Visiting the Island: a charming experience
Setting foot on Comacina Island, the unique island of Lake of Como, is always a stimulating experience in all seasons, even in the mists of autumn or under the rain. The scenery is bewitching at every time of the year. In the midst of an ancient setting on the shores of Spurano, among the picturesque fishermen’s houses, the small Romanesque style church of S. Giacomo stands out and, a few steps away, next to the bell tower, you will find Santa Maria Maddalena.
The place is rich in history, art, tradition, and memories whose architectures and remains defy the passing of time.
There is so much to discover among the secluded corners and the open views; an aura of mystery lingers on the history of the Island, its inhabitants, the churches and the buildings which were once there in significant numbers and, destroyed by the soldiers of Como army, are now buried between woods and clearings.
Once landed, you will receive a warm welcome by the “Oste” ( an old-fashioned word for “owner of a pub,” this is the way Benvenuto Puricelli, the current owner, likes to call himself). After a tour of the Island, which will take no more than one hour, stop over at the bar “La Botte” for a refreshing drink before getting back to the Locanda where you will enjoy the pleasure of sharing a sumptuous meal while being waited on perfectly by the attentive staff.
Comments from an American tourist:
“…the fun was still brewing as the owner of the restaurant put out the lights and embarked on what is undoubtedly a classic performance after forty years and quite a crowd pleaser — casting out the curses of the evil Barbarossa (who once plundered the island) and invoking the spirits of more gentle protectors.
We couldn’t understand a word of Italian he droned in the style of ancient chant while he whirled, gestured broadly and lit the coffee brandy on fire in a thrilling display of happy pyrotechnics while the other guests (who could understand) laughed and sighed and whooped and cheered him on.
The language was universal, the theatrics self-explanatory. This was a restaurateur who has discovered a formula for keeping them coming by keeping them happy. After forty years, why mess with success? There’s little chance this man will be left lonely on that small island…”
Comacina Island became important for strategic and religious reasons at the time of the barbarian invasions, starting with the war between Greeks and Goths. In 539, troops of Burgundians and Alemannic ventured as far as Northern Italy. In 569, the ruthless Uraja conquered Milan; the wealthiest inhabitants of Como and the nearby villages gathered their riches and took refuge on the Island where they resisted against the barbaric enemies, as the last bulwark of the Christian world to defend liberty. In a short while, the small surface of the Island was covered with houses, churches, and fortifications. That was the time the Island was known as Cristopoli (City of Christ).
During Middle Ages, both the Island, known as Isola Comense or Cumana and the nearby mainland achieved a tremendous economic and political importance with the help of the bishop of Como. In 1118 a 10-year war between Como and Milan broke out; the Island allied with Milan, which defeated the enemy in 1127.
Como later rose again under Barbarossa’s protection and in 1169 soldiers from Como, with the help of the three parishes of Dongo, Gravedona, and Sorico, invaded the Island bringing death and ruin. In a decree of 1175 Barbarossa declared that no houses, churches or fortresses were ever to be built on the Island.
Since then, nobody has lived there because of the curse Bishop Vidulf cast on it: “No longer shall bells ring, no stone shall be put on stone, nobody shall be the host, under pain of unnatural death.”
The bishop gave the Island to the Vacana family. In 1914, after the events which occurred in Belgium at the beginning of World War I, the owner, Augusto Giuseppe Caprani, decided to bequeath the island to His Majesty Albert I King of Belgium as a token of solidarity. In May 1920 the King of Belgium donated the Island to the Italian State to make it a retreat for Belgian and Italian artists. It was then put under the supervision of Brera Academy.
Cottages were built to accommodate artists and scholars, and the Island became a cultural pole in Como area.