Bignasco - Cavergno, 08.10.2015
Bignasco and Cavergno
The 2 villages were independent municipalities until 2006, when they merged with Cevio. There has always been some rivalry between them, and in some aspects it can still be felt.
Bignasco is traditionally more looking down valley and to the wider world. It has two important bridges over the two rivers converging here, had a hotel for international tourists since the 1880-ies and a railway coming from Locarno since 1907 (replaced 1965 by a bus service), and, last but not least, is the place of origin of a worldwide well known “Iron Lady” called Carla Del Ponte, who happens to be our Club member. Some of her relatives still run a metal workshop behind restaurant Posta.
Cavergno instead was always more focussed on its territory and hamlets up in Val Bavona and on the mountains. The half nomadic population used to spend most of the year with their cattle in the higher valley and on the alps. The village was only their winter residence – “Cavergn, casa d’invern”. And the most famous son of Cavergno was a simple school teacher who passed his whole life in Cavergno, but was also an great writer who described the hard life of the local people in his novels. He is Plinio Martini (1923 – 1979), one of the most popular ticinesi authors of the 20th century.
The name of the place is of pre-Roman, probably Ligurian origin. As mentioned during a walk in Valle Verzasca, the endings –asco and–asca indicate a place close to a flowing water (cf. Biasca, Giubiasco, Cugnasco etc.). This was an important location where 2 rivers converge. Here it was easier to build 2 bridges over 2 smaller rivers than to build 1 long bridge over a larger river further down. The old mule road from Locarno was on the left side of the river. Until 200 years ago, if you wanted to reach Cevio from Locarno, you had to come until here, cross the 2 bridges and then go down again on the other side of the river.
Bignasco consists of 5 parts:
- La Lüera: A complex of various structures on the steep mountain slope. In the old times the valley floor was devastated by the river, not suitable for agriculture. Then the river was not tamed and much more water was flowing down than today, because not used by the hydroelectric plants in Robiei and Fusio. Agriculture was mainly restricted to the slopes on both sides of the valley.
- The old centre: On the left side of the river, under the vertical mountain rocks. The biggest concentration of houses from the 16th century in the Maggia valley.
- The new centre from 19th/20th century, around the church between the 2 rivers, with important private and public buildings.
- A new neighbourhood developed on the right side of the river after the terminal station of the railway Locarno – Ponte Brolla – Bignasco was established here in 1907.
- A modern residential and recreation area is located South of the old centre.
La Lüèra (Wolf trap)
Huge rocks from prehistoric landslides, with several natural caves under them ("splüi"), completed with additional stone walls and elements of a roof. Some have been used as shelter for animals and people and as store rooms for food and hay. The biggest one could shelter up to 40 goats and was equipped with mangers and a hanging structure for the hay storage. There are also man made terraces for plantations (rye, potatoes, grapevines etc.) and a grà (building to dry chestnuts). The most im-pressing structure is a wolf trap (ca. 100 m2), surrounded on 2 sides by the natural rock, on the other 2 sides by high stone walls with a little opening that closed after a wolf entered, attracted by an animal put there as a bait. There is also a chestnut grove in that area. The constructions date probably from the 14th / 15th century. 2 rocks lying on each other look like a giant mushroom and serve as a view point
Piscina comunale (Public swimming Pool)
Probably one of the most attractive swimming pools in Ticino, located under a beautiful waterfall, with heated pool and a scenic picnic area. 300 m higher, on a terrace with panoramic view, you see a little church, Madonna di Monte. It has frescos from 1512 and can be reached one hour walking.
Grà, vasca monolitica, scalata
Before reaching the old centre we see some interesting old monuments:
Grà: A small but important building where people used to dry their chestnuts. During 3 weeks a fire on the floor was sending warm air up to the chestnuts lying on a wooden grill at the higher level. On the backside there are stairs and an opening in the wall through which the chestnuts were introduced into the structure.
