The people of Arona affectionately call it "sancarlone", an expression that well defines the imposing dimensions of the statue depicting Saint Charles Borromeo. A colossus that has dominated the city of Arona for centuries.
While observing the Colossus of San Carlo from below, it is hard to believe that this gigantic statue dates back to the distant seventeenth century. What is now a tourist attraction with a strong scenic impact was once an icon of religious devotion, a tribute to a beloved protagonist of Catholic culture. Born to an illustrious family in 1538 in the fortress of Arona, a fortified structure later destroyed by order of Napoleon, San Carlo Borromeo became bishop and cardinal at just twenty-two years of age. After a meteoric ecclesiastical career, he was appointed archbishop of Milan, a city for which he worked intensely, dedicating himself to assisting the poor and the sick, especially in the difficult years of famine and plague.
Only a few years after his death, San Carlo became a legendary figure: he was beatified very quickly and the aura of myth grew around him. For this reason it was decided to pay homage to him by having a large statue built, a grandiose work based on a design by Giovan Battista Crespi known as "il Cerano". The sculptors Siro Zanella and Bernardo Falconi, who created the copper parts, slightly modified the original design and increased its proportions.
35 meters high, the grandiose statue is supported by a core of stone, brick and iron, while on the outside it is made up of copper plates hammered onto the support structure and joined together by means of nails and tie rods. San Carlo is represented standing, in a cassock, with rochet and mozzetta, in the act of blessing the city with his right hand, while with his left arm he holds a book close to his body. In the rear part of the pedestal, two iron spiral staircases allow you to reach the balcony. Here, between the folds of the saint's robe, a door opens through which it is possible to climb to the top, via steep vertical stairs.
Climbing inside the colossus is an incredible experience: walking inside the "body" of the saint and reaching his head, allows you to look out through some holes that correspond to the eyes, nostrils and ears of the saint, from which it is possible to look outside and admire a vast panorama that embraces the entire lake basin.
Not everyone knows that Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty, stayed in the city of Arona in order to study the structure of the colossus. At the foot of the New York statue, a plaque reminds us that it was built on the model of the Colossus of Arona, from which it took away the record of tallest statue in the world.