World Facts Index > Italy > Como

Como has a picturesque location on the beautiful southern banks of the Lario river with the green hills of Brianza behind. It was the most important alpine settlement, as well as a focal point for traffic and commerce with neighboring settlements as the Roman era was drawing to a close.

Como's rapid economic and urban development was not only due to its location along important lines of communication, but also to its attractive mountain setting, making it popular amongst tourists. The natural beauty of the lake, the attractive lakeside areas and the artistic and cultural heritage of its monuments have all made Como an important tourist attraction. Since the end of Pliny's time, Como and the shores of the lake have been a holiday destination for artists, poets and politicians alike: Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Maurice Barres and Stendhal have all loved and admired the jewels of the Lario.

Th city has, over time, maintained its chessboard layout which has its origins in Roman times: the castle, which according to Pliny the younger was decorated with remarkable monuments, formed a basis for further urban development. The walls, built in the 12th century and still partly visible (Porta Torre), were an extension of the Roman walls from Imperial times and contain, in the quadrilateral between Viale Varese, Viale Battisti and Via Nazario Sauro, the town's historical centre which is still termed the "città murata", or "walled city".

The straight, narrow streets, the building materials, and the typical courtyard houses directly derived from Roman style homes, fill the centre of Como with continuity and an architectural and typological harmony. Piazza Cavour was created when the old port was filled in in 1871; it is a lively urban area and from here you enter the walled area which for the most part, is closed to traffic. In the narrow alleyways characterised by 19th century façades, it is the town's old public buildings that stand out. From Via Plinio you can reach the Piazza del Duomo, the town's old religious and civil centre, in which the Broletto, the Duomo
and the Torre del Comune constitute make for an attractive architectural setting. At the back, are Piazza Grimoldi and the church of San Giacomo and the Bishop's palace, completing the complex of piazzas and openings that are full of history and monuments.

The city's former commercial centre was the Piazza San Fedele, occupied by the law courts in Roman times, and until the 19th century it was the headquarters for the grain market. As well as interesting examples of 15th/16th century architecture, the splendid church of S. Fedele with its elegant 12th century apse, can also be found on the piazza.

Not far from the piazza, in Via Giovio, is the Palazzo Giovio and the neighboring Palazzo Olginati, housing the main bulk of Como's museums with the Civico Museo Archeologico "P. Giovio" (Civic Archeological museum) and the Museo Storico "G. Garibaldi"(History Museum). Near to Palazzo Volpi is the home of the Pinacoteca Civica (Civic Art Gallery).

Around the city there are many urbanised areas that today form part of the city's unique structure, but the past has seen a very different story: clear cut settlements which were centred around the main exits from the town. A few of these settlements are still clearly defined (S. Agostino, S. Giuliano, Borgo Vico), whilst others have lost their definition, having been absorbed into large built-up areas.

Borgo Vico is spread along the western bank of the lake and constitutes one of the oldest parts of the city. Home to one of Como's oldest religious foundations, (S. Giorgio) the town expanded as a result of its commercial contact on the Strada Regina which cuts through it and is enclosed within its own town walls. At the time of the Renaissance, villas began to emerge along the lakeside, one of them being the Museo di Paolo Giovio) which saw major development, particularly in neoclassical times. An uninterrupted series of villas owned by Como's and Milan's noble families was built in rapid succession, including Villa Carminati, Villa Visconti, la Rotonda, Villa Resta, Villa Gallia and the splendid Villa Olmo. These famous neoclassical villas were united in 1957 by the Passeggiata di Villa Olmo offering totally unique panoramas and gardens.

On the edge of the lake, along the shore, in the mid-nineteenth century, the public gardens were created, in which the Tempio Voltiano was built, together with the Monumento ai caduti and the Monumento alla Resistenza Europea. Behind the gardens, the Quartiere Razionalista began to take shape, between the two world wars, with the famous Novocomum by Giuseppe Terragni being the first condominium.

Along the western bank of the lake, the church of S. Agostino, gives its name to the town it is in. With its own port, it was essentially a commercial town of fishermen and artisans. Since the 1800s, the town's appearance has changed dramatically due to industrialisation and the lowered importance of the port. With extensive restoration works in the 1970s, the former fishermen's homes are largely largely used as studios and professional offices today.

Piazza De Gasperi is on the outskirts of the town and it is from here that the cable car leaves to go up to Brunate, a panoramic residential area which dominates Como and acts as a departure point for trips and excursions.

To the south of Como we find the towns of Porta Torre and San Rocco. The town of Porta Torre, its name derived from the gate on the medieval walls, developed in medieval times, alongside the Milan road, which meant that it was essentially a commercial town. The development of the manufacturing industry at the beginning of the 20th century led to the expansion of building work in the area and the creation of the first residential areas. Today the only street that has vaguely retained the characteristics of the old town is the Via Milano which is still centred around commercial activities that take place in the 19th century houses there.

