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The Villa


The History


Situated halfway between Moltrasio and Cernobbio, Villa Pizzo is one of the oldest manor houses on Lake Como. It takes its name from the rocky spur on which it stands: in the regional dialect Piz means point or projection. Villa Pizzo and all the annexed buildings are fully visible only from the lake. The Mugiasca family purchased the land on which the Villa stands in the 15th century. They jealously guarded Il Pizzo for over four hundred years. Among the Mugiasca estate’s many significant historical moments, it is worth recalling the plague of 1629, which is also described by Manzoni. Il Pizzo became a safe haven for many men and women fleeing from the plague-ridden towns. Taking advantage of this outbreak, the terracing on which today’s extensive gardens of Villa Pizzo are built, were achieved by employing the manpower of the many men and women then present. The renowned scientist Alessandro Volta was among the many distinguished guests who stayed at the Villa during the Mugiasca’s ownership. A commemorative monument was commissioned by the owners following his death in 1827. This is the very first historical monument dedicated to Volta. Once the Mugiasca family line died out, it was Archduke Rainer of Austria, Viceroy of the Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia, who bought the estate. Il Pizzo was the ideal refuge and getaway from the complex political events of the time. Viceroy Rainer was not alone when he arrived at Pizzo. The well-known landscape architect Villoresi, who had designed the Royal Villa in Monza, accompanied him.  He designed the unique and final layout of the vast gardens surrounding the Villa. Following the turbulent political events of the late 1800s that culminated in the uprisings of 1848, the Viceroy left the Villa. The fascinating Parisian Madame Elise Musard subsequently bought it.  Her recognizable feminine touch gave the Villa its present day appearance by painting it pink. After Madame Musard’s tragic demise, the Villa was purchased by the Volpi-Bassani family who inhabited it respecting the architectural and stylistic choices of the past, while adding elements of great value that can still be admired today. The family Mausoleum was built by the well-known architect Luca Beltrami, as was the grand dock, which overlooks the lake with its breathtaking views. The Villa’s simple and geometric architecture, with its sober decors that blend harmoniously with the gardens’ irregular and varied shapes, colours and styles, as well as its unique history and the events that followed one another over the centuries, have made Pizzo a unique abode on Lake Como.

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It all began in 1435 when Giovanni Mugiasca, a merchant from Como, bought plots of land in the Pizzo area. They were very fertile soils, with lush olive trees and vineyards. Probably a small group of dwellings built for farming the surrounding lands already existed. It is not known when the manor house was built, although it was certainly built before 1569, the year in which the manor was mentioned in a last will and testament. The Mugiasca would own it for over four centuries, until the family line died out.

SPECIANO AGAINST THE MEDEGHINO  Around 1530 a threat befell Lake Como: Gian Giacomo Medici, nicknamed “il Medeghino”, was a notoriously belligerent man, and from his fortress in Musso he decided to lay siege on the Duchy of Milan. Giovan Battista Speciano was a faithful advisor to Francesco II Sforza. He was also a clergyman, a soldier and a highly educated man. He was appointed superintendent general in the war against Medeghino, and occupied Pizzo, an ideal location to fight against the “Pirate of Lake Como”. The Mugiasca family could not oppose the forced occupation of their home by the distinguished and valiant Speciano. The Speciano family enjoyed the estate so much that until 1567, even their son Cesare often used the pretext of war to prolong his stay.


Under the Spanish domination, the spread of the plague obliged the Mugiasca family to abandon their palace

in Como and to relocate to Villa Pizzo. Here they

welcomed many citizens in search of a refuge including

a large group of belligerent mercenaries.

In order to keep tempers in check, due to this forced coexistence, the Mugiasca decided to barter man-labour with hospitality: when the body is tired, even the soul calms down. Important structural works and stonewall terraces date back to this period. Villa Pizzo began to take the shape that can be admired today.

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The beginning of the Austrian domination was also the time when Abbot Giovanni Francesco Mugiasca started living at Pizzo. He commissioned the building to the east, the so-called Oratory, so as to include vital religious functions within the residential heart of Pizzo. The oratory was later remodelled by Giacomo Mugiasca, who entrusted it to the architect Simone Cantoni, one of the greatest Lombardy architects of the period. He was known for having designed Villa Olmo close by. Giovanni, Giacomo's younger brother, was the last Mugiasca heir. For almost twenty years he enjoyed the peace and quiet of Villa Pizzo, up to his death on 14th March 1842. Having no heirs, he bequeathed the villa to the Sant'Anna Hospital.



Archduke Rainer of Austria acquired Villa Pizzo from the Sant'Anna Hospital. He was a known to be frugal man, however, he could not resist the charm of Pizzo. Here he often took refuge when political life in Milan became too complex. With the 1848 uprisings, the situation became very hostile for the Viceroy. He temporarily took refuge in Verona, entrusting Villa Pizzo to his trusted gardener Villoresi, who had designed the Royal Villa in Monza. During the Five Days of Como, two cannons were taken from Pizzo to drive out the Habsburgs from the Austrian barracks located within the city. The cannons are still preserved in the Villa today; now a silent testimony of a predominantly turbulent historical period in which Villa Pizzo took part with this important contribution.


In those days, the talk of Paris revolved around the woman at the centre of Villa Pizzo. The sophisticated and refined Madame Musard was an eccentric and attractive woman, the soul of Parisian social life, and wife to Alfredo Musard, a musician and composer of quadrilles in vogue in the French capital. Elise Musard, while sojourning on Lake Como, fell in love with Villa Pizzo and convinced her lover, King William III of Holland, to purchase the estate from the heirs of Archduke Rainer and gift it to her. Elise Musard would add a very noticeable touch of femininity to the Villa: the yellow and pink hues, the oriental-style wrought irons and the fine interior decors were her doing. But the Parisian opulence and Madame Musard's blissful life on Lake Como would not last long. The good-looking Madame Musard was accidentally stuck in the face by one of her beloved horses. This left her blind and disfigured for life. Having lost her appeal, she was abandoned by all her admirers, including King William III, for whom she became an uncomfortable and embarrassing presence. She was declared insane and locked up in an asylum, committing suicide a few years later.

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Fortunato Bassani was a Milanese merchant who bought Villa Pizzo for his daughter and bequeathed it to his son-in-law Pietro Volpi, a wealthy Milanese lawyer who, with his family, gave the estate its definitive structure. He would restore and upgrade the Villa and the gardens to their ancient splendour, respecting the architectural and artistic choices of the past. He commissioned the construction of a grand and majestic looking dock, and gave architect Beltrami, a dear friend of his, the task of building the family mausoleum, in memory of his late wife Alessandrina, who had passed away unexpectedly leaving a great void. During his prestigious career as a lawyer, Pietro Volpi defended Giuseppina Raimondi, Giuseppe Garibaldi's second wife, who was shunned by him immediately after their wedding for an alleged affair. Her father also disowned her for the great dishonour she caused him. Raimondi fell into poverty and gave Volpi, in exchange for his fees, a precious bracket clock with a carillon that is still kept at Villa Pizzo today.


Today Villa Pizzo is the sum of all those who have passed through it, who have loved it and laboured for it, leaving within the Villa and its grounds a mark of their personal and professional relationships, their style, their soul, their joys and their toils. Visiting Pizzo nowadays means basking in its history, through the periods of splendour and darkness that swept through the branches of the century old trees, the walls of the Villa and the annexed buildings.


The villa and the garden are open to the public on guided tours.

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