Cannobio - 06.10.2016
The historic centre of Cannobio was already in antique times the area around Via Giovanola and via Campo Rezio, close to the main church S. Vittore. Some remains of cremation burials from pre-Roman times have been found there. In the 1st century B.C Northern Italy and the pre-alpine valleys have been incorporated into the Roman empire. The location of the Roman army camp (castrum) could be determined thanks to the identification of the main North-South street (cardo) and East-West street (decumanus), typical for a Roman settlement. They connected the 4 gates and divided the camp into 4 equal parts (quartieri). At the intersection of these main axes there was the main square (forum) in civilian settlements, and the tent or residence of the commander (praetorium) in military settlements.
In the Middle Ages Cannobio became a prosperous town mainly thanks to its manufacturing and commercial activities. In 1207 it was granted the status of Borgo, but only in 2006 it became officially a town (città). Now its economy is based mainly on tourism and the large number of residents working in Switzerland (frontalieri).
In the late Middle Ages (12th – 15th century) Cannobio had strong links with Milan. Then it also was part of the diocese of Milan, like several other parishes on the western coast of the lake, like Brissago. Only in 1817 these parishes were transferred to the diocese of Novara, but they kept the Ambrosian rite in their liturgy, a rite which dates back to S. Ambrosius (S. Ambrogio), bishop of Milan in the 4th century and one of the so called Fathers of the Church.
During the Italian struggle for independence in the 19th century Cannobio was part of Piemont and as such belonged to the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia. The other side of the lake was part of Lombardy and therefore under Austrian control. Cannobio was on the frontline and in danger. In 1859 a detachment of some 30 men from Brissago with 2 small cannons went to help their neighbours and friends in Cannobio, in flagrant breach of Swiss neutrality. One night in May 1859 some Austrian war ships approached from Luino. The brave freedom fighters from Brissago fired some shots with their cannons and the Austrian ships returned to where they had come from. Two years later Italy was free and united. The thankful people of Cannobio still remember this episode on the Lion’s Monument located on the main road at the Southern entrance to the town. The 2 canons are now a peaceful decoration in the town hall of Brissago.
Ponte Ballerino (Dancing Bridge)
In the old time people had to cross here the river Cannobino via a ford. That could be quite dangerous when the water level was high and accidents happened sometimes. So in 1933 a simple pedestrian bridge was built, for the price of 22 000 Lire. When it was partially destroyed by flood waters in 1950 they rebuilt it, this time for 80 000 Lire. The current, more solid bridge was built in 1985, this time for the amount of 45 million Lire.
L’orrido di Santa Anna (S. Anna Ravine)
3 km before the river Cannobino reaches the lake, its waters have carved out from the rocks, during thousands of years, a very narrow and deep ravine. There are 2 bridges: a so called Roman bridge from the 12th century, 22 m over the water level, only for pedestrians, well preserved and still in use until 1855, and a modern bridge for cars. Right below the bridges the valley widens again and the river forms a big pond with a large gravel beach. In summer this place is very popular with bathers and divers who like also the very cool waters in the ravine. These waters are also well populated with trout.
Next to the bridges stands a church from the 17th century dedicated to S. Anna. It incorporates a chapel from the end of the 15th, beginning of 16th century. That chapel was dedicated to our Lady of Loreto and constitutes the apse of the younger church. Hungry and thirsty tourists will find a nice grotto behind the church.
Acqua Carlina (The Mineral Water of Carlo Borromeo)
On the Southern slope of the Cannobino valley, just outside Cannobio town, we come across a famous and very special water source. The water springs out with a constant temperature of 10° C and at an average flow of 8 litres per second. What is really very special is the mineralisation of the water. Like other mineral waters it contains various mineral elements like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, but in a much lower concentration than most other mineral waters. It contains only 43 mg/l of minerals, while such waters in the medium range contain about 500 mg/l, and waters in the upper range 1000 and more mg/l, ex. S. Pellegrino. The German Gerolsteiner Water contains nearly 2500 mg/l. You cannot drink big quantities of such waters, because the body could not absorb that much minerals. This water here instead, you can drink hectolitres of it without any problem, you just run to the bathroom more often. From the moment the rain falls on the mountain above (Monte Carza) until the water reaches the spring it flows through the cracks in the rocks during 3 ½ years. And during all that time it dissolves a small quantity of the minerals encountered on its way which we then can measure and drink.
