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Castles of Cannero: floating fortresses for petrified pirates and ghostly sailors

Sunday 13 august 2017

The Mazzarditi brothers, the scary brigands who with their crimes were able to dominate the whole area of Lake Maggiore

Castles of Cannero: floating fortresses for petrified pirates and ghostly sailors

Castles of Cannero, also called in the local dialect Castei de Caner, are actually located in the territory of the village of Cannobio and, more precisely, they are located on the three rocky isles of Lake Maggiore, in front of the village of Cannero Riviera.

Their position alone gives the castles a special charm and wraps them in a veil of mystery. In days of dense fog, in fact, the fortresses seem to float suspended in the water. But the area hides numerous secrets as well...

These medieval castles  were built between the 11th and 12th Centuries and were later occupied by the Mazzarditi brothers, a family composed of five fearful brigands from Ronco (a hamlet of Cannobio), who first occupied the palace of the Pretoria Cannobio, subsequently invaded Cannero, and finally conquered the castles, from which they organized their piracy actions throughout the region.

At that time, there was also the war between Guelph and Ghibellini and in the Duchy of Milan, which was already in stormy waters, it was impossible to maintain order in that area. So the locals soon became forced to suffer the terrible, and sometimes violent, crimes of the Mazzarditi brothers, trapped in a climate of real terror.

However, there was a raid that did not succeed. A legend tells that the Mazzarditi brothers, tired of stealing small villages and boats, decided to go futher: they planned a raid to plunder a luxurious villa of the place and, to push even further, they organized the kidnapping of the villa's owner's nephew , in order to educate him in the art of piracy as their successor. But as soon as one of the brothers was about to approach the child, who was standing at the foot of the bed to address the night prayer to the deceased mother and his distant father, the abductor's feet suddenly petrified, and the other brothers scavenged ran away.

The brigands’ raids continued for over ten years, during which the Mazzarditi  made the beautiful gained full control of the whole coast, until in 1414 Filippo Maria Visconti, then Duke of Milan, exasperated by ongoing complaints from local residents, decided to send an army of 500 men to drive out the fearsome brothers and re-occupy the area.

The area, which has long been called the "Malpaga", was put under siege, and, after forcing  the Mazzarditi borthers to starvation, the area was completely destroyed. The brigands were sent out of exile, and only after fifteen years they were sent back to the village. However, there are those who argue that, in order not to surrender to defeat, criminals drowned themselves by throwing themselves into the lake with a neck-tied stone.

Another legend, on the other hand, says that the pirate family, in order not  to deliver their treasures to the Duke, had thrown all their possessions into the lake. It is said that even today the lake keeps their treasures and that in the days of strong fog one can see a sailing ship that, going around the islets, claim the ancient booty ...

rocca vitaliana

Finally, in 1519 Ludwig Borromeo built the "Vitaliana" fortress in honour of the noble family. After his death, the fort was gradually abandoned, becoming the home of people such as fishermen, smugglers and even a gang of forgers. In recent years, numerous restoration proposals have been advanced for tourism purposes. Could they be the secret descendants of the Mazzarditi, who want to bring their sumptuous refuge back to life?


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