ALTA LARIO – Leonardo and Other Mysteries of The Abbey of Piona

DSCN2889When the crowds, traffic and noise start to overwhelm, you can escape to another world situated on the Olgiasca hill at the entrance to what is called Laghetto di Piona, a little south of Colico, on the east side of the lake.

IMGP4985Locals talk about the north end of the lake being the most beautiful. This usually means anywhere north of the very busy tourist quadrangle (Tremezzo-Bellagio-Varenna-Menaggio) located in the middle of the lake.

IMGP4757There are really only two ways to get to L’Abbazia di Piona – car or boat.

IMGP4920IMGP4983The dock here is unlike any other on the lake – there are no taxis, restaurants, or bars to greet you.

IMGP4773The shady old road curves up from the lake and eventually you are welcomed at the serene entrance.

IMGP4779My feelings of what came next are impossible to describe. Everyday, the beauty of Lake Como blows me away. DSCN2888 DSCN2891DSCN2887Many holes exist in the history of this Benedictine Monastery as stated in their own official publications. There is a record of its “probable” existence dating back to the 7th century A.D., and a “possibility” of remitic (sic) rule. Later Piona Abbey was known to have participated in the Cluniac Reformation of the 10-11th centuries. During a 1906 restoration it was discovered (date unknown) that the church has been consecrated to the Blessed Virgin, and yet there was another consecration to St Nicola of Bari, – exact date also unknown.

DSCN2886Straight ahead the bronze portals – 2 leafs, 6 panels of St. Benedetto’s life by sculptor
Giuseppe Abram are calling, – but when you are almost there, the enchanting entrance to the cloister pulls you in.

DSCN2890IMGP4806Abbey publicity states that the quadrangular base evokes the symbolic vigor of the number four: the 4 elements, 4 cardinal points – self contempt, world contempt, love for others, and love for God. Prior Bonaccorso de Gravedona ordered the building of the cloister, verified by 2 tablets (1252 & 1257), and the whole structure is loaded with symbolism.

IMGP4837The single tree and spring exist to represent the Earthly Paradise. Along the walls the old paintings and frescoes are fascinating with their medieval warnings to the monks to not give way to temptation, and other warnings about floods, depictions of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist, and the mystical architectural capitals all around (are any two alike?).




DSCN2909Even though I have been living in Italy for a while and am familiar with the diversity and contrasts, I was not prepared for this modern art on these walls.



DSCN2906Lingering here seems a very natural thing to want to do, but finally I remembered the bronze doors and exit to the church.


IMGP4848It is very dark inside.

DSCN3872The word “probably” is used a lot while attempting to identify a timeline when all the various modifications took place. Nothing seems 100% definite when trying to catalog a true history of the Piona Abbey.


IMGP4849 It was the 1906 restoration that uncovered these old frescoes. The stain glass in the church is obviously new (1998) and doesn’t seem to fit.

DSCN2895It was restoration of The Last Supper that lead us to the mystery of Leonardo and the background for his painting. It is common knowledge that Leonardo spent a great deal of time at the lake and that the background for the Mona Lisa is Lake Como. But it was not until 2014, when I met Prof. Ernesto Solari, (Art Teacher, Art Historian, and Researcher of Esoteric Symbols and Neoplatonist Alchemy) at his one-man show in Como, that I learned about his solving the mystery of the location of the painting.

DSCN0305When the restoration of The Last Supper had been completed, the colors and detail indicated to Solari that Lake Como, the Bell Tower (restyled in the 1700s) & the Piona Abbey are the background featured directly behind Christ. Solari further discovered the many trips Leonardo made to the Piona Abbey, and in fact, Leonardo had rented a home on a hill above the abbey giving him a perspective exactly as was painted. An exhibit to support the professor’s theory is scheduled to take place in 2019 in Como. I cannot find reason to disagree with the professor. It seems every day there is something truly special to learn about this lake. Including this: the monks spend a part of the day devoted to labor and for them this means the making of honey, cosmetic creams, officinal herbs, and their fantastic elixirs/liquors designed to repair the digestive system, neuro-muscular problems and corrective drinks that soothe the pain of the teeth.




IMGP4886I can vouch for nearly everything in this store. If you got here by car – load up; if you got here by boat, buy as much as you can carry. You will not be disappointed. Outside there is a little snack bar where you can buy a little elixir to sip while wandering the remainder of this fantastical place.





IMGP4867I had another amazing day at this lake. I hope you enjoyed the trip.




~ by mylakecomo on August 25, 2015.

One Response to “ALTA LARIO – Leonardo and Other Mysteries of The Abbey of Piona”

  1. This was a very fun journey through your photos! Thank you

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