Church of Mogno
Cities & Monuments
At 7:15 am on April 25th 1986 an avalanche struck the village of Mogno in the Maggia Valley destroying the 17th century church of San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist). A commission for the church's reconstruction was formed and the project given to the architect Mario Botta. A lot of controversy surrounded the project and its realization. Nevertheless, Botta built one of his most important works in Mogno. The church that we see today is the answer that underlines "the positivity of construction as an expression of the toils of humankind" when faced with nature's devastating force, affirms Botta.
Construction began in 1992 and extended over a period of 4 years. The new church is erected in the same position as the former one and has the same orientation. The height (17 meters) corresponds to that of the old bell tower. The churchyard substitutes the cemetery. The ossuary was rebuilt in the exact same position. The two church bells, from 1746, are the only elements that could be reclaimed from the church that was wiped away by the avalanche.
The image of the ruins, related to the mass of snow that destroyed the old monument as well as part of the village, "surfaces once again in the decided inclined 'cut' of the outer walls – explains Mario Botta – which compress the internal space and force it to expand towards the sky by way of the roof-cum-skylight. The subtle dualism between the levity of the roofing and the strength and thickness of the building, completely new compared to the consistency of a traditional stone roof, testify to the desire for survival on the part of the construction."
The plan of the previous building describes a basic rectangle inscribed within an ellipse, which is transformed into a circle corresponding to the roofing. "The exiguity of the size – describes again the architect – is made up for the geometrical synthesis between the figures of the rectangle, the ellipsis and the circle with an entire series of which the ascent of the human dimension, represented in the regular space of the base, to the divine perfection suggested in the circular roofing".
The walls of the church are 2 meters thick progressively tapering to 50 centimeters at the summit. "The construction technique – explains Botta – is based on the tradition, highlighting the use of stone not as a covering but having structural valences to be seen in the rediscovery of dry-laid stone building, by way of blocks with cavities filled with cement. The stones are from the Maggia Valley: the gneiss (a type of rock similar to granite, also called beola), was extracted from the Riveo quarry while the marble is from the Cristallina quarry in the Sidevalley of Peccia.
Modern architecture amateurs can admire another very interesting church of the same architect Botta at the Alpe Foppa-Monte Tamaro.
If you have more time…
Itinerary: the typical village of Brontallo
Coming back from the valley after visiting the church of Mario Botta in Mogno it's worth making a little detour to the village of Brontallo which can be visited by following the indications in the flyer Sentieri di pietra (Stone trails) (you may obtain the flyer in Italian or German at the tourist office in Maggia when going up the valley: the entire collection of Sentieri di pietra are provided for free outside the office).
"Brontallo, located at 716 meters above sea level, represents a succession of interesting discoveries: the group of stables (all identical, all onlooking the bottom of the valley, all grouped on the same slope); the steep and endless terraced slopes, the dominating rocks sheer above the village, the centre of old houses all with roofs made of "piode" (slates) also located on the slope, the meager meadow where in the past few decades some new homes have been built, the fields that surround the village, the cemetery situated in a constrained clearing on a rock, the valley that sinks all the way into to the gorge of the River Maggia, three hundred meters below.
These distinctive features are certainly what attract today's visitors but what have also made the living of Brontallo residents laborious. For centuries, men, women and children have labored up here, always with a conical wicker basket on their shoulders, always in movement up or down, from the village to the mountains; to the mountain pastures from the bottom of the valley where a road was already built around 1820 but was not connected to the village before 1955; from the right slope of the valley to the left where mountains and mountain pastures are also located.
It's not surprising that Brontallo is one of the Vallemaggia communes that has sold the highest amount of houses and stables, especially to Swiss-Germans, already in the 1960s when there was a big wave of abandonment of agricultural activities in the mountains. The houses were transformed into secondary housing".
(From “Sentieri di pietra - Brontallo... e le sue stalle”)