All that is left of old Curon today is the bell tower which rises from the surface of lake Resia. It is sobering to think that the foundations of the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria are also down there, underwater. When the lake freezes over in the winter, one can walk to the bell tower. It is said that every now and again, when it snows, the bells ring: a fascinating story given that the bells were removed from the tower before the area was flooded. There’s another story with a similar air of legend, referred to me by a certain Tommaso who I met in a bar in new Curon Venosta. While of course I can’t know the truth of it, he told me that while he was painting the bell tower that emerges from the water, he spotted a light in the depths. A mysterious mermaid grabbed hold of him and pulled him down into the lake. I burst out laughing at this but then…
Instead of drowning, he was taken by the mermaid to old Curon. He described it to me in the tiniest of details: it was very different to the village now which was rebuilt slightly higher up the slope, and it seemed to him to be suspended in time. He told me about the people and places he saw: he seems to have lived there for some time before witnessing the excavation and flooding.
Many of the places he described are now lost in the depths of the lake. Others, however, have been reconstructed, in particular, the two hotels: Traube Post and the Goldener Adler. As a resident of the area, I have never slept in either but they will clearly be different today to how they were. I would be curious to stay there a night or two, perhaps I would experience some of the feelings Tommaso shared with me. For him, old Curon has become a second home of sorts.
Meanwhile, the Church of Sant’Anna is still standing. Today it offers a stunning, picturesque view of the lake and bell tower and can be reached by a path that leaves from the parking lot outside the sunken tower. The church dates to 1521 but Tommaso visited it just before the village was flooded, therefore in 1950 or thereabouts. It is a place resonant with history, the façade was frescoed by Giorgio Martire in 1600s. A piece of the Renaissance that looks over our recent past: a journey through time in the blink of an eye. Tommaso would sit on a nearby bench and chat with Ida, the woman who gave him hospitality in Curon. The bodies buried in the old village cemetery were transferred to the new one near the little church: the place where they lived has gone forever but their present resting place overlooks the lake.
The church by the bell tower was not as lucky as Sant’Anna and was destroyed and sunk with the rest of the village. The present-day Parish Church of St. Catherine inherited its name. Tomaso told me that he met the Parish priest Alfred Rieper, in situ since 1939, who fought ceaselessly to stop the village being flooded. Sadly, his best efforts failed. The priest died in 1996 but a plaque in the new Church of St. Catherine records the importance he had for the community.
As Tommaso’s story gets nearer to the evacuation and flooding of the village, it becomes increasingly dark. Those who remember today, who were kids at the time, have bitter memories, the only feasible reaction for someone forced to leave the home where they have always lived. Tommaso talks of those moments with sadness and compassion. Many had to leave their homes. Not only the inhabitants of old Curon but also those who lived in an area of Resia on the north bank of the lake. Part of the village was flooded and rebuilt higher up the slope, just like Curon.
Today the two residential centres, combined into a single municipality, tell the same story: for those who know how to listen, they are the symbol of a past that cannot be ignored or hidden, one that should not be forgotten. Heading up towards the source of the river Adige, just steps from the border with Austria, almost as a reminder of time’s past, one comes across Bunker 20, the first of nine bunkers built by Mussolini to deter a Nazi invasion. Today a museum, the clear sound of rushing water from the nearby river can be heard inside.
Some days ago, inspired by newfound curiosity, I went to visit the Museum of Alta Val Venosta in the former town hall of Curon Venosta. I had not been there for some time. Amidst old farming equipment and sacred objects, I saw photographs of the village before and after the flooding and frescoes by a local painter Antoni Jäger that resembled those described by Tommaso. And there was more. There was a model, a little model of the village as it was before. All the buildings, their position, details, people… everything Tommaso told me.