The Orobi, an ancient tribe native to Liguria, founded the first nucleus of the town of Como. Around 1000 B.C., at the time the Ligurians had mixed with the Celts, a little community sprung up in the territories comprised within the Prealp lakes and the Ticino river, giving rise to the first urban settlements: the Culture of Golasecca. The first settlers in Como occupied the hills surrounding the dale, knows as the area of Prestino. Around the 5th century, the territory was conquered by the Galli “Insubri” and in 196 B.C. by the Romans. It was Julius Caesar who urbanized the city of Como after starting a wave of immigration of more than 5000 colonists into the area, amongst which numerous Greeks. Many names of several towns trace back to Ancient Greece: Lecco (Leucos), Nesso (Nasso), Dervio (Delfo), Lenno and Lemna (Lemna), Corenno and Colonno (Corinto). The town was situated at the entrance of a very affluent area, an important connection route between Transpadania and the northern areas. In 42 B.C. Novum Comum acquired the privileges of a municipality and became an actual city with walls, a law court, a thermal spa and several patrician villas (Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger were born during the most prosperous period of the town). The western port was located in Novate at the time when Lario was still connected to the lake of Mezzola.

During the rise of Christianity, emperor Constantine founded the first dioceses with the intent of obviating to the institutional shortcomings of the Empire; the dioceses of Como were named after saints, such as S.Carpoforo, S.Abbondio and S.Fedele. The Lario territory became one of the major centers of divulgation of Christianity, as extensively testified by the flourishing of religious art in Ossuccio, Piona and Gravedona (several communities, such as the parishes of Gravedona and the Comacina Island, were dependent on the dioceses). Because of the long controversy between ecclesiastic and state powers, the bishops of Como and Aquileia adhered to the Schism of the Three Chapters, causing a part of the Church to rebel against the Byzantine authority. The Longobard invasion aggravated the schism even further: the Longobard queen Teodolinda obviously had an interest in provoking the population to rebel against the Empire of Constantinopolis. Como formed an alliance with Aquileia and became independent from the Ambrosian diocese, which, from that moment on, would become Como’s sworn enemy. The rivalry between the two cities was temporally placated by Charlemagne, who left the Valtellina and the Ticino regions under Como’s control, while assigning eastern Lario and the future Campione d’Italia to Milan.

From they year 1000 onwards, the revival of commercial activity allowed the wealthiest merchants to acquire noble titles (from which several families such as Rusca, Natta etc. originate). However, the excessive prosperity that derived made Milan jealous and stirred up the old controversy that led to a war that lasted a decade, with the defeat of the Larian army in 1127. The situation changed thanks to the direct intervention of Frederick Barbarossa and the Holy Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, the Emperor disapproved of the Communes’ excess of autonomy and asked Como to join forces with the Empire to free themselves from the Ambrosian dominion. Therefore, Como did not partake in the foundation of the Lombard League against Barbarossa; the Germans, however, played an important role in the rebirth of the city after razing Milan to the ground. Barbarossa reinforced the Baradello Castle and erected the tower of Porta Vittoria, while the Como army destroyed the parish church of the Comacina Island out of revenge because of
the alliance with Milan (1169). This historical event is commem-
orated every year during the Feast of S.Giovanni and the Palio
of Baradello.

Como with Milan
in the background.

However, these glorious years (following the defeat of Barbarossa at the hands of the League in 1176) came to and end when the rich Rusca family nominated a relative of theirs as successor of bishop Lambertenghi, thus causing the Papal Excommunication. Now that Como was no more supported by the Church, it gradually entered into the orbit of the Milan (that was being reconstructed). Azzone Visconti seized Como in 1335 and the city was later on handed down to his nephew Gian Galeazzo, who started the construction works – that would last more than three centuries - for the Cathedral. The Sforza family succeeded to the Visconti, at the time the European powers were fighting over the possession of Italy. The government of Massimiliano Sforza depended on Switzerland (to whom he had ceded the Ticino), while Francesco II depended on the Spanish. After the death of Francesco, Milano was handed down to the Spanish. In 1521, the Spanish army plundered Como, guilty of hosting the French army during the war against the Augsburg; the Baradello Castle was pulled down and the fort of Fuentes erected in Colico by way of compensation. During the 16th century, Como was under the dominion of the Augsburg of Spain. It was now a stronghold with 10.000 inhabitants (Milan counted 70.000), and had become specialized in silk and wool cloth production. Fierce competition with the great commercial centre of Torno led once more to Como’s destruction (1522), thus marking the end of its period of glory. The legendary villa d’Este and villa Pliniana - the first venues of a long tradition of noble vacationers that would characterize the lake over the following centuries - trace back to this period. In 1600 the Counter-Reformation brought to light the work of cardinal Tolomeo Gallio, who erected the palace of Gravedona that bears his name, and Villa Balbiano, in Ossuccio.
During the 700s, following the devastating pestilence (narrated in Manzoni’s historical novel The Betrothed) which had halved the population, Northern Italy passed under the dominion of the Augsburg of Austria. Como, which was now under Lombardia, was downgraded to the rank of province, as were the other towns of the region. The privileged epoch of independent Communes, where Como had imposed itself as a great power, was definitely over. This modern political framework was sanctioned by the arrival of Napoleon who announced the constitution of the Cisalpine Republic in 1797, during his stay at Villa Saporiti. Como was assigned the government of the Lario District, which also comprised the territories of Varese, Lecco and Sondrio, whereas the vast dioceses annexed the Canton Ticino and the Grigioni.
In the meantime the scientific activity of an illustrious citizen, Alessandro Volta (the inventor of the electrical battery and the discoverer of methane), was thriving, and the rising Romantic Movement elected the Lario as one of its paradises. During 1800, the entire pleiad of literates and musicians, who summered in the sumptuous villas owned by patrons of arts and royal families of Europe, was present. Thanks to its conformation, the lake was the ideal place for elite sojourns that suited the severe, contemplative and melancholic spirit of the Romantic artists down to the ground. Cosima Liszt, daughter of the piano virtuoso and future wife of Wagner, was born in Como in 1837. She was named "Cosima" in honour of Como.

