The houses, left to us by our ancestors, are the best documents on which we can study the life they lived; therefore, to research the history of our houses means to weave the history of our region, because the most beautiful, whether palaces or modest rural houses, once belonged for the most part to families that had great importance in the history of Insubrica region. One of the oldest houses in Locarno is Casa del Negromante situated at Via Borghese 14, in the upper part of the present Locarno town.

This palace was built in the 15th century and is considered one of the oldest houses in Locarno. It was builded by the Magoria family, and originally most likely called Casa dei Nobili (English: The House of Nobles). Since the 17th century the house has been called “La casa del Negromante”. This name originates from the then owner Giovan Battista Orelli, called the Negromante. Negromante means sorcerer who predicts the future by evoking the dead as a sort of soothsayer, but we could not trace the proper relation to former owners of this house.

However, the “House of the Nobles” or Casa del Negromante did not always have such a noble reputation. Throughout 1800 the house was called “Ark”. Likely a sort of Noah’s Ark for poor families. The complex almost collapsed due to lack of maintenance and was for many decades a refuge for the homeless. Around 1980 the whole complex was refurbished and turned into a complex that houses today a restaurant and few shops.

The building is fairly large and of medieval origin, most likely already rebuilt and extended in the 15th century and later several times. On the east side of the inner courtyard there is wooden portico heightened by a loggia. The house spots decorative pictures in the atrium dated around the middle of the 16th century, including two friezes with the Swiss cross. The particularity according to the historian Johann Rudolf Rahn (1841-1912) is these crosses are probably the oldest existing Swiss coat of arms, interesting is the detail of the long-legged cross. Also in the atrium there is the coat of arms of Locarno – in form of a lion, the almost extinguished coats of arms of Ursula Magoria and Ambrosius Püntiner, and two coats of arms of Uri.

Inside atrium view of Casa del Negromante in Locarno

The whole house is easily accessible and certainly worth a visit if you happen to be in Locarno, specifically in the old town.