travel | isola bella | lake maggiore | italy

tourist (tour-ist) 
n. a person visiting a place for pleasure 
oxford dictionaries

view of isola bella from stresa, italy
photo by innerspace

and, isola bella (beautiful island) was a pleasure to visit, even if it could be described as turistico.

isola bella, a private island owned by the borromeo family since the 16th century, is located northwest of milan, on the west shore of lake maggiore near the town of stresa.

map of lake maggiore

when the borromeo family started transforming isola bella into a baroque palace in 1632, the architecture and the landscaping were designed like a ship.  palazzo borromeo is the bow, the dock is the prow, and the garden terraces are the bridge. 

the ship like design of palazzo borromeo
photo by adam broomberg & oliver chanarin

palazzo borromeo
the dock is located on the 'port' side of isola bella near the 'bow'
the ferry terminals are located on the 'port' side of isola bella near the 'stern'
photo by augustus mayhew

both the palazzo and the gardens overflow with heraldic symbols, which include the borromeo family motto humilitas (humility), and borromeo family icons like the unicorn, or the borromeo rings.

the borromeo family coat of arms

Coat of arms of the House of Borromeo

diagram of the borromeo family coat of arms
the motto humilitas (humility) fills the top panel
the unicorn is on the left side of the left panel
the borromeo rings are in the lower right corner of the left panel

relief moldings of the coat of arms from several branches of the borromeo family line the grand staircase in the entry hall of palazzo borromeo.
grand staircase

the family motto, humilitas (humility), appears and reappears in the gardens and in the palazzo.

the borromeo family motto humilitas (humility) on a garden terrace 
photo by werner kratz

a statue holding the borromeo family motto humilitas (humility), the borromeo family crown, and a flag 
photo by innerspace 

a medallion with the borromeo family motto humilitas (humility) on the ceiling of the salone grande (grand hall)
photo by innerspace

a succession of 17th-19th century architects designed the palazzo and the gardens, but the palazzo wasn't completed until 1952, when the salone grande (grand hall) was finished according to the original plans.

salone grande (grand hall)

in addition to the galleria dei quadri (picture gallery), palazzo borromeo is famous for the salone degli arazzi (tapestry hall).  the seven borromeo tapestries, woven of wool, silk, silver, and gold in brussels around 1565, feature the unicorn, another family icon.
one of the seven borromeo tapestries
photo by j zinn

a statue of the unicorn, ridden by love, tops the ampitheater, which is a focal point of the baroque gardens.

unicorn, ridden by love
photo by innerspace

the baroque gardens are composed of ten descending terraces, which form a pyramid ornamented with grottos, basins, fountains, and obelisks.  the size, quantity, and orientation of the ornaments and the statues, which personify the rivers, the seasons, or the winds, glorify the achievements of the borromeo family, and provide an impressive approach to the island from any direction.  

grottos, shells, and statues fill the platforms of the ampitheater, which is located on the upper terrace.
photo by michel guilly

and, free range white peacocks graze near the grottos, and through out the gardens.
white peacocks
photo by frommers

but, during our visit, the white peacocks looked like this, instead.

white peacocks
photo by innerspace

grottos also fill the basement of palazzo borromeo.  

the six grottos in the basement, which were designed in 1685, but finished 100 years later, are paved with lake pebbles set in baroque scroll and shell patterns.  the grottos not only provide a refuge from the summer heat, but also provide a passageway from the palazzo to the gardens.
one the six grottos in the basement of palazzo borromeo 
photo by adam broomberg & oliver chanarin 

the borromeo rings, another icon that symbolizes the friendship between the visconti, sforza, and borromeo families, occur and reoccur on statuary and ironwork in the gardens.

a statue holding the borromeo rings 
photo by flickr 

a gate crowned by the borromeo rings

view of the baroque gardens on isola bella from stresa, italy
photo by innerspace

do you think that the isola is bella?
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