This easy walk of about two hours starts at the big parking of Coop Supermarket in Maggia. From there we walk down to the river, cross the hanging pedestrian bridge, follow the road down valley to Moghegno, Aurigeno, Terra di Fuori. Then we cross again the river on another hanging bridge and walk back to Maggia, crossing the main road where the church Madonna delle Grazie stands. Lunch is served in the renovated restaurant Quadrifoglio next to Migros.
In the Middle Ages Moghegno, Aurigeno and Lodano, the three villages on the west bank of the river Maggia formed one community. Later they became independent municipalities and parishes. In 2004 all three merged with Maggia and three more villages up valley.
The fields next to Moghegno are the biggest fertile and flat area in the whole valley which otherwise does not have much space for agricultural activities. That’s why human settlements were established here very early, probably already during prehistoric times. In 1994 a Roman necropolis was discovered somewhere on these fields. 40 graves were excavated and documented, dating back to the 1st to the 3d century.
The coat of arms of Moghegno shows the head of a ram on red ground. In fact the nickname given to the people of Moghegno is Borö which in dialect means ram, probably an allusion to their stubborn attitude during some dispute over territory with their neighbours from Aurigeno. The Borö repaid in kind and called the people from Aurigeno Pörsc, that is pigs.
Old village centre: It is worthwhile to stroll through the narrow streets of Moghegno and look at the old characteristic houses, some with colourful frescos and other decorative features. You will find the old public laundry place, other large stone fountains, wooden storage houses (torba) from the 15th century, and a grà – chestnut drying hut – which is again activated every autumn for about 2 weeks. During the Christmas – New Year period the local families compete with each other installing traditional and creative nativity scenes around their houses.
Parish church Santa Maria Assunta: From the 16th century, it has been completely restructured in the 17th and 18th century. The semi-circular choir was built towards the end of the 19th century. In a side chapel there are 15 medallions painted by Vanoni with oil on metal.
Oratory Santa Maria Annunziata: This small church between Moghegno and Aurigeno was built in1850. Over the entrance door and in the interior there are frescos by Vanoni.
Paintings by Giovanni Antonio Vanoni: A very talented and productive painter from Aurigeno (19th century), Vanoni worked in many places of Ticino, mainly in his native Maggia valley. In Moghegno, besides his works in the church and the oratory, he did frescos on at least 3 houses.
Like in many other villages of the Ticino valleys the population of Aurigeno has been declining steadily for about 200 years. But during the last 40 years or so we can observe a reversal of the trend: more and more people chose to live here in a rural environment but close to the advantages of urban life. Now Aurigeno has again about 400 inhabitants like during the peak period 200 years ago. However, before you buy a house here, take into consideration that during the winter season you will hardly see the sun.
A village full of paintings
The most famous son of Aurigeno is Giovanni Antonio Vanoni (1810 – 1886). Already as a child this farmers’ son got fascinated by painting. As a young boy he followed an Italian painter to Milan and during several years he learned from him. He also spent some time in Genova and Savoy. As soon as he had earned some money he went for 3 years to Rome (1834–37) to study the works of the big old masters. Back in his native village he married his cousin Caterina and had 10 children with her. He also took an active part in public life and became municipal secretary, councillor and judge of Aurigeno. As a painter he was extremely productive, mainly in the Maggia valley and Locarnese region. There is hardly a town or village where you would not find some of his works, from Ascona to Muralto, from Cevio to Intragna etc. Aurigeno itself is almost an open air gallery of his paintings. Every few minutes you come across a chapel or another building decorated with his frescos.
Vanoni is buried at the cemetery of Aurigeno, next to a chapel decorated with his own frescos. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death in 1986 the community put a stone plate at the entrance of the cemetery. In his honour the coat of arms of his family has been made also the coat of arms of Aurigeno, changing only the colour of the two stars from silver to yellow. Even on modern houses the old tradition of decorating the outside of walls with a fresco is still continued.
His vivid colours are remarkable, especially his blue. It is obvious from his style that he has been influenced by the Italian Renaissance and Baroque art. He produced not only frescos but also paintings on canvas (portraits etc.) and a lot of ex votos, most of them now in the churches of Madonna del Sasso in Locarno and Madonna delle Grazie in Maggia. His paintings express the deep religious feelings of his contemporaries and they illustrate many material and cultural features of the simple life in this region in the 19th century.
The parish church S. Bartolomeo
The original church dates back to the 12th century. Later it has been enlarged. In the 2nd half of the 19th century the façade and the upper part of the tower were upgraded. And the artist Vanoni painted some beautiful frescos in the interior; they are considered his most important works. You will notice an obelisk in the yard and an ossuary chapel with a large painting representing S. Carlo Borromeo, very popular in Ticino.
An American celebrity living in Aurigeno
At the upper edge of the village a plate with an inscription indicates the house in which the famous American novelist Patricia Highsmith was living a solitary life surrounded by cats and books during the last years of her life (1988 – 95). She has written 22 novels, mainly psychological and criminal thrillers, as well as short stories and other works. She died in the Locarno hospital and her ashes are kept in the columbarium at Tegna cemetery. Tomorrow, 19th January, is her birthday.
Maggia: Church Madonna delle Grazie
This church is located on the main road before Maggia, next to the bus stop Aurigeno-Moghegno. It was built in the 15th century at the place of a small chapel. During the following centuries some enlargements have been added, as specified by an informative board on the outside of the Northern wall. The interior is richly decorated with beautiful frescos from the 16th and 17th centuries. They are considered to be the most valuable ones in the whole valley. There are also 24 ex-votos painted by Vanoni, showing mostly scenes of a miraculous rescue from misfortune. A wooden coffered ceiling is completing the exceptional beauty of this church interior.
The church is usually locked, but open for visitors from May to October, Wednesday to Friday afternoons and every 1st Saturday afternoon of the month.
Centro scolastico Ronchini
In the whole Maggia Valley there are now only 3 schools. The elementary pupils of the lower valley come here to Ronchini, those of the upper valley and the secondary pupils of the whole valley go to Cevio, and there is a small elementary school in Prato-Sornico for the Lavizzara valley. This school which was built in 1977 has a heating system powered by wood.
Tony Walker (Anton Marti)