The Municipality of Chiesa Valmalenco

960 m
Surface area:
114.96 km²
Current population:
Patron Saint:
Saints Giacomo and Filippo
Sasso, Centro, Primolo, Montini, Faldrini, Costi, Somprato, Curlo, Vassalini, San Giuseppe, Chiareggio

Extending over quite a vast area (114.96 km²), which places it in eighth place for size in the entire province, the municipality of Chiesa Valmalenco is the oldest and most substantial in the valley. Its central location in the vast hollow of the Valmalenco has allowed the village of Chiesa to play a prominent role since ancient times compared to other settlements throughout the valley. Chiesa, like the majority of municipalities in the Valmalenco, consisted of a large number of outlying settlements at various altitudes. The village centre, which took the name of the church of the Saints Giacomo and Filippo (Ecclesia, la Glesia, la Gésa), arose around the 12th century, and was involved in much of the administrative, political and social life of the entire Valmalenco.

It gradually expanded into the tiny settlements scattered around, which became the new village districts. The first are thought to have been Sasso, Somprato and Montini, situated safely high up, away from flooding by the River Mallero and scattered along a road, still in existence, which linked them to the next district of Costi, and then continued to the old hamlet of Castellaccio, now in ruins, towards Giovello and the Muretto pass. Subsequently, in order to use the vast area of pasture nearer the Mallero pass and beyond, they built the villages of Faldrini, Curlo, Vassalini with Olivi and Prai towards the Torrent Lanterna. The village of Primolo was formed as a result of this expansion in territory and population numbers, together with new buit-up settlements.

The village of Chiesa was divided into three colonghelli, groups of districts for administrative purposes: the colonghello of Roìna in dentro (o Roinato), to the north of the valley of Rovinaio. Also known as colonghello di mezzo, it included the districts of Faldrini, Somprato, Costi and Primolo; the colonghello della Roìna in fuori, south of the river, included the hamlets of Sasso, Chiesa-Centro and Montini; the colonghello dell'acqua in là covered Pedrotti, Curlo, Vassalini and Olivi.

As administrative and religious centre for the entire Valmalenco, Chiesa was always the most densely populated village: the growth in the village population was fairly consistent over the three centuries of dominion by the Grigioni family (from 16th to the 19th century, the population doubled), despite being halted by the many victims of the numerous plague epidemics in Valmalenco during the 17th century, especially in Chiesa. The presence of the Grigioni family and care for the practicability and good upkeep of the Cavallera road leading to Engadine, was said to have moderately improved the economy of the villages in the Valmalenco, especially Chiesa, which was thus able to develop a flourishing trade with areas across the border: trading in products made of soapstone and the slate roofing tiles was given a considerable impetus and boosted the local economy, based only on agricultural and pastoral activities, which was difficult to guarantee.

When the Grigione government came to an end, the strong military presence first of the French followed by the Austrian troops, together with the crisis provoked by the forced change from a Rhaetian to a distant, unknown Lombard and Italian market, caused the local economy to collapse. This resulted in a substantially impoverished population throughout the nineteenth century, which ended in mass emigration across the Atlantic towards the end of the century.
A growth in tourism and mountaineering as a result of the discovery of the splendid peaks of the Valmalenco in the following century, together with the exploitation of the serpentine stone quarriesled to a gradual, consistent source of income. Over the last fifty years, the Municipality of Chiesa has seen a considerable development in the construction industry, linked to its flourishing tourism industry based on winter sports, and it has built and improved some of today's most famous and best-loved ski resorts in the province of Sondrio.


  • Matilde Bergomi, Politica e amministrazione in Val Malenco nell’Età Moderna, Sondrio 2006
  • Giancarlo Corbellini, Vicende dell’insediamento umano in Valmalenco, degree thesis, University of Milan, a.a. 1968-69
  • Annibale Masa, Inventario dei toponimi valtellinesi e valchiavennaschi. 8 Territorio comunale di Chiesa in Valmalenco, Società Storica Valtellinese, Villa di Tirano 1976