This water is said to have curative properties for certain ailments of the intestines, the liver and the kidney. For many centuries people of the region came to this source to get cured. And when Saint Carlo Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, came on a pastoral visit to this region in the 16th century, he supposedly also got cured by the water. In his honour the water is now called Acqua Carlina.
From the middle of the 19th century up to the first decades of the 20th century, Cannobio was famous among the European elite. Aristocrats, scholars, poets etc. came here to cure there problems. A big hotel was built near the source, and even a transfer service by horse carriage from the boat to the hotel was organised. But with WW II, all this splendour came to an end, the hotel decayed, and now only a few ruins are left. But in recent years, the fountain along the road has been restored and newly designed, complete with a small parking space. Anybody can go there and drink and take home as much water as he/she likes. Some people are even thinking of bottling the water to be sold at least in local restaurants and hotels. This source has also been integrated in new touristic trail, with several interesting stations, basically the round walk we do today.
Government Palace (Parasio)
As a result of an amazing continuity through history, the centre of the pre-Roman and Roman settlement remained also the centre of the medieval and modern town. As usual in Italian towns the civilian and the religious authorities had their representative buildings next to each other. Here we have the main church (S.Vittore) and the medieval government palace (Parasio), built in 1291 (year of the founding of the Swiss Confede-ration). The palace is even connected to the church tower. On the ground floor the local judges administered justice, on the upper floor the town council met for their sessions. During later centuries the palace was also used as a prison, and in the 19th century as a school. The newly restored building is now used by the tourist office on the ground floor and for exhibitions on the upper floor.
Church S. Victor (Collegiata S. Vittore)
This is the main church of Cannobio. As it stands today it was built in the middle of the 18th century, the façade is from the 19th century. It has replaced a much older Romanesque church. Preserved from that period is the bell tower which stands separate from the church. It dates back to the 12th and 13th century. In the church interior one can find several outstanding pieces of art from the 15th and 16th centuries. The best known piece is the painting of the so called Pietà di Cannobio which attracts many pilgrims. Somewhere high in the dome (cupola) the reliquary with a holy rib of Christ is kept, shown to the faithful only once a year, during the celebrations of 7th- 8th January.
The Miracle of the Pietà di Cannobio
At the Northern end of the main square on the lake you see a big church. In 1522 there was still a simple tavern in that place. According to the testimony of many witnesses a miracle happened there on the evening of January 8th. The figures of a painting of the so called Pietà, representing the dead Christ, his mother St. Mary and the Apostle S. John, started shedding tears of blood and the wound on Christ’s breast got swollen. The news spread very fast and a lot of people came to see the unbelievable. The following evening the miracle repeated itself and a small bleeding rib came out from the wound and fell down. It was collected by a priest with a chalice and brought to the parish church S. Vittore. During the following days and weeks the miracle still occurred several times. Very soon the little tavern became a pilgrimage place and only 4 years later it was transformed into a small chapel. When archbishop Carlo Borromeo saw the modest shrine during one of his visits in 1571 he gave order to build a bigger and more worthy church – the one which we see now. One of the architects was Pietro Beretta from Brissago, the same who together with his father Giovanni Beretta designed the 2 main churches of Brissago.
To remember this miracle the people of Cannobio celebrate every year the Festa dei lüminèri (Festival of lights) on the eve of the miracle, that is on 7th January. After the evening mass the silver reliquary is taken down from the dome and presented to the faithful who can approach and kiss it. Then the lights go off in the old town, streets and houses are illuminated with candles and lampions, and a solemn procession accompanies the reliquary down to the church of the Pietà where the miracle happened in 1522. After that follows the secular part of the celebration: People flock to the pubs and restaurants and eat all the same traditional menu: Noodles, beans and luganighe sausages. In the afternoon of the following day the reliquary is brought back with a similar procession to the parish church where it would stay until a year later.
Tony Walker (Anton Marti)