The beginnings

There are no certain dates as to when pink granite quarrying started in Baveno. Tradition narrates that St Charles Borromeo “discovered” the quarry quite by accident at the beginning of the 16th century. What is certain is that it is thanks to the Borromeo family, the feudal overlords of the territory, that Baveno granite began to be widely used in public and religious buildings of significant artistic prowess in Milan, such as the pillared portico of the Lazzaretto (1506), the Church of St. Fedele (1570), the Seminario Maggiore (1572) and the loggias of the Brera Palace. The relationship between Baveno and the Lombard capital of Milan became closer and closer, thanks to the waterways, ideal for transportation and already well-tested by Candoglia marble.

The quarries were to be found, as they still are today, in what was known as the “angolo della voltata” (the “corner curve”) or, rather, the stretch of the Simplon road between Baveno and the hamlet of Feriolo which embraced the total environmental context of the slopes of Mount Camoscio and of the isolated step called Motto del Castello. Statistics from Baveno-based companies reveal a maximum of sixteen quarries open on the flanks of Mottarone.


The Nineteenth Century and Nicola Della Casa

The golden age of the Baveno “picasass” or stonemasons was the second half of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century with important dynasties of granite quarriers like the Adami, Bernasconi, Cirla, Della Casa, Galli, Polli and Tamini families.

The merit of introducing industrial production methods and modern-style marketing techniques with exports all over Europe and to the Americas, goes to the businessmn Nicola Della Casa (1843-1894). The Della Casas began quarrying granite in Baveno in 1874 and, by 1879, their business had gained the honorary title of “premiata ditta” (award-winning company), with the distinction of the use of the royal coat of arms.

 Della Casa gained the “great diploma of honour” because he had been “the first in Italy to apply mechanization to granite quarrying”: he was, in fact, the first of the local entrepeneurs to introduce a steam boiler to shift the polishing lathes and he was among the first to experiment the use of mines in cavities.

Della Casa also recognized the need to open-up markets at an international level, the importance of being able to speak foreign languages and the value of experimentation with new and constantly faster means of transport: all this led him to open offices in various capital cities in both Europe and America.


From the 1900s to the Present Day

In the 1900s, the Cirla Company took over from the Della Casa in the sales of granite around the world. They had been involved in the working of stone since the 17th Century and, in the 1860s, the Cirlas bought a few granite quarries in Baveno and on Montorfano Mergozzo), opening their business premises in Gravellona Toce.

In 1883, the company began use mechanical lathes to produce columns for monuments and churches, including the celebrated quadriportico colonnades of the church of St- Paul-Outside-the-Walls in Rome, (1892-1928) and the column for the monument of Christopher Columbus in New York (1892).

In the ensuing years, the business developed to include the supply of numerous monuments for Central and South America but also monuments in the Far East, such as the Royal Palace of Bangkok (1908-1913).

After a pause due to the Second World War, the granite industry which, among other things was producing mill-wheels and bases for oil presses, found new energy in the high demand for thin granite sheets for countertops and other coverings.


It is estimated that more than one million square metres of stone have been extracted from the Baveno granite quarries so far.


Today quarrying continues in the Seula and Scala dei Ratti quarries, run since 1989 by the AGIFIN company. Besides the classic quarrying of ornamental stone, AGIFIN also has massive mining activity with the recovery of quarry waste from which feldspars are extracted to be used in the pottery industry or tha is used for concrete, asphalt, bituminous coating, railway ballast and different textures of gravel.


Granite in Art

Alongside the quarrying and processing of granite for the building sector and thanks to the high level of skill achieved by the “piccasass” or stonemasons, a field of production connected to the artistic working of granite and other types of stone developed.

For example, a local Baveno man, Raffaele Polli, born in 1937, worked with his father and uncle in the family business which started in 1920 to create important monuments such as the statue of Winged Victory (“Vittoria Alata”) in the American Cemetery on the Via Cassia (1958) or the monument to the Normandy invasion at Colleville sur mer (1958). In this way, he learned his craft and he continued a path of personal artistic development that led him to create his own original works, sometimes with the help of his brother, Luigi. Examples in Baveno are the “Stonecutter’s Monument” and the “Crystallization of Granite”.

Pink granite was also chosen by artists of international fame like Giò Pomodoro (19230-2002), who worked granite to create his sculpture “Ad Sidera” in the Taino park (VS) (1989).

Panels of pink Baveno granite have also been used for the fountain created by the Swiss sculptor Dominique Appia for the Rolex headquarters in Geneva (1933).

Today, the Baveno brothers, Marcello e Fortunato Marchi are active artisans in granite. One of their famous works is the sculpting of the Swiss artist Nancy Guggenheim’s creation for the Winter Olympic games at Pragelato in 2006.

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