Reading the guidebook before going to Switzerland, I saw in it photographs of frescoes taken in the Catholic churches of the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. And after I found out in what centuries these murals were created, I concluded that I should definitely come to these places - and first of all, to the city of Ascona, standing on the shore of a large and incredibly beautiful lake (in Italian - Lago) Maggiore.
In fact, this city is famous not only for frescoes. They usually come here for completely different purposes. In the Swiss table of grades, Ascona is one of the most prestigious resorts with all the dolce vita attributes: expensive hotels, restaurants, yachts, boutiques with cool brands, a golf club and tennis courts.
From the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries, Ascona turned into a kind of “center of attraction” for fans of esoterics, philosophers, mystics, adherents of all kinds of extravagant movements, painters and writers. On the hill of Monte Verita located in these places (which is translated into Russian as “Mountain of Truth”) they founded a creative commune. Its members were united by the idea of improving the world through a return to nature. The psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Gustav Jung, the dancer Isadora Duncan, the writer German Hesse, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the anarchists Bakunin and Kropotkin, the artist Marianna Verevkina visited and lived here.
Not far from Ascona in the 30s of the last century, the writer Erich Maria Remarque settled, who fled from Nazi Germany. And, by the way, the literary and artistic community of Maximilian Voloshin, created by him in Koktebel, in a sense is “originally from Ascona”.
Unfortunately, heavy rain, pouring several hours in a row from the whole Swiss-Italian soul, did not give us a single chance to get to know Ascona either as a resort or as a source of inspiration for Bohemia. Walking that morning along its main promenade - Piazza Giuseppe Motta - could only be especially persistent fanatic tourists, who had this only opportunity to see Ascona.
The phrase from the advertising booklets that “Ascona is one of the sunniest places in Switzerland” looked like a blatant, sneaky deception and outright mockery. Leaden sky and blackened waters of Lago Maggiore, mountains shrouded in fog, a wall of rain, a deserted marina with cardboard dials, on which the sailing time of the nearest boats was stamped solely for the sake of reason (maybe some crazy person could set sail in such weather) ...
And although Ascona was good even in such a dark gray appearance, we were forced, so as not to get wet to the skin, to seek refuge under some kind of roof. Therefore, we proceeded to the first point of our program - to examine those very frescoes.
The frescoes that Ascona deserves to be proud of are in two churches. The first of them is Santa Maria della Miserecordia, or, in Russian, the Benevolent Virgin Mary, built in the XIV-XV centuries. You can get into it through the courtyard of the College of Papio, surrounded by two-level galleries.
The College is an educational institution founded in the 16th century with funds from a local wealthy philanthropist named Bartolomeo Papio. Initially, it functioned at the Dominican monastery, and now, if I am not mistaken, it is an ordinary secondary school with a secular education.
Another unpleasant (after the weather) surprise awaited us in the church: the darkness and at the same time such that there was no question of any full inspection (forget about photographing!). Fortunately for us, after about five minutes, a teacher at the Papio College appeared at the door. Seeing unscheduled foreign guests, that is, us, he kindly opened the visor, and after a couple of simple manipulations the church appeared in all its glory.
And here it is, a series of murals created in the 15th century, which can only be described in complimentary tones and with Pefetto exclamations! Bellissimo! Before us are scenes from the New Testament, starting from the moment of the Nativity of Christ.
Nearby is another group of frescoes dedicated to Old Testament themes. The creation of heaven and earth, the creation of Adam and Eve, their expulsion from Paradise, the stories of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, the prophet Moses, etc. ... Unfortunately, not all of them have survived to their days in their original form.
On one of the vaults - Christ Almighty in the "company" with the apostles:
Among the masterpieces that this church owns is the huge polytype of the work of the masters Giovanni Agostino da Lodi and Giovanni Antonio De La Gaia (XVI century), decorating the main altar.
Polyptych is divided into two levels. In the center of the upper level is shown the scene of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, taking place surrounded by angels and apostles. In four side paintings - two angels and the scene of the Annunciation. In the middle of the lower level is the Madonna of Mercy, and on the right and left are St. Peter of Verona and St. Dominic.
