Villa Pliniana Spring

Useful Information

Location: Via Cesare Poggi 29, 22020 Torno.
(45.857707, 9.139600)
Open: closed.
Fee: closed.
Classification: KarstKarst Spring KarstIntermittent Spring
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Pliny the Younger (): Letters, 4.30. online
Pliny the Elder (77?): The Natural History John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855. online
Address: Villa Pliniana, Via Cesare Poggi 29, 22020 Torno.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1573 land purchased by Count Giovanni Anguissola, governor of Como.
1574-1577 current villa erected.
1983 furniture transferred to Masino.


Villa Pliniana, Italy. Public Domain.
Villa Pliniana, Italy. Public Domain.

The spring at Villa Pliniana in Como has a unique superlative, it was actually the first intermittent spring accurately described. This was done by Pliny the Younger, who is famous for his accurate description of the Vesuvius eruption of AD 79. The description of the spring can be found in the last letter of Book IV. We actually do nor know when he wrote it, as it is not dated, but we guess it was between 100 and his death in 113 during the reign of Trajan. And his description is still valid after 2000 years, the rhythmic spring is still acting to the same timescale today.

The villa of today was built between 1574 and 1577 around the famous spring and was named Villa Pliniana after the famous Roman scientist. In central location there is a Doric loggia with a plaque with the Latin text of Pliny's letter to Licinius, and the translation into Italian on the opposite side. At the center stands the statue of Neptune with a trident flanked by a dolphin. A long corridor, illuminated and ventilated by square openings without glass, leads to the basements where an arched opening allows the outlet of the waters that flow from the Plinian spring.

C. Plinius Licinio Surae suo s.
Attuli tibi ex patria mea pro munusculo quaestionem altissima ista eruditione dignissimam. Fons oritur in monte, per saxa decurrit, excipitur cenatiuncula manu facta; ibi paulum retentus in Larium lacum decidit. Huius mira natura: ter in die statis auctibus ac diminutionibus crescit decrescitque. Cernitur id palam et cum summa voluptate deprenditur. Iuxta recumbis et vesceris, atque etiam ex ipso fonte - nam est frigidissimus - potas; interim ille certis dimensisque momentis vel subtrahitur vel assurgit. Anulum seu quid; aliud ponis in sicco, alluitur sensim ac novissime operitur, detegitur rursus paulatimque deseritur. Si diutius observes, utrumque iterum ac tertio videas. Spiritusne aliquis occultior os fontis et fauces modo laxat modo includit, prout illatus occurrit aut decessit expulsus? Quod in ampullis ceterisque generis eiusdem videmus accidere, quibus non hians nec statim patens exitus. Nam illa quoque, quamquam prona atque vergentia, per quasdam obluctantis animae moras crebris quasi singultibus sistunt quod effundunt. An, quae oceano natura, fonti quoque, quaque ille ratione aut impellitur aut resorbetur, hac modicus hic umor vicibus alternis supprimitur egeritur? An ut flumina, quae in mare deferuntur, adversantibus ventis obvioque aestu retorquentur, ita est aliquid quod huius fontis excursum repercutiat? An latentibus venis certa mensura, quae dum colligit quod exhauserat, minor rivus et pigrior; cum collegit, agilior maiorque profertur? An nescio quod libramentum abditum et caecum, quod cum exinanitum est, suscitat et elicit fontem; cum repletum, moratur et strangulat? Scrutare tu causas - potes enim -, quae tantum miraculum efficiunt: mihi abunde est, si satis expressi quod efficitur. Vale.

To Licinius Sura.(*)
I have brought you as a present from my native district a problem which is fully worthy even of your profound learning. A spring rises in the mountain-side; it flows down a rocky course, and is caught in a little artificial banqueting house. After the water has been retained there for a time it falls into the Larian lake. There is a wonderful phenomenon connected with it, for thrice every day it rises and falls with fixed regularity of volume. Close by it you may recline and take a meal, and drink from the spring itself, for the water is very cool, and meanwhile it ebbs and flows at regular and stated intervals. If you place a ring or anything else on a dry spot by the edge, the water gradually rises to it and at last covers it, and then just as gradually recedes and leaves it bare; while if you watch it for any length of time, you may see both processes twice or thrice repeated. Is there any unseen air which first distends and then tightens the orifice and mouth of the spring, resisting its onset and yielding at its withdrawal? We observe something of this sort in jars and other similar vessels which have not a direct and free opening, for these, when held either perpendicularly or aslant, pour out their contents with a sort of gulp, as though there were some obstruction to a free passage. Or is this spring like the ocean, and is its volume enlarged and lessened alternately by the same laws that govern the ebb and flow of the tide? Or again, just as rivers on their way to the sea are driven back on themselves by contrary winds and the opposing tide, is there anything that can drive back the outflow of this spring? Or is there some latent reservoir which diminishes and retards the flow while it is gradually collecting the water that has been drained off, and increases and quickens the flow when the process of collection is complete? Or is there some curiously hidden and unseen balance which, when emptied, raises and thrusts forth the spring, and, when filled, checks and stifles its flow? Please investigate the causes which bring about this wonderful result, for you have the ability to do so; it is more than enough for me if I have described the phenomenon with accuracy.**
(*) The famous general, and friend of Trajan. (**) This intermittent spring is also mentioned by Pliny the Elder, HN ii.(106)232.
Pliny the Younger (): Letters, 4.30

During the 18th and 19th century, the Pliniana was the favorite residence of artists and prominent personalities. The guests included Giuseppe II, Napoleon, Stendhal, Alessandro Volta, Bellini, Giacomo Rossini, Lord Byron, Foscolo and Fogazzaro. Antonio Fogazzaro (*1842-✝1911) was inspired here for his famous novel Malombra (see GorgeL'Orrido di Osteno). Napoleon gave his host a small cabinet, which was still there when the villa was sold in 1983. And there was a piano on which Rossini had composed his opera Tancredi in only three days. Owned by aristocracy over centuries it was finally sold and is now private property. As far as we know it is currently not possible to visit the villa or the spring.