Legend has it the bell can still be heard in the dead of winter, sounding out its knell despite the fact that it has long since been removed. The bell tower of the 14th century church that projects from Lake Reschen in the far north of Italy is all that is now visible of the once thriving village of Graun. In the middle of the last century, the town was drowned by the artificial lake that lies above it to this day – and all because of the business designs of a big electricity firm.
The history of Graun, near the Austrian-Italian border, stretches back to Roman times, but this small village enjoyed the relative anonymity of most settlements of its size until the 1930s, when the story of why it was submerged begins.
In 1939, the electric company Montecatini announced plans for a 70-foot deep lake that would unify two natural lakes, Reschensee and Mittersee. A huge dam should be built, said the bosses, harnessing nature’s power to generate a wealth of seasonal electricity. The catch? Several villages, including Graun and part of Reschen, would be flooded in the process.
The building of the dam began in 1940 in the face of fierce local resistance, and this opposition together with the War slowed progress so that it was not completed until 1950. Nevertheless, built the dam was.
A total of 163 houses and 1,290 acres of cultivated land were sunk below the rising waters. The townsfolk were displaced, the sums of money they were offered doubtless scant consolation for the loss of their homes.
Buildings like the main part of the church were demolished before the flooding took place, and yet the town of Graun can still be imagined, sleeping beneath the water’s surface. In any event, it will not be forgotten while the bell tower still stands, an icon of the region, still reachable by foot when the lake freezes over.