View from a natural terrace South of Balladrüm to Lake Verbano and Brissago Islands
The parish church of Arcegno is dedicated to St. Anthony the Abbot (or the Great) who lived in Egypt, 3d – 4th century AD. He is also the saint patron of the main church in Locarno and of many other churches in Ticino. This church was built in the middle of the 14th century. Its architectonic style is a mixture of Romanesque and Renaissance. Some enlargements and changes were made during the following centuries, among other the polygonal choir and the tower in the 16th century, probably according a design of the architects Giovanni (father) and Pietro (son) Beretta from Brissago who also built the two main churches in Brissago which we visited during last year’s Winter Walk. The windows and the decorations of the façade are from the 18th century.
The most remarkable feature inside the church is a number of beautiful frescos, or at least what remains of them. They are attributed to Cristoforo da Seregno and his school (15th century), a very talented and productive artist from Seregno, a town between Como and Monza. With his nephew Nicolao, also a painter, he moved to Lugano, where they established an important artistic workshop and decorated a large number of churches and chapels in Ticino and Grigioni with their frescos, ex. in Ascona (Collegio Papio), Arbedo, Giornico, Roveredo, Lottigna, Rossura. Some of you might also remember the beautiful Romanesque church in Negrentino which we visited during our autumn walk 5 years ago. The walls of that church are covered with impressive frescos from different periods, some of them are also the work of the Seregnesi.
In this church we see fragments of a Last Supper, St. Sebastian with St. Lawrence and St. Nicolas, Adoration of the 3 Kings, and a little fragment of a St. Anthony..
Necropolis of Arcegno
Walking from the parking to the church you have seen the cemetery on the right hand side. It is amazing that there was already a cemetery during the Roman period just on the other side of the road. Archaeologists have excavated 97 graves from the 1st to the 4th century . They found also a certain amount of grave goods like pottery and coins. There must have been a human settlement nearby, but we don’t know where exactly.
We have to bear in mind that during those times the 2 banks of the river Maggia were not connected as they are today. The Maggia was a big wild river without bridges, with much more water flowing than today (no hydroelectric plant !) and with a large marshland on its delta. Contacts between communities on both sides of the river were difficult and probably not very intense. They needed absolutely to have their own burial places. On this side we know the ones in Arcegno and Moghegno, on the other side those in Solduno and Gudo and some graves in Muralto and Minusio.
Last week, one of the best experts for all these sites, Simonetta Biaggio Simona, had a conference in Locarno about the recent archaeological discoveries in the Locarno region..
It is worthwhile to stroll through the medieval village centre with its old houses and narrow streets. You will hardly see a person, rather some lonely dog or cat, some old frescos on the walls and two large representative houses, the Casa Bertini and the Casa Bianda, built by 2 influential families of the region.
Following the street about ½ km up from the village centre you arrive at the Campo Enrico Pestalozzi, a holiday village in the woods, named after the famous Swiss pedagogue Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746 – 1827). It was founded 1929 on the initiative of a priest from Lucerne (Julius Kaiser). School classes, sport groups and other groups of youngsters and adults organise here their holidays, workshops, training camps and all kind of special days or weeks. One of the 10 simple buildings is specialised in hosting handicapped people.
Strada dei polacchi
Continuing in the same direction, the narrow road leads you through the forest over the hill down to the village of Golino. That road was built during World War II by Polish soldiers interned in Switzerland. They and other internees worked a lot in many different regions in Switzerland. Some of you might remember an area we have seen in Maggia that was also cleared by them and reclaimed from the wild nature.
On this rocky hill we are standing on historical ground, or rather on prehistoric ground. Because this mountain ridge with a panoramic view all around was a kind of observation point, refuge and defence fortress during the 2nd half of the Iron Age (approximately 500 – 15 B.C), before Roman colonisation that is. Ticino was then inhabited by the Celtic tribe of the Lepontians. They were part of the so called La Tène culture which was predominant in central Europe during the late Iron Age (named after the village of La Tène on Lake Neuchâtel).
The importance of the site was discovered only in 1937 by an artist from Zurich (Ernesto Frick) who was living in Ascona, one among many northern artists who had come to live in Ticino. He discovered some pottery fragments and rests of stone structures, mainly on the 2 peaks at both ends of the hill and on the 3 terraces on the Southern side (towards the lake). There were several walls of containment and defence at different levels, made from rocks, and probably several houses with a basement in stone and an upper part in wood. But we don’t have very precise ideas about this site, because no real archaeological excavation and research have been made so far. Since the place is so large we can assume that it served not only one single community in the neighbourhood, but a wider area between Ascona, Ronco and Pedemonte
Interestingly on Balladrüm there seems to be absolutely no trace from later periods, Roman time and Middle Ages, no lime, no bricks. But probably there was already a regular human presence on the hill much earlier, namely during the Neolithic period, that is 4000 or more years ago. At that time hunters and maybe some early farmers were very much present in the region, ex. on the hill S. Michele in Ascona, where pottery pieces, arrow heads and other objects from that period have been found. Another important rocky hill with similar strategic characteristics like this one is the Castelliere di Tegna, well visible from here (that is the steep mountain in Ponte Brolla where in summer you see a lot of climbers training). On that hill archaeologists have found material evidence from the Stone Age (before 2000 B.C), the Bronze Age (2nd millennium B.C.), the Iron Age (1st millennium B.C.), the Roman period (0 – 500 A.D.) and from the early Middle Ages (500 – 1000 A.D.). It seems quite plausible that there was some connection between here and there. There are also some prehistoric rock carvings on a neighbouring hill just north of here.
The name of Balladrüm is also interesting. The 2nd component – Drum, is of Celtic origin and means “ridge”, top of a long mountain. This word appears in numerous names of places in Ireland and Scotland. Our friend Iain said that he knows several places in Scotland called Drom. The origin of the 1st component is not so clear. According to one theory it is related to a pre-Roman word baya, meaning a massive rock. At a period when the local population did not speak celtic any more, but a Latin or Lombard dialect, they would call this ridge “the rock Drum”: Balladrum.
Grotto Mulin di Ciöss
This house was a mill until about 50 years ago and was later converted into a restaurant. In fact Mulin (it. Molino) means Mill. Cioss, ciöss in the local dialect indicates a fenced piece of meadow. The word derives from the Latin clausum (it. chiuso): a closed place. It is worthwhile to have a look at the picturesque interior of the grotto. Here we have lunch.
Tony Walker (Anton Marti)