The artistic importance of Lake Maggiore Is by no means negligible: there are a number of outstanding Romanesque churches, others from the Renaissance, murals from the Middle Ages and paintings by Gaudenzio Ferrari, Bernardino Luini, Bramantino Morazzone and later masters. Surviving examples of urban planning and spontaneous architecture are of particular interest. But the constant element characterising the lake consists in the villas, with their immense and marvellous grounds. They mostly date from the 19th and early 20th century; among the oldest, the Borromeo Villa on Isola Bella is justly famous. Where the grounds are concerned, it should be noted that Lake Maggiore is the subalpine lake with the largest number open to the public: the grounds of Isola Madre, Isola Bella (where the mansion can also be visited), Villa Pallavicino, the island of Brissago, and Villa Taranto: the latter, botanically speaking, one of the most fascinating in Europe.
This wealth of grounds, with subtropical crops, exotic and rare plants, presupposes a particularly mild climate: and it is this climate which is one of the fundamental reasons for Lake Maggiore's tourist fortunes. The other reason is the landscape which, although varied, is characterised in the lower part of the lake by restful visions of water and hills, in the lake centre by the dazzling beauty of the Borromeo Bay with its islands, and in the upper part by more severe and alpine surroundings. Lastly, it is a particular feature of Lake Maggiore to be able, in various places, to look over the more modest prealpine outlines to the soaring architecture of the rocks, snows and glaciers of Monte Rosa: a marvel which, by itself, lends sublime grandeur to every view.
Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy (216 sq. Km), smaller only than Lake Garda; it is 65 Km long, from 2 to 4.5 Km wide, 633 feet above sea-level and 1,220 feet deep at its greatest depth. It is of glacial origin; the Ticino runs into it in the north and out of it in the south; among the other tributary rivers, the most important are the Toce in the west and the Tresa in the east. Geographically it is situated further to the west than the other big subalpine lakes and is surrounded by many satellite lakes, the biggest of which are Lake Mergozzo and Lake Orta in the west. Lake Varese in the south-east. The western shore belongs to Piedmont, the eastern shore to Lombardy, the extreme north to Switzerland (Canton Ticino).
Archaeological studies have ascertained that man existed on the coasts and in the neighbourhood of Lake Maggiore right from the bronze and iron ages. The various prehistoric settlements and the domination by the Gauls were followed by Roman conquest, which became stable towards the 1st century B.C. The lake, at that time called Verbanus - a name which is still given to it -, had fortified villages, military stations, important markets and a network of connecting roads with many bridges; the most important places were Angera and Locarno. After the spread of Christianity and the barbarian invasions, the district came under the sway of the Lombards and the Franks. Here too, this period was followed by the varied and complex historical vicissitudes characteristic of North Italy: feudal divisions and struggles, the free city period, the advent of the great ruling families. The lakes came under the sway of the De Caste!lo, Barbavara, Torriani, Visconti and the Sforza houses. About the middle of the 15th century the Borromeo family definitely established itself and gradually extended its power over a large part of the lake, which, in various forms, it still retained even during the Spanish, Austrian and Savoy dominations (1535-1797). Meanwhile, in 1513, the Swiss had annexed the norther tip of the lake, while in 1735 the Austrians had ceded the western shore to the House of Savoy. After the Napoleonic period, the lake witnessed the epic of the Risorgimento: Luino (1848), Cannobio and Laveno (1859) were the scene of bold undertakings by the insurgent Italians. After the lake had been united to the Motherland (1860), there began a slow work of recovery in all fields of economic and social life and this expansion, albeit with alternating fortunes and with the grievous gaps of the two world wars, is still continuing today with the dynamic surge typical of the consumer society.