One hour north of Milan lies one of the world’s most stunning lake settings, positioned along the Italian and Swiss Alps. At 1,394 feet, the iconic Lake Como is considered the deepest Lake in Italy.
There is more beauty to be found in Lake Como, besides the magnificent historical villas, celebrity residents, and stunning views. Diving below the deep, frigid waters of Lake Como, you will discover one of the world’s most amazing collections of preserved historical items. Various regions of the Lake include a large collection of wrecks ranging from steamships, boats, and motorcycles to WWII tanks, weapons, unexploded bombs, seaplanes, and a large car cemetery.
Reading the testimonies of divers and geologists, I came to discover that in certain points of the lakebed in the Bellagio area, there are pinnacles with strange holes, walls of rock with deep cracks full of fishes, and big trees complete with branches and roots, seemingly another world below the surface.
I enlisted the help of Lake Como expert Laura Zanotta with Lakeside Real Estate, a popular real estate agency in Lake Como founded by her sister Sara. Laura connected me with many of the leading divers, geologists, and experts to discuss the mysteries beneath the lake.
CARS, TANKS, BOMBS, AND MORE
Many divers marvel at the large collection of sunken boats, gondolas, and even a large steamship, many appearing frozen in time. A huge museum of cars frozen in time includes; a Mini, a Renault 4, a Volkswagen Passat, Fiat 500, Jaguar, Piaggio mopeds, Fantic Issimo, and a Land Cruiser. In Lenno, there is talk of a church that was submerged in 1400 near Golfo di Venere. Explorers have discovered tiled floor, steps and in 2006, a holy water stoup was recovered.
Underwater biologist Emilio Mancuso tells me, “In the Lecco area, there is a small place called Moregallo, it is a very deep diving spot with a 50-meter vertical drop off which was used to sink cars. Thanks to the drop-off, the first cars are at about 40-48 meters depth, so you must be a technical diver if you want to see the deepest ones. The lake in the past was always used to “hide” objects, and due to that, some places suffered environmentally.”
According to professional diver Paolo Bonfiglio, “Many spots of Lake Como hold interesting objects, from different historical periods; the most common sunken objects are cars. It’s indeed easy to find many different models of vintage cars and motorcycles along the shore, especially close to tunnels. These are mainly stolen vehicles.”
“The most famous place is Moregallo, on the East coast,” he continues. “Many divers love this place, arriving from different cities every week to explore its cold waters, where around 50 vehicles have been mapped so far, especially at below 40 meters deep. On the opposite shore of the lake near Dervio and Melgone, other cars have been found, including a BMW 525 and a Fiat 124 Coupé Alfa Sprint Veloce. In Olcio (not far from Moregallo), military equipment and weapons from WWII can be found. In the Lecco branch, close to Parè and Onno, an Italian war tank is almost completely covered by the mud of the lake floor, complete with bullets, bombs, and cannons. People also talk about seaplanes sunken by the local Como Aero Club at the end of WWII, a motorboat of Mussolini’s, and many vehicles and weapons from the war (especially close to villages of Onno, Melgone and Parè).”
Professional diver and instructor Danilo Bernasconi says, “You can find pretty much everything in Lake Como: washing machines, cars, many tires, household furnishings, but also war armaments. In several spots of the lake, there are bombs, hand grenades but also very heavy anti-aircraft bombs. All these war relics date back to the end of WWII when the Germans threw their weapons into the lake after a ceasefire before returning to their country. Lake Como is incredibly large and deep, and the Germans got rid of A LOT of material.”
“Lake Como collects everything that is thrown into it,” says scuba diver, videographer, and photographer Antonio Bertelé. “There is a tank complete with a trailer, and several comballi cargo ships, in the shape of a flat-bottomed walnut shell and equipped with a sail. A sensational case was the sinking of the Plinio, a steamer powered by two paddle wheels from the early 1900s and decommissioned in the 1960s. The ship was parked for decades on the lake; it was then moved to Lake Mezzola, connected to Lake Como by the river Mera. A stormy day in 2010 ended up sinking sadly to the muddy bottom at a depth of 45 meters. As soon as it happened, a couple of peasants and I went in vain in search of it, stopped by visibility close to zero.”
