Italian Lakes – Pallanza

SEEN from Pallanza, Lake Maggiore lies shimmering and smiling southward, down to the lowlands near Arona, and stretches east and west in its most complacent mood and widest expanse to Laveno and Feriolo. In every direction the charm of perfect pro-portion makes itself felt, and though the lake is broad and tends to imitate the grandeur of the sea, it is kept within the confines of a lake by noble mountains rising clear and sheer to dominate its waters. Sasso del Ferro on the one hand, Monte Motterone on the other, keep watch and ward over the great open space into which the Punta della Castagnola, or peninsula of Pallanza, creeps forward on all fours; while noble ranges with their own peculiar peaks preside over the wayward windings of the lake in its upper reaches, where it is Swiss. By contrast with the rich beauties of the foreground there are the great spurs of the Alps, and above all there is the distant majesty of Monte Rosa, set apart as a beacon of light to glow at dawn and twilight, and to shine by day like a luminous fluff of light.

Pallanza’s noble outlook has won its way into the hearts and fulfilled many aspirations of northern races sighing for the south. Hither have come the Germans, attracted by the periodical longing for a trip to Italy, that Italianfahrt, which every German seems to carry concealed in his innermost nature. Hither, too, the English have come for years, during the spring and autumn, to rejoice in the colour and climax of scenic beauty which this bay presents. Americans are also to be met in increasing numbers all the year round, and in summer the good people of Milan and the other great cities of Northern Italy come into their very own and take possession. Then it is that they have their excursions, their music and singing, their rowing parties and regattas on the lake, lying calm and dormant under the mid-summer sun or touched into liquid gold by the full-orbed, radiant, and expansive Italian moon.

There is a pleasant quay at Pallanza planted with magnolia-trees and a tiny public park jutting out into the lake, whence the view reaches over to the Borromean Islands, to Stresa, Baveno, and their mountain back-grounds. Lago Maggiore is here so wide that one might almost be somewhere in mid-ocean, on an island group of the southern seas, topped by volcanic peaks. Rowboats in plenty wait at the foot of the hotel gar-dens and beside the walled terraces, to take parties up and down and over across the lake. The boats are gay with awnings, flags, and coloured cushions, and the boatmen are warranted to sing ” Santa Lucia,” etc., as often as requested, and even oftener, both coming and going. They enjoy some bantering among themselves and a little fun is poked at the world in general, as the flotilla of boats moves off amid exclamations of delight. There is some racing to get off first, the oars splash, there are shouts and challenges, and presently all the little flags flap joyously in unison from the sterns, as the boats line off for the trip to the islands across the lake. After they have gone, the brave brown boatmen (battellieri) who have been left behind and have not been hired this time, settle down once more on the stone parapets of the lakeside to make the best of the situation, to sleep and take their well-earned rest until the next flock of tourists shall call for their services, — and for a time we hear only the pleasant murmur of the little waves as they beat lazily against the lake wall.

But should a storm break over the lake, darkness will blot out the further shores be-hind a black curtain of advancing rain and cloud. There will be a general scurrying for shelter all along the line. The little boats that remain are then carefully moored and fastened for the ordeal. White spots suddenly appear on the water in front of the black curtain, and a strange white line is traced clear across the bay, where cloud and water meet. A big black barge is seen racing before the storm with bellying square sail, trailing a huge rudder manned by a picturesque lake-man. Havoc seems to lurk in the air and ominous forebodings visit the gay flotillas, but behold, while we look, the black curtain has passed, the sun shines, the water sparkles blue and merry, and laughter rings out from garden and copse once more. The camellias shed their drops of rain; the birds chirp and chatter as before from the magnolia-trees and the thickets of rhododendron, — and the lake has dried its tears.

Greatly as the natural beauty of Pallanza is beloved by tourists, still it has a public life which is interesting for its own sake. The steamboat-landing forms a special centre of activity, and close by rises the town hall, the Palazzo degli Uffici, the seat of the municipality and sub-prefecture. It is a large building standing upon arches that form a convenient and characteristic Italian arcade and afford shelter alike from sun and rain. Here a small perennial market has its seat which overflows into the open square on certain days of the week. Hither come the townspeople with their kitchen baskets, and the foreign visitors to pry among the curios kept for sale, both ancient and modern. Here also a few porters have their rendezvous and lounging-place, whence they may issue forth at the call of duty, and in the meantime take a comprehensive view of all that is going on by land and water.

The sloping shore of Pallanza is paved for a long distance with flagstones, which give the place an air of neatness and good repair. Young girls go to the lake for water, carrying ancient copper vessels of a form more or less classic. The family washing is done at almost any convenient point along the paved slope. The women gather their skirts about them and kneel down upon peculiar little stools, or inside of boxes, that stand in the water and have boards in front of them. Then the soaping and pounding and chatting begins and the air resounds with news or no news, as the case may be.

