History of Como

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Como is situated in a strategic position at the end of the Piedmont road and at the beginning of the road up to the mountain passes. This resulted in the city being an important boundary-marker, as well as a rich market place and an important base for organising communications with the north. The development of the town has therefore been strongly influenced by it's strategic importance, although it is still easy enough to make out the town's basic Roman layout.

The area surrouding Como has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Necropolis and remains of Bronze age settlements belonging to the Golasecca civilisation have been found in Brunate, Civiglio, S.Fermo, Cà Grande and Villa Giovio. The territory around Como was developed into village settlements from about 5 BC and Celtic fortifications in the area date back to between 5 and 4 BC. Comum itself started life as a Roman outpost in 59 AD and by 89 AD had become a colony. The Roman Consul, Marco Claudio Marcello, conquered the surrounding Celtic tribes in 196 AD. After defeating the Celts, the Romans began to build the town on the edge of the lake. The town centre was built according to a strict "castrense" system which is still noticeable today. This was surrounded by a town wall, much of which can also still be seen. (Archaeological remains of the Roman walls). The town was built during the Imperial period and was therefore crucially important as a military base on the mountain border and as a communication centre between imperial headquarters in Milan and the regions of the north.

The town was subsequently destroyed by the Huns and the Goths and conquered in 569 by the Lombards who incorporated into Milanese territory. In the eleventh century, the town began a long struggle for its independence against Milan and, after more than ten years of war, the territory of Como was defeated in 1127. However Como quickly renewed its fight, rebuilding new town walls outside the old Roman wall. They intensified their trade and industry. These are the centuries which produced some of the region's most beautiful buildings like S. Fedele, the Basilica di S. Abbondio and S. Carpoforo.

After a long power struggle between the Vitani, the Guelphs, the Rusca and the Ghibellines in 1335, the town passed into the hands of the Visconti (who built their stronghold in the north-western corner of the town walls). The Visconti remained in power until the death of Gian Galeazzo in 1402. By 1451, Como had once again been annexed by Milan, this time by a Duke Francesco Sforza, and it has followed the ups and downs of the Lombard capital ever since.

In 1521 the town fell after a hard siege and came under Spanish rule along with the rest of Milan's territory. Spanish rule resulted in a sharp demographic decline in the town. Heavy Spanish fiscal duties resulted in economic decay and this was compounded by a plague which struck the city. In 1630, the town came under Austrian rule which brought about a strong development of silk and artisanal production. During the period of French rule between 1796 and 1814, Como became the capital of the Lario department. Tourism in the area began to flourish with the fashion for neoclassicism and the banks of the lake were soon full of parks and villas belonging to the aristocracy of Como and Milan.

Como rebelled against the Austrian government in 1848 and set up its own provisional government. The town was liberated by Garibaldi on 27th May 1859 and became part of Piedmont. In the second half of the nineteenth century the town's layout was modernised and the port was filled in, creating the Piazza Cavour and Via Plinio which led from it up to the Cathedral. This intensified the town's development. The funicular up to Brunate and connection with the Milan Northern Railways were built in 1893, along with the growth in traffic on the lake itself, resulted in the growth in Como's tourist industry.

There was intense architectural and figurative creativity between the wars which was linked to the rationalist movement. This cultural and innovative movement can be seen in the public works of Giuseppe Terragni, Pietro Lingeri, Cesare Cattaneo, Gianni Mantero and in work by the painters Aldo Galli, Carla Baiali Mario Radice and Manlio Rho. In 1934, CM8, a group of rationalist architects, made a proposal for a new town planning scheme. This was adopted several years later but only in conjunction with the fascist regime's noxious criteria which demolished much of the town's old centre.

Since the war, Como has been transformed by unexpected urban development. This has resulted in the town filling the valley entrance and absorbing many of the surrounding villages, thus creating the Como conurbation.