LEGENDARY CREATURES AND TREASURE
Tales of a sea monster in Lake Como have existed for decades, says Paolo Bonfiglio, “Being the deepest lake in Italy, Lake Como is for sure a place full of mystery and not fully explored. Similar to Lockness, Como has its own legendary monster: the “Lariosauro” (from “Lario”, the other name of Lake Como). The story of Lariosauro started in 1830 when fossils of this ancient reptile creature were found on the shore of the lake. In 1946, two local hunters saw a strange water creature from the shore, quickly disappearing to the center of the lake when they tried to shoot it. Compared to the fossil found 80 years earlier, this creature was ten times larger. After eight years of silence, in 1954, another creature has been seen swimming by two locals. The story became more interesting when, three years later, a biologist saw an underwater creature, similar to the original fossil, by using a bathysphere (submersible). More recently, in 2003, some fishermen spoke of another creature, more similar to a 10m long sea snake. Other interesting tales are about Isola Comacina (a small wooded island in the lake). It seems likely that the Holy Grail reached this place thanks to Giuseppe d’Arimatea in AD 589, and it was protected there until AD 603.“
According to Antonio Bertelé, “The Lariosaurus was about 1 meter long, with an elongated neck that supported a triangular head, with the mouth fitted with two rows of sharp teeth. It was, in fact, a carnivore. Its remains were found in 1830 in Perledo, a town on the eastern shore, and at that time, the climate of the area was tropical, and the Alps had not yet risen to become the mountain range we know. It is certainly unlikely that the reptile has survived unscathed through the geological eras that have upset our area. Some fish lived in the lake that could create fright, such as the Labdan sturgeon, which had a decidedly not very reassuring appearance and was truly remarkable in size. Unfortunately, today it is extinct. The catfish, originally from the Danube and illegally introduced into our waters in the last years of the last century, also becomes an increasingly sensational possession of the local habitat, also because it has no natural enemies. In the Lario, it is more difficult to gain dominance because it does not like depth, but in the Como area, specimens of over 1.5 meters have already been fished. Will he be the next candidate to represent the Lariosaurus?”
BEST DIVING SPOTS
There are numerous locations around the lake where divers love to explore, and experts have their own personal favorites. According to scuba diver and freediver Lorenzo Venturini, “My favorite dive is in Menaggio, in Nobiallo; not far from the shore, where there is a very white wall, with rocks and spikes, which starts from 20 to over 80 meters. It is only suitable for experienced divers due to the depth and the absence of points of reference to the depths of the lake. Since the lake is very deep and a good portion still unexplored in its depths, it is possible that there may be some underwater caves that bring new findings (and I hope to be one of the lucky ones).”
Cave expert / Speleologist Luigi Casati tells me, “I consider Moregallo the best place to dive in Lake Como, thanks to its mix of characteristics that make it attractive for many different divers. Despite this part of the lake being famous for many sunken cars and motorcycles, it’s also possible to find amazing stone walls that fall to the depth of the lake, making this place very exciting for high depth divers. Just a few hundred meters away from the sunken cars of Moregallo, there are many different objects discovered, including a sailboat, speedboats, an Ape cross, and much more. Every time I go, I manage to see something new and unexpected.”
Professional diver and instructor Danilo Bernasconi says, “One of my favorite dives is the Brienno Canyon. Just outside the tunnel of this beautiful village and below the surface, a channel starts: it descends vertically towards the depth. It is the vertical bed of an imposing mountain stream that in the postglacial era left a deep groove of up to 8 meters on the side of the mountain. In diving on this site, you go down vertically to the desired depth, and the more you go down, the more beautiful it is, clean of mud and sediment and immersed in crystal clear water. Personally, I did a dive and let myself be carried down to a depth of -146 meters. The most beautiful spot is at -100: tortuous, deep, and living rock. That is the underwater landscape below the surface.”
Antonio Bertelé says, “I am most fascinated by the overhanging white rocks up to where the light of the LED torches reaches, essential for diving in the lake. The ravines always offer something new to discover, and the ledges can offer particular views. You can make another fascinating dive, called “Le guglie” as the rocks resemble the spires of a cathedral or the Dolomites. Near Bellagio, there is another noteworthy site, Limonta. Here the rocks have stratifications colorful in the light of the torches and twisted in such an incredible way.”
One of the best sources of underwater discovery in Lake Como is Centro Sub Nettuno. This is the oldest scuba/diving association of Lake Como, dating back to 1967. Filled with professional divers and photographers, they hold a wealth of knowledge about the underwater world.
Carlo Noce, a technical diving instructor with 50-years of experience of diving in the lake, tells me, “My favorite dive is ‘The Spiles’, located in the Lecco branch, in Melgone. Here you find three fantastic white rock towers emerging from a bottom of below 52 meters up to reach an altitude of around 20 meters. The dive takes place by pinking in a slow ascent through the three towers and reaching the starting point running the western wall of Lecco branch, where it’s possible to admire a statue considered the protector of scuba divers.”
Instructor Angelo Meroni, says “The dives I prefer are the Lierna wall and the one called “del Camioncino” located close to Fiumelatte. My best findings: a gold set (necklace and bracelet) and a submachine gun from World War II, but also a lot of nautical equipment (from ropes to anchors).” Instructor Vincenzo De Girolamo, says “I like to focus on a place where there is a spectacular large limestone vein, the surface area is between Tremezzina, Villa Balbianello, and Villa Carlotta, continuing to the opposite shore of Bellagio Villa Melzi and then arriving on the shores of Moregallo (Lecco). The CSN actively participated in the recovery of the statue of Christ of the Abyss of Carate Urio.”
There are also out-of-the-water options for people interested in items that have been recovered from the depths. Massimo Gervasini, president of Centro Sub Nettuno, says underwater research continues around the Isola Comacina. “In 1973, an ossuary dating back to the 1st century AD was recovered. It’s still in the Ossuccio Antiquarium museum on the island.” Technical diving instructor Andrea Murdock Alpini says, “Not far from Menaggio, there’s a secret place, an amazing historical and traditional boat museum called: Museo Barca Lariana, founded by a private boat collector who bought and rescued hundreds of historic boats from the Lake’s oblivion. It is a must-see place, an unforgettable tour.