But I’m starting in medias res. Perhaps we should go back a bit. Perhaps we should go back A LOT. A thousand years okay?
Carmine Superiore is a tiny village sitting on a high outcrop of rock on the west side of Lago Maggiore. Looking up from the lake, the Romanesque church is visible among the trees, and looking down from the three-metre-square ‘piazza’ you can see to the east Lombardy and to the north Switzerland.
Here’s a potted history(1):::
(1) I've translated this, rather liberally, from the history pasted on the church door. There is no authorship noted - if you know who wrote it and I'm infringing someone's copyright, I'd be very glad to know.
The borgata of Carmine Superiore is one of the most picturesque in the whole of the Lago Maggiore region.
It was founded in about 975 as a fortress belonging to a noble family from Cannobio. In times of danger, it was used as a place of refuge for the people of the area because of its position high on a rock and because of its secure walls.
The building of the Romanesque church was started in around 1330. At this time the village population swelled in numbers and the whole area formed part of the Duchy of Milan, governed by the Visconti family. About 100 years later the campanile was finished, and the church was enlarged with the addition of the upper part, in order to take account of the growing population.
The church was dedicated by the Duchy of Milan to the cult of the German San Gottardo. San Gottardo was invested with the power to protect against leg problems and gout (and boy do we need that protection still today!).
The church is covered in stunning frescoes both inside and out. For the most part they are thought to have been painted in the 15th century by artists from across the water in Lombardy. In the 17th century, the inside of the church was whitewashed with lime and the church was used as a plague hospital. It was not until 1932 that the frescoes were rediscovered.
The small piazza next to the church, from which there are such fantastic views of the lake and surrounding area, was used as a burial ground for the people of Carmine. This use only ended in about 1875.
For hundreds of years, the borgata of Carmine was densely populated and was the centre of a region that was intensively cultivated. After the First and Second World Wars, however, it was gradually abandoned. In the last 30 years or so, Carmine Superiore has been ‘rediscovered’ by the descendants of the original inhabitants, by local residents and by a group of German designers and architects fascinated by the ancient architecture and the wild, seeming isolation of the place.
Today, almost all the houses have been reconstructed or restored.
The 21st-century population of Carmine, which is made up of about 50% Italians and 50% foreigners, fluctuates with the seasons. Now, as autumn comes on, the summer residents have flown south to Milan or north to Switzerland and Germany. Those left behind start thinking about lighting the fire in the hearth, getting out the wellies and putting away the garden umbrellas…