In the meantime, in 1859, the city celebrated the arrival of Garibaldi and its annexation to Italy - a prelude to the urban revolution that would confer to the main city its modern day layout (for example, piazza Cavour was created in 1872 after the reclamation of the old harbour). Transportation also played a vital role in the history of the territory’s evolution, prompted by the technological innovations to which Volta had given the first formidable impetus. The funicular (considered a prolongation of the North Milan Railways) was inaugurated in 1894 and the first international Voltian exhibition took place in 1899. In 1913, the most important worldwide seaplane competition (from which the future Aero Club would derive ) was organized, while the first steamboat had been launched in 1826, not to mention the renowned postillion of S. Gotthard, that directly connected German Switzerland, Lucerne and Zurich. Lastly, the futuristic monuments erected by Giuseppe Terragni and Antonio S.Elia rendered the city the major center for Italian Rationalism
Many performances of La Scala (the Milanese theatre had been destroyed by the American raids) were hosted in the lyrical theatre of Como, as the city had not suffered bombing during World War II. Benito Mussolini, who was on the run towards Switzerland, was captured in Dongo and shot in Giulino di Mezzegra on the 28th of April 1945. The discovery of Mussolini’s secret correspondence was the main reason of Churchill’s stay at Villa d’Este in Lario shortly after the end of the war, under the false pretences of a pleasure holiday.

Today the city is only a pale reflection of its former glories. After its secession from Varese (1927) and Lecco (1992), Como has progressively lost its political prominence with respect to the nearby towns. Its infrastructures are the same as those of the 60s and town planning still lacks a proper definition. The decline of the silk industry has shifted the barycentre of its economy towards small enterprises and tourism, thanks to its natural environment of worldwide renown, but remains concealed and mostly hidden behind a tendentially closed mentality. Such contradiction is well representative of the character of the Larian inhabitants.

March 1159: the bishop of Como, Ardizzone celebrates the arrival of the German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, ally of the Como army during the wars against Milan and the other Communes of Northern Italy. Como adhered to the Lombard League in a second moment, but then submitted to Barbarossa in 1174.
This event is commemorated ever year during the Palio del Baradello.

On the side of the Cathedral portal, a plaque in honour of Pliny the Elder, who was native to Como.

Next to the plaque stands the statue of Pliny the Younger (Pliny the Elder's nephew). He was quaestor of the Roman Emperor Domitian and served as the governor of the Asian province Bithynia-Pontusis under Trajan.

  • The construction of the Cathedral, admirable work by the
    Comacini Masters, began around 1396.
  • The turquoise cupola, constructed in 1700 by Filippo Juvarra.
  • The portico of the Broletto, adjacent to the Duomo, former municipal building.
  • View of the Opera House Sociale from the colonnade.
  • The portal on the right side.
  • The lantern of the cupola
    and the small steeple.
  • The interior of the Cathedral features a late-Gothic aspect with a Latin cross plan and three aisles divided by pillars
    with acute arches.
  • The colourful glass windows.

The Cathedral controls one of the ten largest dioceses of Italy, including most part of the province of Lecco, Varese and the entire territory of Sondrio. The Canton Ticino (Switzerland) had belonged
to the Diocese of Como up to 1885.

