October, 10 2019 ( Updated August, 20 2021)
Discover the ancient mysteries and legends of beautiful Lake Como ~
Famed for its natural beauty, romantic vistas and cultural heritage, it may come as no surprise to learn Lake Como is also home to legends that will either enchant, or haunt you.
Read on for the most famous legends of Lake Como!
Lake Como has its own ‘Nessie’: The Lariosaurus
Did you know that Italy boasts its very own Loch Ness? Indeed, it lives in the hidden glacial depths of Lake Como! As one of the deepest lakes in Europe (up to 420 metres deep) it certainly holds many secrets. As far back as 1830, the fossilised bones of a new unidentified sea creature were discovered near the lake. Its body consisted of four flippers, a long tail, a small head and a neck in the shape of a crocodile. Scientists named this new prehistoric creature ‘Lariosaurus’ (or Lariosauro). Fast forward to 1949, and the first recorded sighting of a similar living creature was made, by a local fisherman on Lake Como. Could it be this strange lake dweller was descended from the very same ancient reptile?
In 1957 another sighting of the affectionately nicknamed ‘Larry’ was made from a diver, who came face-to-face with the local legend whilst on a diving expedition in the lake. Today, visitors can view the fossilised remains of the Lariosaurus within the ambient surroundings of a medieval tower-museum, at Castello di Vezio, on the hillside above Varenna. It’s an alluring tale to be sure.
Who knows, you may even be lucky enough to spot Larry the mythical lake monster during your next visit!
The ghost of Castello di Vezio
One of the most popular heritage walks on Lake Como is up to the ancient Castello di Vezio. Shrouded in myth and legend, the partially restored castle visitors see today has stood for more than 1,000 years. Used as an Iron Age burial site and a late Roman outpost, history abounds the site at every turn. With panoramic views overlooking the two branches of Lake Como, the ancient medieval castle enjoyed a strategic location for defence and trade, with walled defences running all the way down the hillside to protect its kinship town of Varenna. The unique setting and temperate lake climate enabled the castle to keep one of the northernmost olive groves. The lake view setting and natural abundance of the site must have provided a very atmospheric and romantic backdrop for the Lombard Queen Theodelinda, who built the castle. Indeed, the Queen must have approved, because she spent much of her later life there. Although she died in Germany, it is said that her heart and soul remain within the castle walls. On moonless nights her spirit is said to wander through the coridoors of the castle. The local legend has been given vivid realism by the helpful addition of real-life casts which are taken each spring to form draped ghostly figures. The casts are then positioned around the castle grounds. Needless to say, their ethereal presence certainly gets the imagination going!
One thing’s for certain, when you’re exploring the site its pure naturalness and endless serenity offers a very special ambience and spirit.
The curse of Isola Comacina
‘L’Isola Comacina’ is famous for hosting the annual Isola Comacina festival, ‘Sagra di Giovanni’, to commemorate the island’s dramatic destruction in 1169. As well as this illuminating event, it seems Lake Como’s only island also possesses an ancient curse. After the L’Isola community lost the war and their home was utterly destroyed by the army of Como and Barbarossa, the ravaged island was also excommunicated by the Bishop of Como, Vidulfo. The Bishop’s warning, “The bells will not ring any more, no stone will be put upon stone, no one will ever host again someone on the island, or he will die a violent death” was poignantly headed at the time. Yet centuries passed and the island’s curse was disregarded or possibly forgotten. After WW1, the island was gifted to the Albert I, King of Belgium. The king ordered new houses to be constructed on the island for a community of artists. Unfortunately, the build was caught drastically short with the sudden death of the Belgian monarch.
Some thought so, at their peril…In 1948 the silk manufacturer Carlo Sacchi and speedboat champion Sandro De Col contacted Lino Nessi to propose the construction of a ‘Locanda’ (authentic Inn) restaurant on L’Isola Comacina. An eerie twist of events soon occurred for both business partners. Sandro De Col tragically died in a fluke speedboat accident, whilst Carlo Sacchi was murdered at Villa d’Este by his own girlfriend, Countess Bellentani.
All seemed lost for the last surviving Lino Nessi. Until that is the English writer, Francis Dale suggested an exorcism of fire on the island. It seemed to momentarily lift the curse. This exorcism of fire continues to this day, with the fire ceremony performed for diners visiting the island’s touristic Locanda.
Lenno: Lake Como’s Lost Atlantis?
Within the ancient streets of Lenno, a legend circulated. That centuries ago, a flash flood from Val Perlana destroyed the Lenno shoreline and totally engulfed a larger island by the Lavedo peninsular. In the catastrophic event, the ancient Sommersa church of Lenno and its bell tower were utterly submerged, lost forever to the flood. The Lenno shoreline which exists today hides the forgotten tragedy well. Until that is when the friendly air currents of Lake Como, known as ‘breva’ and tivan’ accompany stronger winds, warning of a dramatic lake storm to come.
Locals report the dramatic weather front is often accompanied by the haunting toll of church bells. Strangely, it seems the ancient legend of the Sommersa church may be based in truth, as fragments of street paving, steps and boulders have been found within the lake, on diving expeditions. More recently back in 2006, the secret remnants of a holy fountain were discovered under the Lenno shore.
Could the tolling bells be from the bell tower of the lost Sommersa church?
Dare to come to
Lake Como and find out!