HISTORY OF VENETIAN RULE IN SIRMIONE
Since 1197 the peninsula became subdued to the town of Verona, then to the Scaligeri, taking on a significant importance due to the control exercised by the castle, which held a garrison. The building, which can be admired still today, is the work of the Scala family, while the existence of a fort before their domination is attested by more than one document.Completely surrounded by water, the castle overlooks the lake from its keep, the higher tower. The date of the building is complex. The analysis of the masonry have led to the identifications of three phases, the first dates back to Mastino I della Scala (XIII c.), the second to the early fourteenth century, the third to half fourteenth century., when the harbor was fortified. The core consists by the four main courtyard enclosed by curtains, by the three corner towers and by the keep.
The castle is connected to the church of Santa Maria del Ponte, also known as the Oratory of the Blessed Virgin at the Bridge, but it’s called St. Anne by the inhabitants of the village, which has identified, without any basis, the figure depicted in the fresco with the Virgin's mother since immemorial time. The church, considered by some people the chapel of the garrison stationed at the castle, consists of a room with a barrel vault and a presbytery. In the fifteenth century was a small chapel, probably a little sanctuary as it’s shown by the fragment of the fourteenth-century fresco above the altar.In 1387 the dynasty of the Scala went down with Antonio and Verona gave way to the two powers between which it was narrowed: Venice and Milan. Sirmione began a fast turnover of Lords, until in 1405 the long Venetian rule began, and it lasted until 1797.
The Venetian Republic dominated the Garda Lake by a Lake’s Captain, living in Malcesine. The domination over the waters, however, did not coincide with the territorial one: Riva and its territory belonged to the Bishop of Trent, while the Lion of St. Mark's stood up on the lands of the provinces of Verona, among which there were Peschiera, Sirmione and Brescia.
During the centuries of Venetian rule the history of Sirmione is poor of evidences. It’s the story of a small quiet village inhabited within the bridge by fishermen-growers, while in the countryside the peasants were engaged in the cultivation of grapes and mulberries. In 1530 there were 1155 inhabitants, then decreased for epidemics. The town was troubled for centuries by the strifes between the so-called "originals", which boasted an ancient lineage, and the newcomers, or "foreigners", about the management of communal property, from which the latter were excluded up to 1780. The community was governed by a board elected by the "vicinia", i.e. one class of citizens who enjoyed special rights about the communal property. Despite the poverty of the majority, in the Venetian period the great estates, that relied on the master estate, asserted themselves. An important witness of their former greatness remains in the hinterland, the Onofria dairy farm.
The long Venetian domination ended in 1796 when Napoleon entered the Veneto to unleash an offensive against the Austrians. He conquered Venice in 1797, but later, with the Treaty of Campo Formio, he ceded it to Austria in exchange for Belgium and Lombardy. The Austrian army entered Venice in 1798. Napoleon regained Venice and ruled from 1806 to 1814, when he was expelled again by the Austrians. In 1848 Venice revolted under the leadership of Daniele Manin, but the Austrians returned in 1849 and they stayed up to 1866, when Austria ceded Venice and the Veneto to the king of Italy. On that date the municipality of Sirmione regained its territorial unity, broken in 1859, after the second war of independence. In fact, the border between Austria and the Kingdom of Savoy ran up to the building called "Old Customs", which contains the name of its former function.
ROMAN HISTORY OF SIRMIONE | LAKE GARDA
It’s thought that the original settlement of Sirmione was born thanks to certain characteristics of the site. First, the particular shape of this strip of land surrounded by water, and therefore safe. The area at north of the castle, which has the shape of a triangle with the longest side of 1250 meters and maximum width of 750 meters, consists of three hills: Curtains, San Pietro in Mavinas, the "Catullo’s Caves". On it there are the ruins of a Roman villa (the first century A.D.) that a long tradition without foundation attributes to the poet Catullus, who lived in the I century B.C. It 's likely, however, that the family of Verona, the Valeri, who the poet belonged to, had possessions in Sirmione, some of his famous lines substantiate this hypothesis. The peninsula, in fact, as all the coast of the low Garda, was a resort for high-ranking families, as evidenced by the discovery of at least three houses, of which only the ruins, called just "Catullo's Caves", survive.The "Catullo's Caves", covering an area of two hectares, are the most impressive archaeological site in northern Italy. The vastness of the site and the scarcity of easily interpretable remains, however, make it difficult for the inexperienced tourists to pay a visit that will allow them to orient themselves in a satisfactory manner. The visitor who expects ruins similar to Pompei will surely disappoint :there’s almost nothing left of the villa itself, what you can see are the substructures ,that is the powerful masonry intended to support the building and placed below it, and some service areas. Nevertheless, the charm of this place did not pass unnoticed by the visitors of the past, who were able to capture the harmony of the fusion of the ancient rose-colored stones with the unique landscape in which they are immersed. Knowing how to appreciate both the signs of antiquity and the beauty of nature makes the visit complete and unforgettable.
