Saturday, May 13, 2017

Isola Bella

Today's place to daydream about is Isola Bella in Laggo Maggiore, northern Italy. This is one of the "Three Borromean Islands" that belong to the Borromeo family of Milan.

Until 1632 this tiny island was just a rocky outcrop occupied by a tiny fishing village. But in that year Carlo III Borromeo, besotted, it is said, with his wife Isabella D'Adda, began building a palace and garden on the island as a gift to her. Both the palazzo and the garden were planned by the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli.

However work was interrupted by a major outbreak of plague in Milan around mid century, and the palace was not completed until the time of Vitaliano VI in the 1680s; the architect at that time was Carlo Fontana.

The centerpiece of the garden is this construction, known as the pyramid.

View from the top.

The interior of the palazzo is just the sort of rococo thing you might expect, but seems nice enough.

Underneath the palazzo is a famous set of shell grottoes.

But the wonder is the gardens. These photos are from Travelocafe, which also has a photo set on the nearby Isola Madre, which is a bird sanctuary and much less crowded. People typically visit the island as part of a boat tour of the lake, which seems like a very civilized way to spend a day.

The palace reached its pinnacle of fame under Giberto V Borromeo (1751–1837) when guests included Edward Gibbon, Napoleon and his wife Joséphine, and Caroline of Brunswick, the Princess of Wales.

In 1935 a conference of high representatives of Italy, France and the United Kingdom was held in the nearby town of Stresa. The resulting agreement, known as the Stresa Front, was signed in the palazzo on Isola Bella. The agreement committed the three nations to upholding the Versailles Treaty and in particular to defending the independence of Austria; it collapsed after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia.

A place I love to imagine on a dreary, rainy day like today.

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