The sunken bell tower of Curon casts a ghostly spell over the waters of Lago di Resia. It seems to be looking at you as much as you are looking at it. In this post, we share the mystery behind this 14th-century enigma and how you can experience her eerie enchantment.
More than 60,000 churches adorn Italy. Many take your breath away with their grand beauty while others arouse a sigh, kindled by their pastoral charm. But none captivate you like the one spiring from the depths of a lake in South Tyrol.
The partially submerged church tower of Curon (commonly referred to as the Campanile di Curon) stands in stark contrast to the polished jade of Lago di Resia. The largest lake in South Tyrol, Lago di Resia (also known as Reschensee, Reschen Lake and Lake Resia) lies in the mountain-rimmed region of Val Venosta (Vinschgau) near the border of Switzerland and Austria.
When admiring the tower from the shore one can’t help but wonder what lies beneath. The history books will tell you: the village of Curon (Graun). A local, on the other hand, will tell you: heartache.
All in the Name Of…
You might think the sunken bell tower of Curon is the result of some natural calamity. Perhaps a Pompeii-like tragedy centuries ago. But in actuality, the tower is only underwater in the name of modern-day “progress”.
In 1950, despite furious resistance from residents and even a plea from the Pope, governmental authorities allowed the Montecatini energy company to flood the valley to merge two natural lakes, Mittersee and Reschensse, into one massive artificial lake, which would support a hydroelectric plant.
However, the two smaller lakes were not the project’s only flood victims. The picturesque villages of Curon, Arlung, Piz, Gorf, Stockerhofe and parts of Reschen along with nearly 1,300 acres of fertile farmland were swallowed up by the reservoir. The livelihoods of around 1,000 villagers were forever changed and 163 homes along with 120 farms disappeared beneath the waves.
Sadder still, the government’s compensation for such immense loss was paltry. Families were forced to flee the land of their ancestors and resettle on the slope of Klopaierspitze, a mountain above Curon, or make a home elsewhere in South Tyrol and beyond.
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The Desolation of Curon
Prior to the flooding, the Montecatini energy company commissioned explosives to be set off in the villages to demolish the homes, storefronts, inns and taverns, as well as the historic Church of St. Catherine in the heart of Curon. However, not all of it was sentenced to rubble. The Romanesque bell tower of the church dates to the 14th century, therefore, it was of too much historical value to destroy.
Before the demolition of Curon, residents were tasked with the grim burden of relocating their deceased loved ones from the cemetery of St. Catherine’s to a cemetery by the Church of St. Anna, located on a hill above the doomed village. On Sunday, July 16 at 8:00 p.m. the silvery voice of St. Catherine was heard for the last time. Her bells rang for half an hour then fell silent. They were removed from the tower before the blasts began on July 23.
Those who heard the bell tower ring out Curon’s farewell say it was unforgettable. Also, unforgettable was watching the flood waters advance day by day into the valley — the creeping death of countless dreams and a way of life held dear. The memory haunts many to this day.
When the waters stopped rising, newly born Lago di Resia held 31.7 billion gallons of fresh water or 120 million cubic meters. It stretched nearly four miles (9 km) transforming the appearance of the valley from end to end. The mighty breath of Mt. Ortler no longer made the face of the land sway with hues of green and gold, but ripple a sky blue. And the bell tower of Curon no longer stood a holy icon of a beloved village, but as a stark stone testament to the price of heartless progress.
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The Legend of the Curon Bell Tower
In a land where lore and legends are as lavish as the snow-capped peaks, it’s no surprise the heartbreaking fate of Curon would spawn its own folktale.
According to legend, in the bleakness of winter, when the night winds of Ortler howl like a raving pack of wolves, one can hear the bells ringing in the tower. Some say if you are one of the unlucky souls to catch a whisper of the tower tolling, death soon follows. But rest easy, there is not an official record of anyone dying after hearing the bells.
As you may be aware, Lago di Resia and its sunken bell tower have gained renewed interest due to the supernatural series “Curon” on Netflix. Much of the series was filmed in and around Curon and it tells the chilling tale of a mother originally from Curon who disappears after returning to the town with her two children. The legend of the Curon bell tower supposedly inspired the writers of the series.
How to Visit Lago di Resia & the Sunken Bell Tower oF Curon
Given the striking sight of the Curon bell tower standing stoic amid a sea of green and blue, the attraction lands on many travelers’ bucket lists. Several come to Lago di Resia simply to admire it from the shore, snap a selfie and leave. That is a mistake.
Lago di Resia and this corner of Val Venosta offer so much more to see. The ancient imperial road called Via Claudia Augusta still runs through the region after all. It was built nearly 2,000 years ago by the Romans.
Our advice is to spend at least a couple of nights in the area to enjoy a bit of the natural and historic splendor all around. If you visit in the summer and fall, you can take advantage of incredible hiking and biking opportunities high above the lake where you can soak in some of the best views in South Tyrol.
A 9-mile trail (15 km) also circles the lake that we recommend walking in the morning or early evening. The stroll enthralls by pairing mountain views with the shimmer of Lago di Resia.
Lago di Resia itself offers a bounty of recreational activities. You can rent kayaks and pedal boats to float about the lake or try mastering the mountain winds by kitesurfing and windsurfing.
If you visit Lago di Resia in the winter, you can actually walk across the frozen lake to the Curon bell tower. An even more delightful way to reach the tower is on ice skates, which can be rented nearby. If ice skating is too tame for your tastes, consider hitting the groomed slopes above the lake. Several ski resorts are located along the Reschen Pass offering an abundance of downhill skiing and snowboarding opportunities.
We recently stayed at the Chalet am Reschensee — an authentic Tyrolean hunting lodge hidden in a forest above Lago di Resia. Its location was perfect for exploring the area and its cozy warm ambiance charmed our lederhosen right off.
For those that do not have the time to spend more than a day at Lago di Resia, we recommend arriving early and parking at the large lot located directly across from the bell tower (navigate to Campanile di Curon Venosta Vecchia). There is no fee to park.
Be sure to trek up the nearby hill to the Church of St. Anna where you can enjoy a sweeping panorama of the lake and tower. If you decide to walk around Lago di Resia, plan on 4 hours. We also recommend bringing a light jacket as it can get chilly if the alpine winds are roaring over the water.
If you would like to explore the history of the submerged village of Curon, consider visiting the Alta Val Venosta Museum in the re-established village located upslope from the bell tower.