Walser History in Macugnaga

Macugnaga Walser

In the second half of the 1200 Gotofredo, count of Biandrate and lord of Valsesia, married Aldisia, a rich girl of the Macugnaga valley. the “Valle Anzasca”, which brought as a dowry the Viège valley and the Anzasca valley.

In this way the two valleys which were at the East of Mount Rosa happened to be under the same rule. As a consequence, the vigorous Saas’s population, belonging to the Walser ethnic group, always so numerous as to be compelled to continuously search for new places where to live, took the opportunity to cross the Mount Moro pass and to come down in the Macugnaga plateau which offered a milder climate and richer grasslands. The Swiss immigration started the construction of the old churchè near the mountain huts of the biggest hamlet, the Dorf.

Macugnaga, whose most ancient mountain pastures – Rovelli, Garda, Pedriola, Rosareccio, Caspisana and Quarazzola – were already mentioned in a document dated the 22nd of June 999, written by Arnulfo, archbishop of Milan, became very early an autonomous parish with the right to hold every year a very important fair. This fair was held around the lime-tree of the old church from the 16th to the 31st of August, and it was presided by the chief of Vogogna and by all his curia, with the attendance of a great number of mountain people coming even from the Aosta and the Swiss valleys.

The middle ages

Escaping the sway of the counts of Biandrate with a peace treaty signed on the 16th of August 1291, the inhabitants of the Anzasca valley for a while lived in comparative peace, governing themselves with decrees and laws issued by common consent during the periodical assemblies held in Bannio, small capital of the valley. The first of these assemblies took place on the 7th of August 1306, when for the first time the General Mayor of the valley was elected.

The first document kept in parish archives which demonstrates the existence of a church called Saint Maria is dated the 7th of June 1317.

Macugnaga Walser baita

On the 5th of December 1561 the representatives of the Anzasca valley held a meeting in order to draw up the first land register of the valley. In that occasion the boundaries of Macugnaga were defined, from the Gold Plain (“Piana dell’Oro”, South of the Vaud bridge) to the Dorna brook (Rio Mondelli), to the Moriana Valley’s brook and to the Alps.

The medieval struggles between Ghibellines and Guelphs upset also the Ossola area with the result that the Anzasca Valley spontaneously put itself under the rule of the Visconti of Milan, and later under the Sforza. In this period, and precisely on the 17th of June 1523, the parish church of Macugnaga was dedicated (it was still the same Old Church, “Chiesa Vecchia”).

In the year 1535, after the death of the last Sforza, the valley passed under the rule of the Spanish, which immediately imposed new heavy taxes. The highest part of the valley was not reached by the following wars among French, Spanish and Austrian soldiers, nor was reached by the famous plague described by Alessandro Manzoni in his novel “I promessi sposi” (The Betrothed). But several other natural disasters troubled the village. The New Year’s Day of 1639 a violent fire burned down more than forty huts of the Dorf and damaged the church. In the month of September next year a devastating flood completed the ruin.

Macugnaga walser museum
Macugnaga – Walser museum sec. XVI

After having abandoned the houses and the church, they decided to build a new one, more beautiful and bigger. According to the tradition it was a friar, Fra’ Lorenzo Battaglia from Ornavasso, which chose the place, guiding blindfold all the people in procession and raming a cross in the spot where the new parish had to be built. This new church, whose construction began in 1709 and was completed eight years later, was exceptionally majestic when one compares it with the poverty of the people.

In 1799 Napoleon’s engineers thought to build a road through the Moro pass in order to reach Switzerland, but later this idea was discarded in favor of the Simplon pass.

In 1800 in the Anzasca valley was constituted the National Guard: Macugnaga, together with Bannio, was part of the Third Battalion of the Vogogna District. On the 15th of January 1819 was for the last time convened the General Council of the Valley which for several centuries issued the minor laws and the local regulations. This was the end of the small unique republic of the Anzasca valley. In 1847 started the construction of the road of the valley. In 1898, after 51 years, the carriage road reached Staffa, and a few decades later also Pecetto.

In the meantime, on the 22nd of July 1872, Ferdinand Imseng from Saas, but residing in Macugnaga, with a guide and a bearer took three Englishmen to the Dufour peak directly from Macugnaga.

Macugnaga Walser house
Macugnaga – Walser house

From this date on begins a period of great ascents, unfortunately with several accidents, the first of which caused the death of Imseng himself with one of his clients, Damiano Marinelli, and with the guide Battista Pedranzini.

This event caused a rising of the public opinion to such an extent that the ascents on Mount Rosa were forbidden. But this measure was not taken into consideration, so that five years later the Capanna Marinelli was opened to help the climbers which attempted the direct ascents from Macugnaga.

On the 7th of November 1906 a wind-storm broke off two thirds of the Old Lime-tree.

Where to stay in Macugnaga

Hotels, B&Bs and Apartments: search and reserve here.

Piemonte – Piedmont Mountains:

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