A legend tells that in 962 A.D. Otto I, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was surprised by a gale off the coast of Maccagno and only survived thanks to the intervention of some fishermen who, having brought him to shore, offered him the hospitality of their homes. The grateful monarch therefore conceded the title of “imperial court” to the hamlet. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore, the town of Maccagno extends over a diversified terrain which rises from the alluvial plain of the Giona torrent to the heights of the Valle Veddasca and on up to the 1,200 m elevation of the Forcora Pass. The lakeside town is framed by rounded mountain tops and narrow valley bottoms of glacial origin which delineate well-structured contours and a particularly striking landscape. Human settlement in this territory would seem to date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, as evidenced by the numerous rock carvings, while the presence of Roman settlements has been established by the discovery of some tombs containing funeral urns and a large amount of coins. Only from the Middle Ages does what information we have become more specific, when the little village of fishermen and artisans was divided into the two separate entities of Maccagno Superiore and Maccagno Inferiore, which were geographically, culturally and economically distinct. The names were suggested by a slight difference in altitude, and above all by the sharp division marked by the river, and were confirmed by subsequent historical events. While Maccagno Superiore, which was part of the parish of Valtravaglia, fell under the jurisdiction of Milan, Maccagno Inferiore, by virtue of its ties to the noble family of Mandelli, Counts of Maccagno, was raised to the rank of imperial fief and existed for many years as a small free state, being granted in 1622 an even greater privilege: the right to set up a Mint and coin money of any kind and value. In 1668, when the direct line of descent of the Mandelli family had died out, the hamlet was put up for sale and, in 1718, became a fief of the Borromeo family. The suppression of all feudal systems, in 1797, brought about the loss of centuries-old rights and annexation to the Cisalpine Republic. The division between the two boroughs continued up to 1927.
Entering via Mameli from piazza Roma – where a commemorative stone recalls the site of the Mint – you suddenly find yourself at the heart of the old town centre, crisscrossed by shady passageways overlooked by rural buildings and elegant residences with lovely portals and traces of frescoes. The medieval texture of the residential area is revealed in the narrow stairways which cut across it at right angles, in the walls which bear the signs of mobile doors which were barred when danger threatened and, in particular, in via Della Bella when you come to Palazzo Mandelli and the remains of the city walls with their four keep-towers. The Torre Imperiale was also part of the defence system, built above the fiefdom in a strategic position from which any potential peril could be sighted. At the far end of via Mameli, heading in the direction of Maccagno Superiore, is the church of Santo Stefano, medieval in origin but rebuilt from 1761 onwards. Behind the high altar is a Madonna con Bambino (Madonna with Child - 16th century) attributed to Antonio da Tradate. From via Della Bella, a steep mule track leads to the oratory of Santa Maria delle Grazie in the Monte Venere locality, in ancient times the site of a mountain pasture. Perched on a spur of rock directly overhanging the lake and affording a splendid view, is the sixteenth century church of the Madonna del Rosario, with its strange roofing of serizzo granite tiles.
The residential area of Maccagno Superiore, where medieval details are found alongside the more elegant houses of via Cuccuini, is spread over the right bank of the Giona torrent. The glimpse of the oldest part of the town, close to the mountain, is particularly picturesque where the Casati stairway, once the only means of access, leads to the old mule track which still connects the valley floor to the hamlets above. On the same level as the first steps is the church of Sant’ Antonio, which houses a series of frescoes attributed to Antonio da Tradate (15th-16th century).
Not far away, is the church of San Materno, built towards the end of the sixteenth century and entirely renovated from the eighteenth century onwards. The sculptures are remarkable: among them the wooden sculpture in the Chapel of the Addolorata, the work of the woodcarver Bernardino Castelli. With the development of commerce and the advent of tourism the centre of village life gravitated towards the railway station – inaugurated in 1882 – which encouraged the construction of hotels and grand houses, among which the Albergo Maccagno and the villa Clerici-Pellerani, where the Town Hall is currently located.
[Fonti: L. Giampaolo, Storia breve di Maccagno Inferiore, già feudo imperiale, corte regale degli imperatori, terra per sé e di Maccagno Superiore (1963), Marco Cattaneo Editore, Germignaga 2002; www.comune.maccagno.va.it ]
The first thing that strikes you on arriving in Maccagno, is the beauty of the landscape. An ongoing interaction between mountain and lake against the background of the luxuriant greenery which takes on new and diverse hues with every change of season. There’s a wide variety of excursions available, starting with a tour of the thousand-year-old town. A walk along the wonderful lakefront would be an excellent way to begin or end a day, or to spend an afternoon in the sunshine in the warmest season. Swimming, sailing or the chance to try out the thrill of rock climbing at the “Cinzanino” gym – run by the CAI association in Luino – offer leisure time activities for even the most athletic. The liveliness of this small town is evident in the animated cultural activities centred around the Parisi Valle Museum – a bold construction bridging the river Giona – and the Auditorium in via Valsecchi, with a full calendar of events, exhibitions, concerts. The nearby port of call for the ferry boats of the Navigazione Laghi makes Maccagno the ideal starting point from which to explore Lake Maggiore and its charms. And any exploration of the territory has to take in the natural and variegated grandeur of the Valle Veddasca with its string of small villages and typical stone dwellings, custodians of centuries-old rural and mountain traditions. It can be reached by car, but walking the numerous paths that cross it is more enjoyable and trekkers will be rewarded with breath-taking views. The small town of Luino, just a few kilometres away, is well worth a visit on the day of the big weekly market, which has attracted thousands of visitors from all over Europe every Wednesday for almost five hundred years. Varese, the provincial capital, is just over half an hour away by car and offers interesting cultural and artistic features: a history-filled old town, an extraordinary circuit of villas and gardens, museums and art galleries and a magnificent Sacro Monte (Holy Mount). The proximity of Switzerland makes a trip over the border a must; in less than an hour you can reach the most important cities of the Ticino Canton: Bellinzona, Locarno, Lugano