Montorfano (794 m) is a hill made of white granite, situated directly between the lakes Maggiore and Mergozzo. The latter had originally been a part of Lake Maggiore and has later been separated from it by alluvial deposits of its inflow river Toce. Today Mergozzo lake is one of the cleanest lakes in northern Italy (perfect for swimming in summer). A walk around Montorfano is like time travel: already the Romans used Montorfano as a quarry. The different techniques of breaking the granite are visible on the stones left along the route. Think Stazione Centrale or the baroque arcades portici in Turin – the contribution of Montorfano cannot be overlooked. Those climbing and walking around Montorfano find an open-air museum spiced with grand views onto Lake Maggiore – even on a sunny winter day.
Mont’orfano – orphan mountain – is the name of a village as well. In Montorfano village you will find a very old Romanesque church. At the same spot there has been a church since the 6th century as the find of an early Christian baptistery shows. At its south side you will find the foundation walls of a Carolingian basilica.
Secrets of the quarry workers
Grey, peppered with dark spots and grained, this is how I picture granite. Granite, granum in Latin for ‚grain‘, is an igneous rock mainly consisting quartz, mica and feldspar. ‘To be as hard as granite’ comes to mind, granite being associated with hardness, toughness. No wonder that I want to know, how granite is cut! One of the oldest techniques to cut this stone uses wooden wedges which are stuck into especially prepared holes in the stone. The wedges soaked with water and expanded thus releasing a block of stone.
The Punciotti-technique which has been introduced later used metal bits which were introduced along the natural rupture line of the granite and worked on with hammers until a crack appeared. These blocks possessed more precise accurate break lines. At the end of the 18th century gunpowder began to be used. Deeps holes were created in the stone using iron drill bits that were then filled with gunpowder and powder fuse and closed with clay soil. Since the 1970s only small amounts of gunpowder are inserted into holes forming a continuous line that way breaking the blocks off the wall precisely and entirely.
Panoramic vision from the top of Montorfano
During the comfortable ascension hikers have a splendid view onto Lake Maggiore and its feeder river Toce, the Borromean Gulf with the islands and Verbania already.
If I follow the Toce northwards I see the beginning of the Ossola valley, framed by the Corni di Nibbio on the right, forming the border to Val Grande Nationalpark LINK. At the beginning of Ossola valley I find a serpentine road leading up to Cavandone marble quarry, supplying construction of the Milan Duomo from the beginning of construction in the 14th century until today.
Linea Cadorna – The Cadorna line
At the summit at a light snow cover we find a couple of old bunkers that belong to the Linea Cadorna, the Cadorna line, a defence line built between 1914 and 1916. Its was the idea of Luigi Cadorna, chief of general staff of the Italian army. After Italy’s switching of sides during the First World War the general from Pallanza feared a German invasion of Italy entering through rather unprepared for defence Switzerland. To protect his home country Cadorna ordered the erection of a 700 km long defence line comprised of 400 km mule tracks and 300 km military roads, as well as trenches and artillery emplacements. The construction served as an excellent stimulation and investments measure, the tracks and streets serve for comfortable hiking and great mountain biking today.