Built by the Longobards just before the year 1000, Rocca di Arona (Arona fort) rises in a strategic position on a high ground dominating Lake Maggiore. This pleasant location was chosen as a function of the defensive purpose for which it was built. In ancient times when it was being constructed, it – along with Rocca di Angera (Angera fort) across the way – was to be one of the main areas for controlling the region.
Initially only used for defensive purposes, over the centuries it has been transferred among archbishops and finally took on the role of simple refuge for Milanese bishops fleeing the city. It was almost completely destroyed at the hands of the House of Della Torre. In 1227, it once again became property of the Visconti who immediately started rebuilding it. In 1439, the rocca –together with the entire municipality - was transferred as a fief by Filippo Maria Visconti to Vitaliano Borromeo (later the latter was also given the title of count). It remained in his family for four centuries. Future cardinal and saint Carlo Borromeo was born 2 October 1538, in the camera dei tre laghi (chamber of three lakes).
This solemn building’s sad conclusion of history took place in 1800, when Napoleon's army - victorious in the battle of Marengo - destroyed several forts occupied by the Austrians, including the one in Arona. Stendhal, who had the chance to assist at the demolition, described it with these words: "an impregnable fortress encircled by five walls that render access impossible, with a tall slender tower topped by a waving flag".
Only a few ruins now remain (the circular keeps once connected by the walls) as testimony to its ancient grandeur, able to first survive - medieval battles and later the passing of the Napoleonic army. Only one project mentioned in the documents in the historic archives of the Borromeo family allows us to imagine how the gardens must have been between the fortress and the medieval town, between the main door and the tower of the Innocenti. They most likely included four terraces connected by double rows of steps, presided by a baroque temple. An artificial grotto was likely positioned just outside the walls, which marked the property. However the project was never completed, perhaps due to the significant military expenses sustained.
Since 2002, the Rocca di Arona is no longer open to the public, but visitors can stop in the well-equipped public park surrounding it, after which they can return to Arona or continue on a tour of Stresa while stopping in the picturesque towns along the Riviera, or ascend the upper Vergante area to reach Mount Mottarone.