Facing Lenno, Sala Comacina and Ossuccio on the western shore of Lake Como, forested Isola Comacina is the only island on the lake. Today it's hard to believe that Comacina, located 16 mi/26 km from Como, was once a power hub in this region.
In the Middle Ages, the island, then named Cristopolis, had been a refuge for Christian populations during the invasion of the barbarians. Legend has it that during the invasion of the Lombards in the late sixth century, even the Holy Grail was kept on the island for a short time. Cristopolis boasted a fortress and seven churches. All that remains of the "Golden City" is the modest Baroque church of San Giovanni and the ruins of several other churches dating back to early Christian times.
In the early 1100s, the island made the mistake of standing with Milan, which won a ten-year war against Como. When emperor Frederic Barbarossa defeated Milan in 1158, it was payback time. With the help of the three parishes of Dongo, Gravedona and Sorica, the city of Como, now an ally of the emperor, conquered the rebellious island and completely sacked it. Vidulfo, the bishop of Como, excommunicated the population of the island, and Barbarossa forbade any reconstruction under pain of death. The Isola Comacina was never settled again, making it the delight of modern archaeologists.
In 1914, the island was sold to the Belgian king Albert I, who later donated it to the Italian State. The island can be reached by private boat service from the villages of Sala Comacina and Ossuccio (Mid-March to October; about 6 euros round trip; http://www.boatservices.it). Lake ferries also stop there on the route between Como and Menaggio. You can walk around the island, which is only 2,000 ft/600 m long by 656 ft/200 m wide, in about half an hour. On 24 June, the local festival of San Giovanni (the oldest in the Como area) commemorates the destruction of the island with a costumed boat procession, a festive meal and fireworks. You can always dine at the island's famous restaurant, Locanda dell'Isola Comacina, which has served the same (and only) meals for decades at highly inflated prices. The island charges an entrance fee of 5 euros. http://www.isola-comacina.it.
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