ISOLA BELLA LAKE MAGGIORE
Isola bella is the historic and artistic epicenter of Lake Maggiore. Among these walls lived great people who made history. For those coming to Lake Maggiore, you cannot miss this gem that can be reached by convenient scheduled or private ferries. This destination will remain etched for its beauty and for the historical heritage it communicates to you. An exclusive point to understand the history of Italy.
Until 1632 the lower island or “lower island” was a rocky cliff occupied by a tiny fishing village with two churches, one named after San Vittore, present since the 11th century, the other dedicated to San Rocco. The Borromeo, whose initial name was Vitaliani (they came from the homonymous locality in the Padua area), had as a fief by the Visconti, in the fifteenth century and in various phases, this whole area of Lake Maggiore, which was called the “Borromeo Gulf”. Vitaliano I Borromeo was the first to conceive the design of an incredible building on the island of Bella.
But it was realized later, especially from 1632: in that year Carlo III Borromeo began the construction of a grandiose palace dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda, entrusting the work to the Milanese designer Angelo Crivelli, who was also responsible for the design basic plant of the gardens.
The work suffered a pause in arrest in the mid-seventeenth century due to the serious plague epidemic that broke out in the duchy of Milan.
Until our days
The construction gained momentum when the island passed to the sons, Cardinal Giberto III (1615-1672) and Vitaliano VI (1620-1690); the latter in particular, with the financial support of his brother, entrusted the completion of the work to the Ticino architect Carlo Fontana and made the villa a place of sumptuous feasts and theatrical representations for the European nobility.
Francesco Maria Richini also worked at the palace, and the Vismara also worked on the gardens. In the neoclassical era, in the late eighteenth century, Zanoja, the designer of the ballroom, also worked there.
To his successor, his nephew Carlo IV (1657-1734), we owe the completion of the gardens that were inaugurated in 1671. The island was restructured so as to transform it into a fantastic ship, in which the part of the palace was the bow and the part of the terraced gardens, on what is called the amphitheater or castle (perhaps due to the memory of a pre-existing medieval castle), the stern. In fact, the project involved a long landing, then not entirely completed, in front of the building in the western part.
The most illustrious frequentations of the island date from the period of Giberto V Borromeo (1751–1837), from Napoleon with his wife Giuseppina di Beauharnais to the princess of Wales Carolina Amalia of Brunswick. The latter stayed there twice: in 1797, at Napoleon’s first Italian campaign, and then returned, in love with the place, in 1805. Of these stays we have Napoleon’s room, furnished with empire-style furniture.
On Napoleon’s first wife, he tells an anecdote that, in love with the place, did everything to convince the Borromeo to sell the Madre Island or (less likely) the castles of Cannero. He met the rejection of the Borromeo, but he knew very well to console himself with the splendid villa of Este in Cernobbio, on Lake Como.
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The palace, open to visitors, shows its halls and rooms on the noble floor, built from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, and in the lower part the caves, which so delighted Stendhal. Inside there are paintings by Cerano, Francesco del Cairo and Giordano. The triumph of Galatea, of Salvator Rosa, of the Flemish Muller known as the Tempest of Nuvolone, by Francesco Zuccarelli.
Remember the tapestry gallery, so called for its enormous Flemish tapestries, six in all, from the sixteenth century, in silk and gold, whose recurring theme is the Unicorn, emblem of the Borromeo.
In the environments of the beautiful island, the caves are completely particular, covered with stones and shells of an infinite variety of types, are also collected archaeological remains of the prehistoric Culture of Golasecca.
The botanical gardens
Remember also the botanical gardens with an incredible variety of exotic plants. In them the upper part is the one called the “amphitheater”, given that the scenic representations that the Borromeo loved were held here. Here are various statues, some made by the same designer, the Vismara.
The gardens of the beautiful island can be visited for a fee. Visits are free and each plant is accompanied by a sign indicating its name.
It is possible to reach the gardens not only by land but also from the lake. A special stop for the Navigazione Lago Maggiore service and a dock for private boaters.