Have you always wondered what stories are behind the beautiful ancient stone churches that you see along the roadside or that you find in a small medieval village? When you are visiting Italy, every region is ripe with its own unique history that tells the story of its origins and how its people lived over the centuries. The villages that you ride through may appear quiet, even desolate, with a few voices floating out from the local caffè, but not long ago the villages were bustling with activity, selling products from farms, staples from the mills, and feeding the hungry workers that made simple living seem so prosperous.
Central to all of their lives was each village's chiesa - the church built as grand and looming as their region's finances could afford. They were often the largest structures in the area, with a tall bell tower that called its patrons to mass, chimed at the hours, and also served as lookouts to invading rivals. The church served as a tribute to the figures they worshipped, and especially to art, with colorful mosaics and frescoes telling stories of Good and Evil in place of the expensive hand written books unobtainable to the common villager. The Lombardia area is very fortunate that these fine monuments of architecture and art still dot our landscape and they are yours to discover.
For those whose curiosity extends beyond fleeting roadside views, we have a special offer on May 20th and 27th, 2018. Students from a local high school in Erba, Liceo Scientifico Galileo Galilei, are offering educational tours at some of Lake Como’s greatest Romanesque architecture churches. Two of the medieval churches on the tour, San Pietro in Barni, and Sant'Alessandro in Lasnigo, are right on our popular Ghisallo cycling route through the central Triangolo Lariano. This is a unique opportunity to visit these treasures of Lombardia, which are often seen from a distance, but rarely open to the public. On these two days we are arranging guided bike tours at a casual pace to visit Barni and Lasnigo, either by e-bike or road bike, to enjoy these lectures of our local history with stops along the way to enjoy other interesting historical features. While the high school students may know a bit of English, our cycling guides that accompany you will be able to translate their discussion. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about these Italian villages, their medieval churches, and the delicate artwork that still adorns their interiors.
Sunday, May 20 at 2:30pm or 6pm – Sant'Alessandro, Lasnigo
Sunday, May 20 at 2:30pm or 6pm – San Pietro, Barni
Sunday, May 27 at 2:30pm or 6pm – Sant'Alessandro, Lasnigo
Sunday, May 27 at 2:30pm or 6pm – San Pietro, Barni
The Lombardia region of northern Italy has many churches that originate from the Middle Ages with the classic architecture from the Romanesque period, considered from around the 6th to 11th century - thick stone walls, semicircular arches, and freestanding, square bell towers. As areas of Europe became more prosperous in the later Middle Ages, this kind of architecture was replaced by the elegant flying buttresses and ornate style of Gothic. In the less wealthy, rural areas of Italy, however, this simple style was preserved.
Two of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture are the churches of Lasnigo and Barni. The distinctly Romanesque bell tower of Sant’Alessandro sits on a small hill along the main road and quietly reveals itself on the horizon for those riding north through the valley en route to the Madonna del Ghisallo, like it has for pilgrims since the 11th century. The church's interior and exterior have undergone many improvements over the centuries, such as the addition of smaller chapels in the 18th century. Colorful fresco panels include the Virgin Mary and Child, Saints Catherine of Siena and Mary Magdalene, and Saint Anthony. The oldest fresco, of the Crucifixion, dates to 1513 and is signed by the artist.
A few kilometers up the road is the village of Barni. Many who ride over the main cobblestone street through this alpine village are familiar with its bright yellow church, Santa Maria Annunciata, which sits prominently in the center of the village. However, this is a newer church built in the 17th century. The Romanesque church that it replaced is the nestled on the wooded hillside overlooking Barni: the 11th century San Pietro, one of the oldest churches in Lombardia. San Pietro's bell tower and other features are still in their original Romanesque form, and wandering around its exterior and nearby cemetery you can imagine how it watched over this valley 1,000 years ago. Inside, frescoes date back to the 15th century and include the Crucifixion, Saint John the Baptist, Saint John the Apostle, Saint Francis, and the Madonna and Child.
If you are in the area and would like to join us on this special guided bike tour, please contact our Booking Manager today. Grazie mille to the students at Liceo Scientifico Galileo Galilei and Civico Museo di Erba for sharing this event! (Photos of San Pietro courtesy www.triangololariano.it)