Abbondio, the patron saint of Como. Then there are the Lombards, the Lombard League and Byzantium followed by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the King of Belgium and the architect Pietro Lingeri. Not bad going for such a small little island, wouldn’t you say?
But let’s put this in a bit of order… the Romans are mentioned because they formed the first group of inhabitants. They were called Ausuciates and gave their name to Ossuccio – the town facing the island.
Saint Abbondio comes into the story because it is said he ordered the construction of Saint Eufemia church, now sadly in ruins but previously renowned as one of the most beautiful 11th century churches.
But the Island was so easily defended and in such a strategic location that it became the refuge of one of the last Byzantine garrisons when they joined the Lombards.
Then, to its misfortune, in 1169 Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, came down into Italy: there was open war with the communes of the Lombard League in conflict with the Holy Roman Empire and the Island was allied to Milan….so Como, allied to the Emperor, raised it to the ground. This episode in history, resulting in the devastation of the Island, is so etched into popular tradition that up to this day the key events are represented in one of the more famous of Lake Como’s festivals – the Sagra di San Giovanni.
But let’s see how it all finished: after the conflict, for centuries the Island’s fame seemed ended until in 1919 when the King of Belgium (who had inherited ownership of the Island) in his turn donated it to the Italian government. The care of the Island was entrusted to the Brera Academy (the Milanese art institute) and the architect Pietro Lingeri turned it into an artists’ colony creating three houses for them in the Rationalist style.
And now? It has not stopped being famous! In fact it is now considered “one of the most interesting archaeological sites in the whole of Northern Italy”. I would say this is not a bad description for this small little strip of land!
OK, historical diversion now over! Normally I don’t like to launch out on passages like this for fear of slipping up, but I could not explain the particular atmosphere of this island without telling something of its past.
It was alive, populated, overflowing with churches and well-fortified and all this you need to imagine when you visit and walk around the many ruins it now contains.
My advice is to visit when the weather is good, best still either in spring, late summer or start of autumn. I recommend you take one of the guided tours because this way you will be able to enter the interiors of the church of Saint Giovanni and the artists’ houses.
But it does not finish here: gloriously positioned, the Island also hosts the famous Locanda of the Comacina Island which merits an article all to itself so fascinating is its history, as well as the La Botte bar where just eating an ice cream is reward enough!
So as you see, there are a thousand good reasons to visit the Island – decide for yourself which you prefer. 😉
Translated by The Como Companion – Como’s local newsletter for English-speaking residents and visitors