Besides its natural beauty, Sirmione was important in Roman road system: it stood on the Gallic road, the ancient road that came through Bergamo and Brescia to Verona, where it was connected to the Postunia road which, built in 148 BC, united Genoa to Aquileia. In Desenzano the Gallic road continued to Peschiera along the coast, through Rivoltella and Colombare. The Itinerarium Antonini, a text of the third century A.D. testifies the existence of a place where travellers could stop, the mansion Sirmione, situated half way between Brescia and Verona. Scholars believe that the old mansio was located in Vecchia Lugana, where there is a building which has been indicated by the maps as Osteria or Betola, i.e. a place of rest and refreshment, already in the fifteenth century. Here the Roman road was connected to the ancient village road, the actual Via Lucchino, now a pedestrian promenade along the eastern shore of the lake. Then it continued towards Peschiera, hugging the shore more than the current Highway 11.
History of the Middle Age in Sirmione
The Lombard domination was a period of great importance in the history of Sirmione. This population, coming from northern Europe, swept in 568 B.C. from Friuli along the east-west road to Verona, Brescia, Bergamo, Milan and from there went to Pavia. The peninsula, exhausted by the Gothic-Byzantine war and plague, offered no resistance at the new invaders' advance, who took over all of northern Italy, electing Pavia as their capital. Within the conquered territory, Sirmione occupies a strategic position, as it controlled the road from Verona to Brescia and the road to the Val d'Adige. Its importance is demonstrated by the fact that in this period it became the capital of judiciaria sermionensis, a wide area that stretched from the Valtenesi up to the eastern shore of the lake and came at south to San Martino di Gusnago, village of Ceresara in the province of Mantova and included the plain of Riva at north.Some documents provide information on three existing churches in the peninsula into Lombard era, in the second half of the eighth century, St. Martin, St. Vitus and St. Peter in Mavinas.The first of these, dedicated to St. Martin, perhaps coincided with the present parish church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which replaced it after its destruction. The building, which dates from the late fifteenth century, has a rectangular shape with a polygonal apse and it is oriented on an east-west axis. The north side stands on the remains of medieval fortifications. The interior has a nave divided by three arches, with walls decorated with frescoes dating to the early '500, except those at the bottom of the north wall that belong to an earlier period. The high altar in the apse was carved in the marble.
The Church of St. Vito and Modesto, which still exists, does not coincide with the eighth-century old building that was demolished and rebuilt in 1744. It is a chapel located on an estate about a mile from the castle. It is currently used at the celebration of the two saints, which is on June 15.
The church of St. Peter in Mavino, secluded from the town, stands on the homonymous hill, which perhaps the mysterious toponym refers to: in summas vineas, that is, between the vineyards located higher up. The building has been remodeled over the centuries, so as to make its history difficult: a brick at the side of the portal bears the date 1320, the year of the restoration and the frescos belong to four different times, two of which prior to this date and the last one dating 1525.The church, oriented on an east-west axis, has a rectangular plan that narrows at the apse for a deviation of the northern wall. In the presbytery there are three apses, one larger at the center and two smaller at the sides. The ceiling is made from large wooden beams. On the left side of the main altar there’s another door to the outside. Outside, at the same side, the bell tower rises, about m. 17 high, in which one can enter from the inside. Far from town, it became perhaps a leper hospital and a graveyard for the plague victims who could not be buried in the parish church and in the adjacent cemetery.
There also remains a trace of a fourth Lombard church, the one of St. Saviour, almost totally disappeared since centuries, from which you can see a part of the apse at the beginning of the path that goes into the public park. The building, built after the 760 by Queen Ansa, wife of Desire, last king of the Lombards, was part of a small female monastic complex depending on the homonymous monastery of Brescia, called Santa Giulia from the ninth century. The finds preserved in the castle come from this ancient building , including two fragments of a ciborium containing the names of Desire and his son Adelchi’s one.The presence of the Lombards in Sirmione, since the early years of their settlement in Italy, is attested not only by the buildings of worship. Since1914 many tombs have been discovered in the area between the road of "Caves", "Lido of Blondes" and”Via Piana”; it testify the existence of an ancient necropolis located in this area. Depending on the type of objects found (knives, spear points, combs) it's believed that it was used in the first period of the settlement of these people who have left traces even in Sirmione place names: the name of "Lido of Blondes", comes from "biunda", i.e. "enclosed space".In 774 the Lombard kingdom fell by Charlemagne, king of the Franks. Sirmione suffered from this change: the fortified town and the small monastery of St. Saviour were assigned by Charles to the convent of St. Martin of Tours to finance the habit of the monks. Sirmione lost its administrative importance, it disappeared as a district and started to become a small fortified town of the territory of Verona .Later, Sirmione was established as a municipality and it remained autonomous, directly dependent on the central imperial power, as evidenced by a document dated 1220 by which the Emperor Frederick II confirmed the imperial privileges that the inhabitants had previously received, including the right to fishing on the lake.