|Como, has a picturesque location on the
beautiful southern banks of the Lario river with the green hills of
Brianza behind. It was the most important alpine settlement, as well as a
focal point for traffic and commerce with neighboring settlements as the
Roman era was drawing to a close.
Como's rapid economic and urban development was not only due to its location along important lines of communication, but also to its attractive mountain setting, making it popular amongst tourists. The natural beauty of the lake, the attractive lakeside areas and the artistic and cultural heritage of its monuments have all made Como an important tourist attraction. Since the end of Pliny's time, Como and the shores of the lake have been a holiday destination for artists, poets and politicians alike: Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Maurice Barres and Stendhal have all loved and admired the jewels of the Lario.
Th city has, over time, maintained its chessboard layout which has its origins in Roman times: the castle, which according to Pliny the younger was decorated with remarkable monuments, formed a basis for further urban development. The walls, built in the 12th century and still partly visible (Porta Torre), were an extension of the Roman walls from Imperial times and contain, in the quadrilateral between Viale Varese, Viale Battisti and Via Nazario Sauro, the town's historical centre which is still termed the "città murata", or "walled city".
The straight, narrow streets, the building materials, and the typical
courtyard houses directly derived from Roman style homes, fill the centre
of Como with continuity and an architectural and typological harmony.
Piazza Cavour was created when the old port was filled in in 1871; it is a
lively urban area and from here you enter the walled area which for the
most part, is closed to traffic. In the narrow alleyways characterised by
19th century façades, it is the town's old public buildings that stand
out. From Via Plinio you can reach the Piazza del Duomo, the town's old
religious and civil centre, in which the Broletto, the Duomo
The city's former commercial centre was the Piazza San Fedele, occupied by the law courts in Roman times, and until the 19th century it was the headquarters for the grain market. As well as interesting examples of 15th/16th century architecture, the splendid church of S. Fedele with its elegant 12th century apse, can also be found on the piazza.
Not far from the piazza, in Via Giovio, is the Palazzo Giovio and the neighboring Palazzo Olginati, housing the main bulk of Como's museums with the Civico Museo Archeologico "P. Giovio" (Civic Archeological museum) and the Museo Storico "G. Garibaldi"(History Museum). Near to Palazzo Volpi is the home of the Pinacoteca Civica (Civic Art Gallery).
Around the city there are many urbanised areas that today form part of the city's unique structure, but the past has seen a very different story: clear cut settlements which were centred around the main exits from the town. A few of these settlements are still clearly defined (S. Agostino, S. Giuliano, Borgo Vico), whilst others have lost their definition, having been absorbed into large built-up areas.
Borgo Vico is spread along the western bank of the lake and constitutes one of the oldest parts of the city. Home to one of Como's oldest religious foundations, (S. Giorgio) the town expanded as a result of its commercial contact on the Strada Regina which cuts through it and is enclosed within its own town walls. At the time of the Renaissance, villas began to emerge along the lakeside, one of them being the Museo di Paolo Giovio) which saw major development, particularly in neoclassical times. An uninterrupted series of villas owned by Como's and Milan's noble families was built in rapid succession, including Villa Carminati, Villa Visconti, la Rotonda, Villa Resta, Villa Gallia and the splendid Villa Olmo. These famous neoclassical villas were united in 1957 by the Passeggiata di Villa Olmo offering totally unique panoramas and gardens.
On the edge of the lake, along the shore, in the mid-nineteenth century, the public gardens were created, in which the Tempio Voltiano was built, together with the Monumento ai caduti and the Monumento alla Resistenza Europea. Behind the gardens, the Quartiere Razionalista began to take shape, between the two world wars, with the famous Novocomum by Giuseppe Terragni being the first condominium.
Along the western bank of the lake, the church of S. Agostino, gives its name to the town it is in. With its own port, it was essentially a commercial town of fishermen and artisans. Since the 1800s, the town's appearance has changed dramatically due to industrialisation and the lowered importance of the port. With extensive restoration works in the 1970s, the former fishermen's homes are largely largely used as studios and professional offices today.
Piazza De Gasperi is on the outskirts of the town and it is from here that the cable car leaves to go up to Brunate, a panoramic residential area which dominates Como and acts as a departure point for trips and excursions.
To the south of Como we find the towns of Porta Torre and San Rocco. The town of Porta Torre, its name derived from the gate on the medieval walls, developed in medieval times, alongside the Milan road, which meant that it was essentially a commercial town. The development of the manufacturing industry at the beginning of the 20th century led to the expansion of building work in the area and the creation of the first residential areas. Today the only street that has vaguely retained the characteristics of the old town is the Via Milano which is still centred around commercial activities that take place in the 19th century houses there.
Past the church of San Bartolomeo and the bridge over the Cosia is the town of San Bartolomeo, formerly S. Protaso, with its San Chiara monastic complex and a church dedicated to San Gervaso e Protaso. This was another town, which in the 20th century was subject to rapid commercial development: the urban settlements that emerged along the edge of Via Napoleona (the dual carriageway that links Como to the southern plain) marked the first stage of the urbanisation of the whole of the Como valley.
Near to the Cosia is the Istituto di Setificio (Silk factory institute), founded in the 19th century to train the local workforce: the new building, which was completed in 1975, houses the Museo Didattico della Seta(Educational silk museum), which has made Como famous the world over. 1510 saw the construction of Como's first silk factory, a city which had already, for centuries, been famous for its wool trade (in the 15th century 12,000 pieces of cloth were sent to Venice alone).
Behind Mount Caprino is the lovely Roman Basilica di S. Abbondio, a masterpiece of Como architecture, located in a formerly isolated area amidst fields and vineyards, now a rather narrow area stuck between the railway headquarters and the old Ticosa industrial area.
At the bottom of the Baradello hills in a position dominating the city, near to the old Milan road is the marvellous S. Carpoforo complex which in the 20th century became flanked by the new S.Anna hospital. The area that was once know as Spina Verde (because of its strategic location wedged between the valley's settlements and southern Como) rests just behind the hills. On top of the hills further south, the Castello Baradello overlooks the city, the banks of the lake and the valley itself.