“What the hell a lighthouse doing in the mountains?” tourists are wondering when they arrive at San Maurizio, a hamlet 150 metres above Brunate. The little town, located in the Lombardy region, overlooks Como, which lies on the shore of Lake Como some 500 metres (1,600 ft) below. Como and Brunate are linked by a winding road, and by the Como to Brunate funicular (but this is another story). Alessandro Volta (who developed the first electrical cell) lived in Brunate for a short period.
The lighthouse was built in 1927 on the centenary of Alessandro Volta’s death, who was born and died in Como, but it had also been proposed in previous Volta celebrations in 1899 by Don Luigi Guanella (proclaimed a saint in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI). Guanella had thus intended to perpetuate the values of the inventor of the battery, not only as a great scientist, but also as a very devoted man. Don Guanella, founder of the idea and promoter of an association Pro-Lighthouse aimed to collect 25,000 lire needed to erect it. He met with resistance from the bishop of Como, who suggested to him to be restricted to the care of its poor, and provoked a clash at the University of Pavia between laymen and Catholics, led by two future and famous friends, Agostino Gemelli, not yet converted, and Ludovico Necchi. Hence, in 1899, an experimental wood lighthouse was raised in Brunate only to be disman-tled at the end of “Voltiadi”. In 1927 the Guanellian initiative was revived and made concrete by the association of Postelegrafonici, who collected the funds to build the monument. It was designed by the engineer Gabriele Giussani, at an altitude of 909 meters asl with a height of 29 meters and was donated to the city of Como.
In that year, the city wanted to celebrate the anniversary in a big way, with an important national exposure. It was constituted a committee of honor under the patronage of King Vittorio Emanuele II and the presidency of Benito Mussolini, as well as an executive committee headed by Guglielmo Marconi. In addition to that, two buildings were built: the first one was the Volta Temple, which now houses most of the equipment once belonged to Volta, while the latter was the Volta Lighthouse itself.
The Volta Lighthouse was inaugurated on September 8, 1927, in the presence of Costanzo Ciano, who was Minister of Telecommunications in Mussolini’s government at that time. Since then, the white, red and green light emitted from the lighthouse from sunset to dawn stretches as far as 40 kilometers away and for those who climb the one hundred forty-three steps to the top the view sweeps even further. The stairs allows you to reach the two circular balconies: the first one is located just above the main entrance, while the second one is just outside the lantern. On extremely clear days, you can even see the top of the Duomo di Milano.
Few people, however, know that the colors of the lights are not only those of the Italian flag, but also represent the faith, science and charity of Alessandro Volta.
Author’s note: You can pay an admission (2€, in August, 2019) and climb to the top of the lighthouse for a breathtaking view over the western arch of the Alpine chain to Monte Rosa, the valley towards Switzerland and the surrounding lowland.
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