Reschensee


As World War II raged, an Italian energy company planned the creation of an artificial lake near the borders of Austria and Switzerland.

The project would create a dam that would unify two natural lakes, providing hydroelectric power for the region. But there was a problem: people lived there. The formation of the new body of water would eradicate the village of Curon. Despite the objections from local residents, construction on the dam and lake began in 1940.

By the time the construction finished in 1950, the largest lake above 1,000 meters in altitude within the Alps materialized. At 2.5 square miles in surface area, Rechensee, as it’s called in German, has a capacity of 120 million cubic meters. The lake sports a maximum depth of 92 feet, which is more than enough to submerge the village of Curon.

Or, at least, almost all of it.

Reschensee with its steeple - image by AFP

As you can see in the image above, the lake is not deep enough to cover the steeple of the 14th-century church at the heart of the underwater ghost town.

This bizarre remnant of the village is a unique and jarring visual. As you might imagine, the combination of the phenomenal scenery of the Alps and a steeple rising out of a lake makes Reschensee a juggernaut of tourism. Hiking abounds around the lake’s vista, which offers a one-of-a-kind photographic opportunity.

In the winter when the lake freezes, the intrepid explorer can even stroll up to the steeple!

The Reschensee steeple in winter - photo by Sascha Erni

Because Europe is a polyglot melting pot, Reschensee has multiple monikers. The lake isn’t even near a German border, but, because that language is ubiquitous in Switzerland and Austria, the German name is the most prevalent. Other versions include Lago di Resia in Italian, Lake Reschen, and Lake Resia.

The location is so emblematic that a 2020 Netflix show used the lake as a backdrop and the sunken village as a title. Curon, to date, features seven episodes of supernatural Alpine television.

The steeple and lake feature prominently in Curon

As intriguing as this location is normally, May 2021 brought a new level of newsworthiness to northern Italy.

The dam and reservoir required some maintenance, so workers drained the lake. As strange as a drained lake appears, nearby residents also got to see the village of Curon for the first time in 70 years!

The remains of some 160 houses, town buildings, and the entirety of the church slowly manifested as water levels receded.

The lake drained to reveal the remnants of the village - photo by Luisa Azzolini
A cellar from a sunken home - photo by Luisa Azzolini
Image by Luisa Azzolini

Eventually, Curon will find itself on the bottom of Reschensee once again. The bell tower will peek eerily out of the depths, a pointed reminder of the village that once was.

Reschensee - photo by Michelangeloop
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