If I, like Peter Weil, had to determine the “genius of the place” for the canton of Ticino, then, based on my visits to the local churches, I would most likely choose ... Carlo Borromeo - a cardinal who was canonized for her contribution to the Counter-Reformation and for spiritual help to people in plague time. Paintings with scenes from the life of St. Carlo Borromeo, who was born in a castle near Lake Maggiore, we found in many regional churches. The same thing happened in the church of Santa Maria della Miserecordia.
Having thanked the teacher of the College again, we went to the second church that interested us - Peter and Paul (XIII-XVI centuries). Realizing that Ascon would have to inspect in a “carcass, even a scarecrow” condition, I ran into one of the shops and asked the saleswoman for the way to the mansion of Kaza Serodina - the former residence of local aristocrats who wore this name.
As it turned out, we were moving in the right direction, and all the sights of interest to us - the Church of Peter and Paul, the mansion of Kaza Serodin and the building of the City Administration - are really located on one "patch", on Piazza St. Pietro.
The mansion of Casa Serodine, built in the 17th century, is notable for its main facade, namely, the baroque decorations on it. Among the characters "living" on its facade are the Madonna and Child with Angels, David and Bathsheba, Adam and Eve.
Ascona city officials are working in a bright red, two-story, modest-looking building. This house belonged to the wealthy Papio family, whose representative sponsored the creation of the Papio College, which I mentioned at the beginning of the story.
After standing in the square, we enter the church of Peter and Paul. The most valuable work of art stored in this temple is the altar painting “The Coronation of the Virgin Mary” (1630) by Giovanni Serodine, one of the followers of Caravaggio.
In this picture, I think, the most interesting is not the upper, but the lower part - because of the composition of the "public" represented on it. The composition here, generally speaking, is quite variegated: the Apostles Peter and Paul holding the boards of Veronica with the miraculous image of Christ, John the Baptist, St. Anthony, St. Sebastian and all the same ... Karl Borromeo.
On the vault of the apse is the fresco “The Triumph of the Virgin Mary” (XVIII century), authored by P.-F. Pankaldi Mola.
As in the church of Santa Maria della Miserecordia, the church of Peter and Paul also has frescoes of the XV-XVI centuries. But the set of these murals is much more modest.
The beauty sleeping in a glass sarcophagus is called Saint Sabina. Tourists who often visited Italian Catholic churches must have seen “girls” of this kind. These are wax figures that serve as holders for the relics (or part of the relics) of the respective saints.
On the promenade in Ascona, you can see a small old castle - the palace of Girilloni (XVI century). The battlements on its tower remind of the Moscow Kremlin, or rather, the origin of the architects who built it. Currently, the castle building is used as a hotel.
Even the inconspicuous corners of Ascona look neat and clean. Thanks to the mild (and close to southern) climate, palm trees and oleanders live comfortably in Ascona.
After standing a little by the lake, we went to the parking lot. The next point of our “voyage” (under the weather conditions described, our voyage could be called just like that!) Was the city of three castles under the sonorous name of Bellinzona.
How to get to Ascona
The most convenient way to get to Ascona is from Zurich or Milan. A train runs from Zurich to Locarno (3 hours on the way, the fare will cost from 50 CHF one way). From Milan to Locarno - even closer: only 2.5 hours on the road, the ticket price is about the same as from Zurich.
From Locarno to Ascona can be reached by bus or by boat on the lake. The bus is faster (10-15 minutes), and the boat is more interesting, but a little longer (20-30 minutes).
Search for flights to Zurich (nearest airport to Ascona)
Difficult and urgent tours. Prestigious 5 * hotels and chalets.
Sodis - 30 years of excellent work.
In Ascona, more than 40 hotels for every taste and budget. For the most part, these are very high-quality four- and five-star establishments. In a few hotels of the three-star category, the service is also at a traditionally high level for Switzerland.
What to see in Ascona:
Old town called Borgo is located around St. Basilica Peter and Paul (San Pirtro e Paolo)dating from the 16th century. Its bell tower - Campanilla - is a symbol of the city. The basilica is surrounded by a dense network of medieval streets with many shops.
