"A Villa full of History"

Villa Pliniana was built in 1573 around the spring that carries the same name. The name “Pliniana” is inspired to the famous naturalists native of Como, Plinio the Elder and Plinio the Younger, whom, first described the spring and its peculiar intermittence in the first century A.D.. Through time other distinguished scientists, including Leonardo Da Vinci and Benedetto Giovio, studied the spring as well. The construction of the villa is due to the will of Count Giovanni Anguissola, governor of Como, whom decided to transform the spring and the surrounding land in a place of delight. Through the centuries the villa went through alternated periods of great splendor and abandonment. The Visconti, the Canarisi and the Belgiojoso are among families who contributed to the splendor époques of the Villa. Many famous guests over the years visited the Pliniana: among them the poet Percy Shelley, who left a wonderful description of the villa, Gioacchino Rossini who composed Tancredi in the villa itself , Napoleon whom “is said” to have played on the still existing billiard, Antonio Fogazzaro who adopted the villa as the set of his novel Malombra, later transformed by Mario Soldati into an homonymous movie in 1942 set in the villa itself. The villa has been visited by many famous writers (Byron, Foscolo, Berchet, Stendhal) musicians (Liszt and Bellini), scientists (Volta, Spallanzani and Ghezzi) and monarchs Joseph II of Austria and Margherita of Savoy. After a long and meticulous restoration work, today the villa has been returned to its former splendor.


    Before the construction of the villa, the site was already famous due to an important spring known for its intermittency. Plinio the Younger described it to his friend Licinius Sura as follows: “Perhaps [the intermittence] is due to a subterranean wind or, perhaps, flow and reflowing alternate in the source, like high and low tide in the sea … You can have a meal and eat close to it, while draw water with your cup from the spring itself, so refreshing. Meanwhile, it disappears and then rises at a regular timing”.


    In 1573 Count Giovanni Anguissola, governor of Como, bought the lands around the spring from Gerolamo Gallo; few months later he began the construction of the villa. The count was highly controversial; he was in fact the murderer of Pier Luigi Farnese, tyrant of Piacenza, and terrible legends were told on his account. However, the Count was loved by Como citizens since he was a great administrator and, contrarily to rumors on his brutal murder, he died in his bed in 1578 before the Villa was completed.


    Few information is available about how the Villa was constructed, however it is certain that the construction works of Villa Pliniana took three years and were suspended in 1577. In 1578, Count Anguissola, before his death, forced Giulio Anguissola, his sole heir, to complete the construction following the indications of Antonio Piotti who is considered as the designer of the villa, although recent studies showed that Pellegrino Tibaldi had given an initial and substantial contribution.


    In 1590, Pirro Visconti Borromeo bought the villa from the heirs of count Anguissola and turned it sumptuous. The nobleman was interested in Villa Pliniana due to the connection of the villa to the water. This topic has been proven by the essay commissioned by the Visconti Borromeo family to Gerolamo Borsieri in those years. The essay was significantly titled “Speech on the ebb and flow of the Pliniana” in which the author exposed the possible explanations of the phenomenon of the intermittent spring.


    In 1676 the Canarisi family became owner of the villa and kept the property until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Canarisi was an important family of Como; they had a genuine and ancient interest in Villa Pliniana and had already made an attempt to buy it back in time. They brought Villa Pliniana to its greatest splendor in both the buildings and in the garden. The restoration of the St. Francesco chapel and the redecoration of the halls of the main floor are particularly worth mentioning.


    “This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty […] But the finest scenery is that of the Villa Pliniana […] The scene from the colonnade is the most extraordinary, at once and the most lovely that eye ever beheld. Above you from among the clouds, as it were descends a waterfall of immense size, broken by the woody rocks into a thousand channels to the lake. On the other side is seen the blue extent of the lake and the mountains speckled with sails and spires.” Percy Bysshe Shelley thus described the view from the Pliniana in 1818.


    The Shelley’s description is not an isolated case. Starting from the second half of the eighteenth century new literary and iconographic genres such as tourist guides and prints of landscape views began to spread. Villa Pliniana thus became one of the most described, represented and visited places of the lake; it was one of the favorite destinations of young European aristocracy visiting Europe on educational journey. Such journey became historically famous known as Grand Tour; Italy was one of its most popular destinations.


    In the first half of the nineteenth century, Villa Pliniana was bought by Prince Emilio Barbiano Belgiojoso who made of it a place of refreshment and leisure for his friends and himself. The prince married Caterina Trivulzio in 1824. She is still famous for her ideas about woman emancipation as well as for her generosity towards the oppressed people. Although Cristina shared with her husband a sincere patriotism, their lifestyles were very different: after few years they separated but kept a friendly relationship.


    Emilio and Cristina moved to Paris to avoid being into Austrian police attention due to their political commitment. In Paris Emilio met the beautiful Anne Berhtier de Wagram. They became lovers and fled from Paris to Villa Pliniana in the April 1843 where they lived in splendid isolation until 1852. Their passion and happiness nurtured popular legend. Stories were told about them diving at night right from the loggia wrapped in a bed sheet.

  • THE 900

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, gradual decrease of the river navigation replaced by modern means of transport such as train and later cars, Villa Pliniana appeared more of an isolated and difficult place to be reached. The villa became a mysterious and picturesque place; people who owned it in the century never lived in it hence Pliniana was gradually abandoned.


    During the Second World War Villa Pliniana experienced a new, though brief, notoriety as in 1942 it was chosen by the director Mario Soldati to set for the realization of the film Malombra. The location was not a causality; in fact, the film was the adaptation of the homonymous novel written by Antonio Fogazzaro and the author himself indicated the Villa Pliniana as the ideal setting for the events narrated. Despite the difficulties, filming at Villa Pliniana was a brilliant choice and the villa was a great add to the movie.


    In the twenty-first century, the interest in Villa Pliniana grew again due to the new impulse of tourism on Lake Como, thanks to the activity of local operators and to the contribution of famous testimonials. After a first intervention of consolidation of the structure, which was carried out in the nineties, the current owners started a conservation and renovation project that combined the preservation of the original structure with a modern architectural approach. Works began in the winter 2013 and were completed in the fall 2015.