Left: the Cathedral and the old steamship, symbols of Como and its lake. Right: the tower of Porta Vittoria (XII), a bastion erected by Barbarossa at the time of the wars against Milan.

Via Cesare Cantù with Porta Torre in the background.

The medieval festival Palio del Baradello takes place in September every year.

Every year, figurants dressed up in 19th century costumes come from all over Italy.

  • Youth spring festival.

Piazza S.Fedele, heart of the old town.

Ancient fifteenth-century buildings overlooking Piazza S.Fedele.

The church of S.Fedele, 10th century (right).

Via Cesare Cantu with Porta Torre in the background. 

Left: aerial view of the old town center. Right: view of Viale Cesare Battisti.

The walls that encircle the primitive Roman castrum. In 1768, Giulio Cesare Gattoni collocated the first Italian lightning rod on top of the Gattoni Tower.

A little break during the visit…

Wisteria in bloom.

Torre S.Vitale in springtime.

Magical snowfall along the walls.

Holy Week: the Procession and the traditional stalls.

The Civic Museum Giovio and the other internal courtyards.

The Civic Museums include: The Archaeological Museum Giovio, which displays various artifacts dating back to prehistoric times as well as archaeological evidence for the earliest occupation of the Larian territory, up to Roman times; the Historical Museum (dedicated to the Risorgimento Period and Contemporary History); the art gallery, hosted in Palazzo Volpi, featuring paintings dating between the 16th and 19th centuries.

The Egyptian section of the Giovio Musuem displays over 1000 artifacts, including the mummy of Isiuret, a young Priestess of the god Amun (900 B.C). The mummy was acquired by Alfonso Garovaglio - researcher and collector of ancient artifacts - in the emotional wake of Napoleon’s expeditions in Egypt. The relic is not always on display.

  • Via Vitani and Via Cinque Giornate. 
  • Via Balestra.
  • Natta Palace (14th century).
  • Via Bonanomi.

Via Muralto.

Via Luini.

Como, the city of silk. Historic shop in Via Vittorio Emanuele.

Shops in Via Vitani, Via Diaz, Via Luini.

Via Plinio.

 

A few metres away from the ancient trading port - which was active until 1800 with fishing activities, lake transportation and cloth washing - stands the ogival church of S. Agostino,
a former Augustinian convent of the 15th century.
Photo on the right: the traditional feast of S.Antonio that takes place very year on the 17th of January.

S.Abbondio (16th century), the second most important monument of the city (after the Cathedral), and maximum expression of the Lombard Romanesque style, with construction principles presumably inspired to the typical architecture of Burgundy and Normandy, which can be seen in the vertical soaring lines and the two bell towers at the side of the church. The interior features five aisles with round arches and cylindrical pillars.
The main apsis is adorned with fourteenth-century frescoes. A festival celebrating S.Abbondio, the patron saint of the city, is held on August 31 each year and shouldn’t be missed!
Right: the most ancient church of Como, S.Carpoforo, erected in 1040 on an area where a martyr was put to death under the orders of Diocleziano.

Terragni Palace (Casa del Fascio, seat for the local fascist branch, 1936), designed by architect Giuseppe Terragni, father of Rationalism. It has been described as an landmark of modern European architecture.

Piazza Verdi and Casa del Fascio, the Sociale Theatre and the Cathedral. According to the art critic Philippe Daverio, this is the only square in Europe where three different architectural styles, Rationalism, Neoclassicism and Renaissance, come together.

 
 
  • The Voltian Temple, erected in 1927 in memory of scientist Alessandro Volta, father of electricity, native to Como. Albert Einstein once visited it.
  • The Monument to the Fallen, international masterpiece of Futurism (by Terragni 1933, inspired to the drawing of Antonio Sant'Elia).
  • View including the Voltian Temple,
    the Monument to the Fallen and the Cathedral.
  • When he was only 23, Giuseppe Terragni designed the so-called "Transatlantico" (Novocomum).

Monuments reflect on the steel wall of the Life Electric sculpture (by Daniel Libeskind, 2015).

Piazza Volta in summer and in winter.

The plaques in memory of the birth of Alessandro Volta, Pope Innocenzo XI and Cosima Wagner,
wife of the great German musician.

  • Eva Wagner, director of the Bayreuth Festival, during her visit to Como in 2014.
  • The Sociale Theatre dates back to 1813, the same year when Wagner and Verdi were born. It hosted famous performers such as Niccolò Paganini and Franz Liszt. From 1943 to 1945 it staged all the operas of the Scala of Milan as it had been severely damaged by bombing.
  • Cernezzi Palace (1616) is the seat of the Municipality.
Christmas in Como - The Magic light festival

For more than a month, from December to January, the town center lights up on the occasion of the
Magic Light Festival, a privately funded event that takes place during the end-of-year festivities.