Walking a little towards the lake, you will find yourself on the embankment of the city - Piazze giuseppe motta. A number of shopping arcades with all kinds of souvenirs and little things are combined with a picturesque view of the lake. The promenade along the promenade, with its rich houses, numerous cafes and restaurants with sun-verandas, is considered one of the most pleasant on Lake Lago Maggiore, and thanks to the mild climate you can enjoy a walk even on sunny winter days.
History of Ascona:
The heyday of Ascona falls at the beginning of the 20th century, when a motley mass of artists organized a colony on Mount Monte Verità, which translates as Mount of Truth. The colony preached the idea of returning to Nature. Among the participants in this movement were Hermann Hesse, Karl Jung, Erich Maria Remarque, Hugo Ball, Stefan George, Isadora Duncan, Paul Klee, Rudolf Steiner, Max Picard, Frida, Otto Gross and others. By the way, this community harbored the exiled Lenin for some time .
Today, Ascona is an expensive resort for an elite audience, with golf and tennis courts and expensive boutiques. Ancient gray-haired old women in expensive designer costumes roam the streets, and the snapped public while away the time on the restaurant terraces. The city was essentially a mixture of shops and hotels.
As regards cultural life, Ascona offers the New Orleans Jazz Festival, and in September, weeks of classical music take place in the city.
Get to Ascona:
- Travel time: a little more than 3 hours (from Zurich to Locarno, from Locarno to Ascona get by bus, the final stop is Ascona Posta).
- Directions: high-speed train from Zurich HB to Locarno, then 15 minutes by bus N1 to Ascona Posta.
See the exact timetable at www.sbb.ch.
- Ticket price: 60 CHF one way second class.
Collegio pontificio papio
Passing from the Ascona Posta bus stop towards the lake, along Viale Bartolomeo Papio, you will certainly find yourself at the walls of the Monastery of Collegio Pontificio Papio. The building dates from 1584 and has the most beautiful Renaissance courtyard in Switzerland. The church of Chiesa Santa Maria della Misericordia, belonging to the Dominican Order, is part of the monastery. The church was built at the end of the 14th century (1399-1442), it has one of the largest late Gothic frescoes in Switzerland.
It is easy to find it if you go from the Posta bus stop: just follow Viale Bartolomeo Papio and you will find yourself at the walls of Collegio.
Museo communale d’arte moderna
The Ascona Museum of Modernist Art is located in the old town at via Borgo 34 (tel. +41 91 / 759-81-40). It presents both temporary alternating expositions devoted to contemporary art, and a permanent collection, including the works of Klee, Utrillo, Yavlensky, Verevkina, Fritz Pauli, German Hesse, etc.
- Working hours:
March - December: Tue-Sat: 10: 00-12: 00, 15: 00-18: 00, Sun: 16: 00-18: 00.
- Entrance: adults 7 CHF, children, students, senior citizens - 5CHF.
- Address: via Borgo 34, 6612 Ascona
- To get: go inland from the intersection of the promenades Via Moscia and Piazza Giuseppe Motta (lake bay) via Via Borgo.
Island Brissago (Isole di Brissago)
The boat will bring you to the garden island, where, thanks to the Mediterranean mild climate, more than 1,500 species of plants grow. The ship leaves from the center of Ascona, there are also routes from other towns, including Locarno.
Departure from Ascona daily from 9:30 throughout the day, the last ship from the island towards Ascona at 18:00. It takes 10 minutes and costs 3.60 CHF. Entrance to the botanical garden - additional 8 CHF.
Casa Beato P. Berno
This is a typical Ticino house in Baroque style. Now it is a home of crafts.
To get: from the Piazza Giuseppe Motta seafront, turn onto Via San Sebastiano, and at the first intersection turn left onto Via Beato Pietro Berno.
Ronco sopra ascona
This is one of the most pleasant places overlooking Lake Lago Maggiore, with a breathtaking panorama of the lake and the Alps, and a picturesque road down to the lake. This is a small village in the Mediterranean style along the mountain road to the west, 18 km from Ascona. Erich Maria Remarque lived here at one time. He is buried in a cemetery near a small church.
To get there: Take Via Moscia along the seafront from Locarno to Porto Ronco.