Vasca monolitica: a monolithic water tank, carved out from a single piece of rock (what a work !) We will see about five of them when we walk through the old centres of the two villages. They were very important when there was no public network to distribute water to each house. People came to these fountains to fetch water. The first metal water pipes in Bignasco were installed in 1903, to provide the 3 fountains in the old centre with water.
Scalata: Next to the grà and the fountain old steps made from large granite plates lead up to the mountain. This kind of “sky ladders” are present in many places in the Ticinesi alpine valleys.
2 Torbe (Storehouses)
Old structures to store mainly rye and millet, standing often on “mushroom” pillars, to prevent rodents from entering. One in the old centre, the other at the Northern end.
Comune: Cevio, frazione Bignasco
Altitudine: 443 m
Proprietario: comune di Cevio
Anno del restauro: 2003-2004
Investimento: fr. 96'850
Monumento di importanza cantonale
Nel nucleo più antico di Bignasco, composto da parecchie case cinquecentesche in pietra, si sono conservati due granai in legno quattrocenteschi.
Interventi effettuati: sostituzione di “funghi” e travi di sostegno della cella granaria, rifacimento del tetto.
L'imponente torba'd Padovagn
Between old centre and old bridge, located along the former road (mulattiera). Decorated with frescos, 1st one from the 17th century, the 2nd one from 1st half of the 19th century. More chapels follow along the road uphill.
2 Bridges, Oratory S. Rocco
Old arch bridge Ponte S. Rocco over the Maggia river, leading to the little church of the same name. A first chapel was built here in 1597, then enlarged and transformed several times. The same kind of arch bridge over the Bavona river (next to rest. Posta) was replaced ca. 1950 by a larger and stronger stone bridge, in anticipation of the heavy transports necessary for the construction of the hydroelectric plant in Robiei. Because of their importance we can assume that the 2 bridges have been here since the Middle Ages.
Parish church of Bignasco
Dedicated to S. Michael, consecrated in 1414. Little remains from the original church, since it has been radically transformed at the beginning of the 20th century. All the paintings are also from that period. In the interior there are many writings and records of benefactors, local people who had emigrated to Rome, Holland and Flanders.
Hôtel du Glacier
An elegant 5-storey building next to the Palazzo patriziale (1908). It was built in 1885-87, on the initiative of the local entrepreneur Federico Balli. Even before the opening of the railway to Bignasco (1907), he wanted to offer a base for the numerous tourists, mainly foreigners, who started to explore the high mountains. The hotel was oriented direction Basodino mountain and Antabia Glacier, visible in clear weather. The glacier has all but melted away in the meantime. A dépendance to the North was later added.
The hotel had its own water supply by pipelines coming down from the rocks, protected by stone linings, still preserved and well visible. It was quite modern for that time, had its own laundry room with electric washing machines. The hotel had quite some success until WW I, then slowly declined and had to shut down.
Il Pont Lött
This bridge over an impressive gorge of the Maggia was already documented in 1534. The name relates probably to the influential family Lotti. The current bridge was built in 1885.
Chapel at the entrance of old Cavergno
In this village you will find only 3 small chapels, all relatively new – 1 less than 70 years, the others about 100 years old. In Val Bavona instead there are not less than 36 chapels, dating from the 16th to the 21stcentury, most of them decorated with frescos, mostly well maintained and restored. This is an indication that for people here life in Val Bavona was more important than here in the village. Every 1st Sunday of May people of Cavergno and the wider region join a religious procession, walking about 10 km from Cavergno church up through Val Bavona until Gannariente, the last church on their territory, stopping and praying at every chapel they come across.
You notice an interesting writing at this chapel here: “500 giorni d’indulgenza (Leo XIII). It means: If you pray at this chapel you have to stay 500 days less in the Purgatory where you pay for your sins… And this tariff has been decided by Leo XIII who was pope of the catholic church at the end of the 19th century.
