Why Tornavento

  • To live a day in contact with nature
  • To discover fantastic views of the Ticino river
  • To retrace the stretch of the ancient Hipposidra
  • To learn about the flora and fauna of the Ticino River Park
  • Because it is easy to reach and Milan Malpensa airport is very close
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We retrace the journey of the Ipposidra, the boat railway on the Ticino river.
An animal-powered railway for the transport of boats to cross a stretch of river that is difficult to navigate and which, in the intentions, should have saved time during the journey. This was the Ipposidra, which operated on the Ticino river between 1858 and 1865 in the stretch between Tornavento and Sesto Calende, in the province of Varese.

Hipposidra, grazing horses

Hipposidra, grazing horses

This area was the most difficult in the journey of the boats that had to reach Lake Maggiore from Milan. The boats were pulled by some horses along the towpath of the Naviglio Grande between Milan and Tornavento. From here and for the last 25 kilometers on the Ticino, it was almost impossible. Sometimes the river navigation took up to fifteen days. It was necessary to find an alternative to shorten the time.

The idea

So a transport scholar like Carlo Cattaneo, politician, and economist, had the idea of extracting the boats from the water in Tornavento, placing them on 8-wheeled railway wagons pulled by horses and taking them to Sesto Calende, where they were put back in the water, along a via Ferrata that crossed the moor. Thus was born the Hipposidra. The name of this railway is the union between two terms: ippos, which in Greek means horse, and hydra, water.

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Ipposidra, barge used to transport goods on the river

Ipposidra, barge used to transport goods on the river

The construction

The idea was there but funds were initially scarce. Furthermore, Austria did not want a private railway to be built on its territory. We are in Lombardy, but at the time this area was part of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom. It was only thanks to various bank loans and above all to the help of a Geneva banker that Vienna authorized the concession. On 9 February 1858, the Ipposidra was inaugurated.

Hipposidra, remains of a boat used to transport goods on the river

Hipposidra, remains of a boat used to transport goods on the river

The abandonment

The railway on boats was abandoned in 1865 a few years after its inauguration because in the meantime the railway lines had been built: Arona-Novara and Milan-Sesto Calende. The train further shortened the travel time of goods. The company that ran the Hipposidra went bankrupt.

The Ipposidra today

Closed the company, the rolling stock, and the tracks were sold to the railways, while the departure and arrival stations, abandoned, were then destroyed. Today only a few and almost unrecognizable ruins remain of the old railway.



Ipposidra, the old location of the tracks, today a mountain bike route

Ipposidra, the old location of the tracks, today a mountain bike route

Following the path of the Hipposidra, you can still see some embankments, while several trenches are hidden among the vegetation. The route that connected Tornavento to Sesto Calende can now be covered by bicycle, even if only some of the sections are the original ones.. The journey is mostly on a dirt road, except for some sections on busy roads. Departing from Tornavento, you go along the ancient bed of the Naviglio Grande and the Ticino river until you reach some houses and old factories. Entering the wood, you go up to Vizzola Ticino and from here you reach first Somma Lombardo, then Golasecca. This last resort has sections that are difficult to travel by bicycle. Reached Sesto Calende, the path descends towards the river and ends on the towpath leading to the town center.

How do I get to Tornavento?

Tornavento can be reached from the A4 motorway (for coming from Turin) or A8 (for those coming from Varese) then continuing on the expressway to Malpensa airport, take the Oleggio exit. Follow the SS 527 up to the first roundabout, then turn right continuing on the SP 52. A few meters and take (on the left) Via Carlo Goldoni, which ends in Piazza Parravicino.

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