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Guide to Bissone - 1999: Ivano Proserpi

English summary

The first documented information on the village’s history, goes back to the Longobardian period, in particular to the 8th and 9th centuries, when the Milanese monastery of Saint Ambrose possessed vineyards, olive groves and chestnut plantations in the area. There are also records of a castle, no longer in existence, between the 12th and 15th centuries.

Clustered, on a north-south axis, on the slopes leading down to the banks of Lake Ceresio, the village developed along the roads connecting the territories of the Mendrisiotto with those of Campione and the region of Lugano, with the result that, today, it lies on the main communication route between northern and southern Europe.

The development of the historic centre of Bissone has been shaped by, in addition to the morphological features of the terrain, a number of economic and practical factors. The first dwellings arose along a road leading through the fields on the lower slopes of the hill. Only later, with the escalation of commercial fishing, did the village spread towards the lake. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, more elegant residences, belonging in the main to skilled artists, were built in the resultant network of narrow alleys and arcades along the shore. In 1848, with the construction of the mole between Bissone and Melide, the large area along the shore was transformed into an important communication axis. The old centre was cut off by the railway line (opened in 1874) and the motorway (opened in 1966), which run through the hillside above the village. The presence of these communication routes and the intense traffic which they carry have inflicted a severe blow to the entire district, and have necessitated a general rethinking of the local road system, in the present day, to help restore the quality of life of both residents and tourists.

The history of Bissone has been deeply marked by the loss through emigration of the so-called “artists of the lakes”. In fact, the village has given birth to whole families and generations of architects, sculptors, painters, stucco and marble workers, who plied their trade in a large number of cities and regions in northern and southern Europe, particularly between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Among the testimonials of the past still to be found in Bissone, in which signs of

their artistic labour can be seen, the present parish church of Saint Carpoforo takes pride of place. First referred to in 1148, and probably dating back to the Longobard period (8th century), it underwent substantial renovations between the end of the 15th century and the 1680’s. The ground plan of the church includes three naves, with six side chapels and a quadrangular chancel. The interior is characterised by an imposing and flamboyant décor of paintings and stucco work, which covers much of the ceilings and central walls. The choice of the decorative motifs and the accentuated plasticity of the stucco work, reflect the late baroque expression of the end of the 16th century. The same artistic expression has been adopted in the fronts of the altars, where various statues of the saints are enthroned. Of considerable interest are the marble tabernacle and the three terracotta statues of the main altar. The creators of these painted and stucco works, who are unfortunately unknown, must be sought, in the first place, in the context of the artistic output of various skilled craftsmen belonging to the Bissonese family, Tencalla. The latter was, indeed, the chief benefactor in the renovation of the church. It is through the analysis of the work of many of the Tencalla artists (as well as other artists in the region of Bissone, Lugano and Intelvi) that a comparison can be drawn between the church of Saint Carpoforo and other buildings, constructed by the same craftsmen, in regions such as Bavaria, Austria and Moravia.

Bissone’s second holy building is the oratory of Saint Rocco, which marks the northern limit of the village’s historic centre. Built in the 1630’s, it has kept its original baroque character, most visible in its elegant façade, to the present day. The interior comprises a single nave, with two spans, into which open two little side chapels and a quadrangular chancel. The building, in the simplicity of its volumes and its architectural lines, is reminiscent of the classical style of 17th century religious architecture. In contrast, the more inventive and advanced expression of Lombard and Roman baroque taste is concentrated in its façade. Among the more interesting artistic records to be found in the oratory are several statues in stucco and a number of pictures representing saints of the counter-reformation period. Particularly outstanding is the main altar piece, in the middle of which (forming the background to a group of religious figures) is depicted an accurate view of the historic centre of Bissone, as it must have appeared in the first half of the 17th century.

The most interesting residential buildings in the old nucleus are to be found bordering the large square on the lake’s edge. In spite of some less than happy conversions, their architecture - characterised externally, in particular, by the presence of a big arcade - exemplifies the type of house belonging first to the fishermen and later to the artistic craftsmen in question.