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The History of Villa Helios, Lugano, Switzerland

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Lake Lugano, the city of Lugano, and San Salvatore, one of the many mountains in and around Lugano

I’ve been gone on holidays (thus the lack of posting – I DO know how to leave work behind… well, almost), and thought I’d write about a place I’ve come to know over the years:  My in-laws have a holiday flat with an amazing view over Lago di Lugano here in Switzerland, and we’ve come for a week nearly every year for the past 20 years.  The photo shows part of our view (I’d have to do a panorama shot as our view goes from Casserate to Caprino), and for as many years we’d looked down upon Villa Helios, watching her rot away like an abandoned old lady.  I don’t know her history; it may be one of the dozens of cases around Lugano in which there is an inheritance squabble, and the property is shut up until the cases are settled; if the parties pass away in the meantime and the issue of inheritance goes to a new generation that frankly doesn’t want to be saddled with a decaying mansion with pretensions of palace, it continues to sit. A few years ago we were pleased to see that at long last, renovation had begun.  And it continues still; the exterior is beginning to take shape, though as far as I can tell the inside has a long, long, long way to go.  I have heard through the grapevine that it is intended to become individual apartments, which will take some major work inside to divide up, wire, add plumbing and create separate entrances.

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The dome of Villa Helios

Precisely because we’ve looked out over the villa for more than 20 years, speculated, wondered, and asked questions of the passing hawks because no one else seemed to have any answers, my writer’s curiosity took over and began to form a novel; I work on it when we’re down there as a nice change of pace from my other novels and writing projects.

I do know that the villa was designed by architect Otto Maraini, who was born in Lugano on 8 November 1863, and died there 16 January 1944. Helios Villa in Castagnola was built in 1901-1902, including a series of walls and terraces that formed part of the lake shore. I came across a few historical photos at arteeidee – thank you for sharing these old magazine photos (“The modern building” monthly magazine of architecture and construction practice, August 1904)!  Check out that blog post for the older photos (click on them to enlarge); The photos I’ve added here are current shots. For the writers out there, find an interesting old building in your own area, research into its history, and create a story with the building as one of the characters and not merely a location.

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Villa Helios, as seen from the lake

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The terraced walls leading down toward the lake shore

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The front entrance of Villa Helios, under construction

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