The beautiful tower which overtops Pallanza is one of the finest of the many splendid stone campanili which are to be found in the lake region. In the square stands a statue of Carlo Cordona, a native of Pallanza who played an important part during the period of Italian reconstruction, the great risorgimento. Indeed for so small a place Pallanza has an unexpectedly long history. Should the traveller be present on the holiday of the Statuto, a chance will be afforded of seeing a military review of the local garrison.

In a learned work by Agostino Viani, entitled ” Pallanza Antica e Pallanza Nuova,” the author gives good reasons for believing that Pallanza was founded by Celts several centuries before the Christian era and derives its name from the word ” palanz,” meaning a place of popular assembly, and referring to the summit of the present Punta della Castagnola. When Drusus and Tiberius conquered the races in the Eastern Alps, Pallanza was incorporated into the Provincia Claudiana. On the little island of San Giovanni, just offshore from the Punta della Castagnola, there arose a Roman castellum, which in A. D. 886, along with Pallanza, was granted to the Bishop of Vercelli by the Emperor Charlemagne. After varying fortunes this whole property was ceded in 1152 by the Emperor Barbarossa to the nobles De Castello, the main branch of this family being called Barbavara. These nobles later erected a castle on the mainland, leaving their island fortress to decay. The power of the Barbavara family was broken in 1270, and the citizens of Pallanza entered into a measure of comparative self-government. In 1392 we find Pallanza forming part of the Duchy of Milan, and possessing statutes of its own, which, however, had to be approved by the ducal family of the Visconti in Milan. The rule of the Visconti was succeeded by that of the Sforza family, but Pallanza in 1467 paid 2,200 imperial lire and retained its measure of freedom from the feudal yoke. The Sforza family becoming extinct, the Duchy of Milan was inherited by Emperor Charles V., and Pallanza became Spanish. There ensued an era of considerable local development. In 1520 the foundation was laid for the tall campanile, which was not finished, however, until 1689, after designs by Pellegrini. The markets and fairs of Pallanza gave it increasing wealth and importance. Unfortunately, its exceptional political position also excited constant wonderment and invited envy. In 1621 the citizens of Pallanza had to pay another twenty-three thousand imperial lire in order to retain their freedom from feudal control, but they likewise received at this time a perpetual guarantee of this immunity which was confirmed to them by Philip IV., King of Spain.

Finally the Spanish dominion passed away in its turn, and in 1743, at the treaty of Worms, Pallanza was incorporated into the kingdom of Sardinia and Savoy, Carlo Emanuele III. reigning, and became the capital of a province.

In 1824 the first steamboat made its appearance on the lake. It was called the Verbano after the Latin name of Lago Maggiore. It made a regular trip up the lake one day and descended the next, resting on Sundays.

There have been several agricultural, industrial, and horticultural exhibitions at Pallanza, which have added to the name and fame of this place as both a beautiful and also an active centre of subalpine life.

Pallanza is so well protected from the winds of winter, that its southern exposure grants it special favours in the way of tropical and exotic vegetation. Whichever way the visitor turns, this special bounty is made manifest, — and in the very sight of the ever-lasting snows. The water-front presents a succession of garden-girt villas and farfamed nursery-gardens, of which the place is justly proud, one more exquisite than the other, each displaying its own particular charms and treasures. The Punta della Castagnola bears on its back the fine hotels which care so completely for the many visitors, and the road to Intra and beyond presents an unbroken series of pictures, in which one admires by turns the water, the sky, the flowers, and the painstaking handiwork of man in bringing the, rocky water-front into subjection.

Out on the white highway some one is walking under a large red umbrella; there is the tinkle of horses bells; a tiny donkey picking its way with dainty steps and bowed head draws an enormous funnel-shaped cart on two wheels. When we look nearer a man is seen inside sleeping under the awning. The gardens of the hotels, of the villas, and of the nurserymen are redolent with the scent of delicious blossoms and brilliant with unusual hedges and bushes. Rare fir-trees and evergreens cast dark-green shadows among the fresh branches. Drooping willows lean from the banks over the water and form cosy corners where a boat may be moored curtained off from the vivid glare.

Surely nothing could exceed the wealth of colour, the fragrance of the hour, the nobility of curve and line, the tranquillity of the fair prospect — and we are thankful.

Among all the gardens of this district which are open to visitors it is difficult to pick out favourites, for each has its particular perfection. It is only possible to specialize a little. Thus Rovelli’s famous nursery-garden is a typical collection of trees and flowers, a veritable botanical establishment. The Villa Franzosini gardens near Intra offe