Dwight Peck's personal website

Domodossola street scenes, May 2013

An unexpected architectural and historical treat whilst stocking up in the COOP.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Domodossola, northern Italy

Perhaps most people journeying southward over the Simplon Pass and tunnel into Italy by train, and idling in the station here at the highway- and railroad-side of the town, facing the wide dry-gravel bottoms of the Toce river, exclaim "come on, let's get this thing rolling".

We've just been beneficiaries of 4 days in Ferrara and 4 days in Ravenna, and Kristin, to correct my misconceptions about Domodossola, has booked us into an overnight stop on the way home. This is the Milan rail station -- we've made it this far from Ravenna (via Bologna) and are poised to start up towards the Alps.

Kristin, an experienced train-awaiter

An Italian train with no graffiti smeared on it

Here we are, Domodossola, the last stop before the train goes into the Simplon tunnel and emerges in Switzerland at Brig, or the cars start up the long beautiful drive over the Simplon Pass.

And, thanks to Kristin's logistical skills, there's our hotel right there.

The Eurossola hotel in Domodossola -- family run, inexpensive, thoughtfully decorated, a very good restaurant built in, very nice people indeed, and the rail station is literally across the street. That about covers everything.

The view out our window -- oops, that's pretty much the view we get hurtling past on the highway, nice mountains, East German-style apartment buildings; we're facing out the wrong way. We'll go for a little walk in the other direction.

But first . . . it's understood that we've come to reappraise Domodossola and have a good walk round it, but to be honest, the ulterior reason we're here is to stock up on very specialized Italian culinary items (in the chain supermarket COOP on this side of the border) without which we could not bear to face life another day.

A quiet afternoon with good friends, at the panini bar outside the entrance to the COOP

First things first. Grignolino, and Amaro Lucano if they have it. Now we'll see to the pasta and the cheeses with strange names and unexpected ingredients. Back to the hotel with our loot, and then out we go for our reconnaissance.

The COOP didn't really have everything we need, however, so a few more stops are required.

Now we can get on with our sightseeing.

The Lepontii people (who were either Celtic or Italic or something else) dwelt throughout the south-facing Alpine slopes of the Simplon and St Gotthard, and this place and its valley, which they called Oscela, were conquered by the Romans in 12 BC. (Their other main centre was in what's now Bellinzona in the Ticino region of southern Switzerland.)

We're coming up on the Piazza Mercato or market place. The Romans turned this town into an administrative centre, 'Domus Oxulae', for the Ossola valley, which runs north from Lake Maggiore into the Alps with its seven side valleys contributing to the primary river, the Toce.

As the principal town along a main communications route between the north and the Milan area of northern Italy, Domodossola has seen more than its share of people passing through, and it's also the hub for travel on the small-gauge train through the Centovalli to Locarno and to the Val Grande National Park. Napoleon's eager sub-friends built the road over the Simplon in 1805, the rail station here was built in 1888 to communicate with Milan, and in 1906 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel from Switzerland made Domodossola an international stop.

Merchants' houses on the main market square. They look to date from the late 15th century.

There are 18,500 inhabitants now, and on this fine day, strolling about their almost-car-free historic old town, they all seem happy.

Views of the Piazza Mercato


And ditto ditto

Ice cream and balloons. The Balloon Master is furtively addressing potential clients on the right.

His hands move fast in inexplicable ways, but he's just accidentally popped three in a row, poor man.

Persian carpets for a song

The 15th century market place

In late afternoon light

In September 1944, whilst the Allies' armies were doing whatever they were doing in the south, Domodossola partisans rose up behind German lines against the German army and Mussolini's last-ditch "social republic" in the north, and I think that that building may have been the headquarters of their Free Republic of Ossola. The Free Republic was recognized as a sovereign nation by Switzerland and a number of international diplomats based in Switzerland, and it lasted about 40 days before the Germans succeeded in doing what, in those days, they did best.

The square facing the Palazzo Silva, a 14th century house now housing a museum of early local and Egyptian artefacts.

An herbalist and sort-of-pharmacy

Evocative street scene

We're in front of the Collegiate Church of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, an 18th century big something or other . . .

. . . and there's a dead body hung up in that alcove.

-- Don't listen to a word he says.

Art restorers

The view from the church

Street scene in the Motta district, the historic old town

Trees make such a mess everywhere

Street scene, with Kristin

A view of the older church and the same from . . .

. . . round the other side.


Ancient larch wood balconies dating from medieval times, and some ladies in burqas who've come along more recently.

Kristin and larch balconies, burqa folks

Street scene

The Trattoria La Motta on the right, named for the historic old neighborhood

-- Thinking of selling, are you?

The Piazza Fontana

The Pizza Fontana again

One is taking a short cut.

Another short cut

The Piazza Mercato again, as we head back towards the hotel near the station. Perhaps the greatest attraction near Domodossola is the 17th century Sacro Monte Calvario up in the hills -- it is one of the nine spectacles included in the World Heritage List as the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy in 2003. We didn't march up the pilgrimage trail to visit this one, but here are our views of the Sacri Monti at Orta and at Varallo.

That's Switzerland up there. First thing tomorrow.

Back to the hotel for a fine dinner in the restaurant, and an early train in the morning . . . well, before noon.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 11 July2013.

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