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Submerged Italian Village Briefly Resurfaces After 70 Years Underwater

Construction work revealed the foundations of Curon, a historic alpine town, for the first time since 1950

This July 9, 2020, photograph shows a 14th-century bell tower peeking out of Lake Resia in northern Italy. The building—and the historic town it once stood in—were submerged in an artificial lake in 1950 to generate power for a nearby hydroelectric plant. (Photo by Miguel Medina / AFP)
smithsonianmag.com

A picturesque body of water framed by snowcapped mountains, Lake Resia might strike the casual viewer as a beautiful scene typical to northern Italy. But one structure belies the lake’s strange history: a 14th-century bell tower that bizarrely juts out of the water’s blue-green depths.

The steeple hints at what lies beneath the surface: namely, Curon, an Italian village that was flooded by the government in 1950 to create an artificial lake. Last week, reports BBC News, remnants of the submerged town were once again exposed to the elements after construction crews temporarily drained part of the 72-foot-deep lake, marking the first time the lost village has reemerged in some seven decades.

As Artnet News reports, social media users circulated eerie images of the town’s exposed walls, stone steps, cellars, eroded archways and other features. The temporary dry spell is likely the first of its kind, though Atlas Obscura notes that the lake was marginally drained in 2009 to fix cracks that had formed along the sides of the tower.

The 14th-century bell tower of Curon in the winter of 2005 (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
The old church tower rises above Lake Resia in 2011. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
This postcard from the 1940s depicts Curon, a village in northwestern Italy that was submerged in 1950 to create an artificial lake for a nearby hydroelectric plant. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The bizarre sunken village sits in South Tyrol, a mountainous Alpine province nestled at the intersection of Italy, Austria and Switzerland. According to a separate report by BBC News’ Bethany Bell, Italy annexed South Tyrol from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1919, at the end of World War I. Most people in the region are native German speakers.

After the annexation, Benito Mussolini’s Italian government forged ahead with a plan to flood the area between two neighboring basins and create Lake Resia, writes Philip Willan for the London Times. Although work was delayed by the outbreak of World War II, officials eventually came up with a design that would provide power for a nearby hydroelectric plant.

Despite local pushback, the project moved forward. Almost 150 families—about 1,000 people—were displaced by the flooding, per estimates from the official tourism website for the nearby Reschen Pass.

As the Times reports, the mostly German-speaking villagers of Curon struggled to understand the Italian-language plans for their village’s submersion, only recognizing its impact when it was too late. All residents were offered small sums to relocate to a nearby town, Curon Ventosa, but nearly half of the city’s population was forced to emigrate as a result of losing their homes.

The eerie drowned village inspired a 2018 novel, Resto Qui by Italian author Marco Balzano, and a 2020 Netflix thriller television series, “Curon.” Per the Times, Balzano reflected in his book that the story of Curon represents “a problematic memory that spreads from that tiny village to the rest of Italy, taking us back to difficult times.”

In recent decades, the bell tower poking out of the lake has drawn tourists from around the world. When the water freezes over in the winter, visitors can walk up and touch the historic bell tower, notes Atlas Obscura.

Other bizarre remnants of 20th-century history are scattered throughout the South Tyrol region. During World War I, reported Michele Gravino for National Geographic in 2014, Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops fought perilous battles at high altitudes in and around many of the region’s famous mountain passes, even tunneling barracks in the sides of glaciers. Today, tourists can still spy derelict pieces of cableway, bridges and cliffside bases throughout the frigid Alps.

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