Old Centre of Cavergno
It is East – West oriented and connects the entrance to Val Lavizzara with the entrance to Val Bavona. On the North side there are terraces for agricultural plantations, and above them a forest (500 – 1200 m asl) with old trees protects the village from the rocks falling from the mountains. This protective forest has been mentioned already in a document 500 years ago and is strictly protected. Only dry wood can be collected there.
Pay attention to the narrow long cobbled streets, the architecture of the old stables and houses and the same kind of monolithic water tanks we have seen in Bignasco. Already in the 18th century a wooden water pipeline brought the water to those fountains, from a source 700 m outside the village. At the beginning of the 19th century it was replaced by a new stone pipeline .
“Torba du Giani” (John’s Granary), Telaio ( weaving loom)
We have seen 2 similar buildings in Bignasco, serving to store the cereals, protected from rodents by the typical “mushroom ” pillars. With the help of dendrochronology it could be established that the trees used for this building were cut between 1454 – 1460. It has been restored in 2007.
In the old house next to the Torba there are still 2 looms active, similar to those who were used in many households in the old times.
La Stalla (The Stable)
This archaic construction is one of the most amazing buildings in the region. It is a stable for small animals and hay right in the centre of the village. The other stables are located at both ends of the village. The ground floor and the roof are from stone as usual, but the walls are exceptionally made from wooden logs. A dendrochronological analysis has proven that the building is from 1372. It is therefore the oldest still existing building in Valle Maggia. At that time most stables looked probably like this. According to the specialists it has never been modified since its construction. In recent years only the roof and the floor have been a bit restored.
Comune: Cevio. Frazione Cavergno
Altitudine: 459 m
Anno del restauro: 2012
Investimento: fr. 3’000.-
Si tratta di un edificio con le pareti in legno, risalente, secondo le analisi dendrocronologiche, al 1372. Si tratta quindi della costruzione datata più antica della Vallemaggia. Di particolare interesse il fatto che la stalla, dalla sua edificazione non ha subito modifiche; l’intera struttura appare quindi originale.
Lavori eseguiti: riparazione del tetto e sistemazione del pavimento del
La stalla di Cavergno
A rich and representative villa with a nice garden. It was built in 1907 by 2 brothers who had emigrated to Holland and had made a fortune, unlike many other emigrants from Cavergno who never became rich. This was the 1st building to occupy agricultural land outside the village centre – probably a privilege of newly rich people. Inscription on the façade: RUST 1907 OORD (= Resting Place)
Parish church of Cavergno
There was a chapel in the 16th century (documented 1505). But the 1st church was consecrated only towards the end of the 17th century, another sign that the village was not so important for people in comparison to the Bavona valley. The church then was several times enlarged and modified during the 18th and 19th century. The porch at the entrance was made in 1929. The frescos in the interior are by Antonio Rinaldi from Tremona. The church is dedicated to S. Antony of Padua. Its style is late baroque. The interior contains many artistic testimonies of the emigration, mainly to Rome, Holland and Hungary. The ossuary from 1811 and a column from 1799 are elements of the cemetery which used to be next to the church and which was moved when the main road was constructed in 1888.
Those who have no problem with a swinging pedestrian bridge will cross the river Bavona and walk back to Bignasco on a forest road, the others can take the asphalt road until the restaurant. Before reaching the centre of Bignasco we come across the Cantonal Fishfarm where every year thousands of young fish are hatched and then placed into lakes and rivers.
Just before the main bridge we see Palazzo Lotti, a mansion with a big garden on the river bank. Built by the family Lotti, who settled here in the 18th century, coming from Cavergno, and who played an important role in the public life of the valley and the canton. The current President of the Directorate of the Electric Company Sopracenerina is Daniele Lotti, certainly a member of that clan.
On the entrance to the restaurant Posta you read: GDP 1824. It does not refer to the “gross domestic product” of Bignasco, but certainly to an owner of the house, somebody like Giovanni or Giuseppe Del Ponte, probably an ancestor of our Club member Carla.
Tony Walker (Anton Marti)