The Panperduto dam: hard work and dedication
The Panperduto dam – in the hamlet of Maddalena, a part of Somma Lombardo, in the province of Varese, Lombardy – was designed by Eugenio Villoresi in the second half of the 19th century to irrigate the regions North of Milan using the water of the nearby pre-Alpine lakes.
Thanks to this hydraulic structure on the Ticino, we have the Canale Villoresi, but most importantly agriculture was able to emerge from a long time of poverty and depression, with 85,000 hectares of plain becoming fertile and productive.
The name “Panperduto” has been used for the canal on which the dam was built since time immemorial; meaning “lost bread”, it evokes desolation and emptiness.
A 1927 book about Milan’s Navigli states, “Whoever travels along the Lombard bank of the Ticino […] can see the remains of a great canal; unfortunately we do not know when, why, or who built it. They call it ‘Pan Perduto’ because such huge work was abandoned before it was completed. Considering other examples I know about, not far and sometimes even recent, I dare to think that that ‘bread’ was not ‘lost’ if it gave work and food to the huge masses of poor laborers whom destiny had led to hunger and inactivity […]. It was ‘lost’ for the indisputable purpose of soothing the hunger and pain of the people, giving them both a material means of life and hope, faith, resolution, willpower, and dedication…” (G. Codara, “I Navigli di Milano”, Lampi di Stampa, Milan 2002).
Hence the name is a so-called antiphrasis, that is it means the opposite of what it seems to explicitly say: “lost bread” here stands for “well deserved, much appreciated bread”.