Past the church of San Bartolomeo and the bridge over the Cosia is the town of San Bartolomeo, formerly S. Protaso, with its San Chiara monastic complex and a church dedicated to San Gervaso e Protaso. This was another town, which in the 20th century was subject to rapid commercial development: the urban settlements that emerged along the edge of Via Napoleona (the dual carriageway that links Como to the southern plain) marked the first stage of the urbanisation of the whole of the Como valley.

Near to the Cosia is the Istituto di Setificio (Silk factory institute), founded in the 19th century to train the local workforce: the new building, which was completed in 1975, houses the Museo Didattico della Seta(Educational silk museum), which has made Como famous the world over. 1510 saw the construction of Como's first silk factory, a city which had already, for centuries, been famous for its wool trade (in the 15th century 12,000 pieces of cloth were sent to Venice alone).

Behind Mount Caprino is the lovely Roman Basilica di S. Abbondio, a masterpiece of Como architecture, located in a formerly isolated area amidst fields and vineyards, now a rather narrow area stuck between the railway headquarters and the old Ticosa industrial area.

At the bottom of the Baradello hills in a position dominating the city, near to the old Milan road is the marvellous S. Carpoforo complex which in the 20th century became flanked by the new S.Anna hospital. The area that was once know as Spina Verde (because of its strategic location wedged between the valley's settlements and southern Como) rests just behind the hills. On top of the hills further south, the Castello Baradello overlooks the city, the banks of the lake and the valley itself.

History of Como

Como is situated in a strategic position at the end of the Piedmont road and at the beginning of the road up to the mountain passes. This resulted in the city being an important boundary-marker, as well as a rich market place and an important base for organising communications with the north. The development of the town has therefore been strongly influenced by it's strategic importance, although it is still easy enough to make out the town's basic Roman layout.

The area surrouding Como has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Necropolis and remains of Bronze age settlements belonging to the Golasecca civilisation have been found in Brunate, Civiglio, S.Fermo, Cà Grande and Villa Giovio. The territory around Como was developed into village settlements from about 5 BC and Celtic fortifications in the area date back to between 5 and 4 BC. Comum itself started life as a Roman outpost in 59 AD and by 89 AD had become a colony. The Roman Consul, Marco Claudio Marcello, conquered the surrounding Celtic tribes in 196 AD. After defeating the Celts, the Romans began to build the town on the edge of the lake. The town centre was built according to a strict "castrense" system which is still noticeable today. This was surrounded by a town wall, much of which can also still be seen. (Archaeological remains of the Roman walls). The town was built during the Imperial period and was therefore crucially important as a military base on the mountain border and as a communication centre between imperial headquarters in Milan and the regions of the north.

The town was subsequently destroyed by the Huns and the Goths and conquered in 569 by the Lombards who incorporated into Milanese territory. In the eleventh century, the town began a long struggle for its independence against Milan and, after more than ten years of war, the territory of Como was defeated in 1127. However Como quickly renewed its fight, rebuilding new town walls outside the old Roman wall. They intensified their trade and industry. These are the centuries which produced some of the region's most beautiful buildings like S. Fedele, the Basilica di S. Abbondio and S. Carpoforo.

After a long power struggle between the Vitani, the Guelphs, the Rusca and the Ghibellines in 1335, the town passed into the hands of the Visconti (who built their stronghold in the north-western corner of the town walls). The Visconti remained in power until the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402. By 1451, Como had once again been annexed by Milan, this time by a Duke Francesco Sforza, and it has followed the ups and downs of the Lombard capital ever since.

In 1521 the town fell after a hard siege and came under Spanish rule along with the rest of Milan's territory. Spanish rule resulted in a sharp demographic decline in the town. Heavy Spanish fiscal duties resulted in economic decay and this was compounded by a plague which struck the city. In 1630, the town came under Austrian rule which brought about a strong development of silk and artisanal production. During the period of French rule between 1796 and 1814, Como became the capital of the Lario department. Tourism in the area began to flourish with the fashion for neoclassicism and the banks of the lake were soon full of parks and villas belonging to the aristocracy of Como and Milan.

Como rebelled against the Austrian government in 1848 and set up its own provisional government. The town was liberated by Garibaldi on 27th May 1859 and became part of Piedmont. In the second half of the nineteenth century the town's layout was modernised and the port was filled in, creating the Piazza Cavour and Via Plinio which led from it up to the Cathedral. This intensified the town's development. The funicular up to Brunate and connection with the Milan Northern Railways were built in 1893, along with the growth in traffic on the lake itself, resulted in the growth in Como's tourist industry.

There was intense architectural and figurative creativity between the wars which was linked to the rationalist movement. This cultural and innovative movement can be seen in the public works of Giuseppe Terragni, Pietro Lingeri, Cesare Cattaneo, Gianni Mantero and in work by the painters Aldo Galli, Carla Baiali Mario Radice and Manlio Rho. In 1934, CM8, a group of rationalist architects, made a proposal for a new town planning scheme. This was adopted several years later but only in conjunction with the fascist regime's noxious criteria which demolished much of the town's old centre.

Since the war, Como has been transformed by unexpected urban development. This has resulted in the town filling the valley entrance and absorbing many of the surrounding villages, thus creating the Como conurbation.

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