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The Comacina Island


The only Island of lake Como, admired for its remarkable panoramic views and the lush Mediterranean vegetation, is among the most interesting archaeological sites in northern Italy for the early Middle Ages and an artistic centre thanks to the three houses for artists, built by Pietro Lingeri in rationalistic style.

The Comacina Island is roughly 600 meters long and only 200 meters wide, comprising a total area of 6 hectares, mostly covered by lush Mediterranean vegetation. Olives, linden and laurel, with species such as hackberry, hornbeam and black mulberry, dominate the environment, which together with the surrounding area, is called Zoca de l’Oli, thus defining the corner of lake Como characterized by a mild climate and favourable for the cultivation of olive trees and the production of local oil.

You can reach the Comacina island by private taxi-boat from the medieval complex of Santa Maria Maddalena in Ossuccio or by ferry with the Lake Como Public Navigation Company (see timetable here). Ticket office and information points at the Antiquarium Museum.

The impressive archaeological site of the Comacina Island features many architectural remains mostly Christian and early medieval.

The main complex includes the eighteenth-century church of San Giovanni, a closed hall, divided into three aisles with a rectangular apse, built on top of the remains of at least three Roman and Early Middle Ages religious buildings.

The most precious archaeological discouveris are certainly the compt. Euphemius’Eufemia, in which are visible the division with three naves and three apses, the crypt and the beautiful porch to front wings together with the remains of the churches of Santa Maria con Portico and San Pietro in Castello.

Following the route on the southern slope you get to the three houses for artists, built on a project of architect Pietro Lingeri between 1937 and 1940 and lately restored by architects Andrea Canziani and Rebecca Fant.
The three housese represent a functionalist reinterpretation of larian vernacular architecture. Elements of rural architecture – wooden planks or open galleries – coexist with typical elements from the modernist repertory, such as the ribbon windows or the glass block walls.

Just before the pier there are the remains of the religious complex of San Faustino and San Giovita (twelfth century).

Known for its glorious past, the Island was a fortress, with houses and churches surrounded by high walls, and played an important role in the history of Como, from the Roman period to the early Middle Ages. It was inhabited by communities of Roman Ausuciates, hence the name Ossuccio.

Among the most important religious centres of the diocese of Como, the Island saw the rise, on it’s land, of several churches, including one of the most important basilicas of the eleventh century, St. Euphemius.

It sided with Milan against Como in the 10 year war, until when, in 1169, the ‘annus Horribilis’, it was razed to the ground by the town of Como, supported by Frederick I, also known as Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor. Nothing was rebuilt for centuries.

The 1900’s resulted as the century of discovery: inhereted by testament by the king of Belgium in 1919 and donated by him to the Italian government, the Island became the responsibility of the Brera Academy, appointed to protect the archaeological and scenic beauty. With the idea of making the Comacina Island a colony for artists, in 1939, Pietro Lingeri built three houses for artists, in rationalistic style.

During the course of the 1900’s excavations were carried by Ugo Monneret de Villard, historian and archaeologist, resulting in the discovery of the remains of St. Euphemia, and by the architect Luigi Mario Belloni, passionate admirer of the Lake land and his wife Dr. Mariuccia Zecchinelli, who discovered numerous architectural remains mostly Christian and early medieval together with a large amount of furniture finds. Belloni accomplished an extraordinary campaign of underwater searches in the surrounding lake basin, that brought to the surface numerous exhibits of the island.

Remains of Roman marble columns preserved beneath the church of St. John, early Christian evidence such as the unusual twin apse room with wall frescoes and mosaic fragments, and numerous remains of Romanesque churches, among which the crypt of the basilica of St. Euphemia and Stonework of the square complex of SS. Faustino and Jovita: All this constitutes the precious heritage of Comacina along with many artifacts that were recovered during archaeological campaigns that are displayed in the Antiquarium museum in Ossuccio.

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