The importance of Como history should not be underestimated. Over the centuries, a succession of important historical events and people have left a permanent mark that can be seen today by simply walking through the streets.
The early civilizations
One of the most important aspects of Como history is the Golasecca culture (9th – 4th century BCE). This population highlights the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age of northern Italy. At the beginning of the 19th century, the first findings of pottery, metal objects, and even many graves were discovered during the excavations in the nearby province of Varese, Lombardy. Proof of the Golasecca culture was also found in the Spina Verde Park, where you can still see the ruins of a protohistoric settlement.
The expansion North by the Tyrrhenians led to a significant increase in the wealth of the ancient Como, as evidenced by the many precious materials found in the necropolis. At the beginning of the 4th century BCE, the invasion of Gauls was the reason for the slow decadence of Como and surrounding areas.
Romans and the Middle Ages
Como history would be incomplete without mentioning the importance of Roman influence on the region. In 196 BCE, consul Marco Claudio Marcello conquered the areas occupied by the Gauls and Como became part of the Roman Empire.
Later, in 59 BCE, Julius Caesar had the swamp near the southern tip of the lake drained, leading to the founding of Novum Comum. The village experienced a period of splendor, becoming an important center for trade. Wealthy aristocrats and other notable figures settled in Como to enjoy its mild temperatures and experience both its natural and man-made beauty.
The Kingdom of the Lombards played an enormous role in Como’s history. Between 568 and 569 BCE, this Germanic-speaking people gave birth to an independent kingdom that soon extended their control over much of the Italian peninsula.
The kingdom was separated into different duchies, which enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in relation to the central authority that was settled in Pavia. Over time, the Lombards adopted Roman titles, as well as many Roman traditions.
In 1127, after a ten year war against Milan which caused the complete destruction of the city, Como lost its dominance, only to retrieve it again thanks to Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor.
Barbarossa rebuilt and enlarged the defensive walls which protected the city and also restored the Castel Baradello, a military fortification located on top of a hill. Later on, the imposing towers of Porta Torre, San Vitale, and Porta Nuova were built to defend the main entrance of the city.
Modern and contemporary age
Como was under the influence of the Duchy of Milan beginning in the 14th century, and also through the French invasion and Spanish domination, which characterized the centuries to come. Around 1700, European nobles and intellectuals gave birth to a phenomenon known as Grand Tour, a trip around Europe that was meant to increase their knowledge. Como and the villas on the lake were some of their favorite stops, thus giving rise to local tourism.
In 1714, the territory was taken by the Austrians under the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, but in 1859, the arrival of Giuseppe Garibaldi freed the city from the Austrians, and Como soon became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.
At the end of World War II, right after the liberation by the Allies, Como was the scene of Benito Mussolini‘s attempted escape. While trying to reach Switzerland, he was recognized by a group of partisans in the village of Dongo and then killed in the locality of Azzano (currently hamlet of Tremezzina). A cross stands right on the spot where the fascist leader was executed.
The 20th century was also characterized by contraband, which took place in the hills and mountains that separate Italy from Switzerland. The smuggling led to recurring struggles between sfrusaduu (dialect name for the smugglers) and burlanda (officers who were responsible to stop them). The Italians mainly imported cigarettes and tobacco, while the Swiss were more involved in food importation.
In recent times, the growth of local tourism became particularly significant for the economy of the city, replacing the silk production, which, in the past, was one of the major reasons of its grandeur.