There are some places where photos do a better job of telling the story than words. Curon Venosta in Italy is perhaps one such location. In Lago di Resia, just a few kilometres from the border with Austria, there is a semi-submerged 14th century church. Above the waterline, only the bell tower is visible. I saw a photo of this curious place a year ago and promised myself that if ever I was driving by...
In 1920, the Italian government first proposed linking the two natural lagos of Mittersee and Reschensee by raising the level of each lake by five metres. This would join the lakes and allow a huge reservoir for power generation.
However, in 1939 the fascist government decided to increase the level from five metres to twenty-two metres. This meant that the villages of Graun (the Austrian name of Curon Venosta) and Reschen as well as several hamlets would be drowned. One hundred and eighty-one houses and farms were destroyed and 70% of the villagers were forced to leave, without any compensation whatsoever.
The 14th Century Romanesque church tower was, perversely, left standing while all around was flooded. As the people of South Tyrol were not represented in government when the fascists had control, there was little they could do to stop this environmental vandalism.
While the Second World War delayed construction to some extent, the project continued after the war and in 1950 came into operation. In a further touch of hopeless irony, the first year’s profits all went to the Swiss financiers of this community disaster.
Cathie and I spent an hour walking around the lake’s edge, gazing in awe at the tower. It was like something from a child’s fairytale, so beautiful and magical with the enchanting backdrop of snow-capped mountains. We took endless photos, sat and stared at the changing light on the water and tried in vain to peer into the gaps at the top of the bell tower, perhaps hoping for the clanging of the bells. Sadly, they were removed many years ago.
After we’d checked into our Gasthaus in the Austrian village across the border, I rode my bicycle Craig, back to the lake in the late afternoon. It required a climb over Passo di Resia, but I just wanted one more look at the tower. When I arrived, the sun came out for a few minutes and the tower’s shadow stretched towards shore, as if reaching for dry ground.
In winter, visitors are able to walk on the frozen lake and touch the walls of the tower.
It’s a beautiful haunting sight, all the more so because of the tragedy of its past.