History in stone. Scaliger Castle on Lake Garda

This is what it is, the Scaliger castle in the city of Sirmione on Lake Garda

Italy is mine, fate is insidious
The worldly judgment is not terrible.
You’re dying.
Words are a bad healer.
But I hope they don’t wait for silence
On the Tiber and the Arno
And here, on Po, where is my abode today.
Please, Savior,
On the ground, a sympathetic look
And have mercy on the sacred country,
Engulfed in massacre
Without any reason for the massacre.
Francesco Petrarch. Sonnet 128

Castles and fortresses. The interest of the readers of “VO”, shown by them to the material about the Castle of St. Angela in Rome, once again suggests that castles are an interesting topic. But writing about castles is best when you have visited them yourself. In addition, then there is no need to get photographs from the Internet, write letters in different languages ​​to different organizations in different countries, which is troublesome and does not always give a result. “What other castles are there in Italy? Write about them! ” – such a letter was sent to me by one reader. And this is where the problem arose. The fact is that there are a lot of castles in Italy, almost more than in the “country of castles” – England. But visiting them is not easy, even the most famous ones. So for now, let’s restrict ourselves to just one, namely the Castle of the Scaligers in Sirmione, a small fortress on Lake Garda. I myself have not been there, but my daughter visited there, presented me with all his “ins and outs” and the photographs she had taken. Not as much as I would like, but all my own. So today we are again going to Italy, to the small, but very picturesque and extremely cozy town of Sirmione, located on a long and very narrow peninsula, surrounded on all sides by the clear azure waters of Lake Garda, which in itself is considered a natural attraction of Italy. You cannot count on the wealth of museum collections here, but it is simply beautiful here. And everything is beautiful!

It is interesting that the ancient Romans noticed the extraordinary beauty of these places. And they didn’t just notice: the ancient Roman poet Catullus sang it in verse. Accordingly, today the beauty of the lake and its environs attracts a lot of tourists here, who, once in Sirmione, in whole crowds along the flowering alleys of the town head straight to its main attraction – the ancient castle of Scaliger. And it was this castle that became the main interesting place of this town, which everyone looks at and admires.

The places there are very beautiful. Around the emerald green lake emerald blue mountains


And all because, although it is small in size and stands out of the blue, it looks majestic and inaccessible, since it is surrounded by water on all sides.

This place was famous for its mild climate and convenient peninsular location, providing the inhabitants of the peninsula with natural protection and food. Therefore, Sirmione was settled in the most ancient times. At first it was a small fishing village, then in ancient times it turned into a town of very decent size. It was called then Sermio Mancio, and not only fishermen lived here, but also the Veronese nobility lived here, who built their villas in this cozy place. Well, the first fortifications on the site of today’s castle appeared during the time of the Roman Republic. And there was also a harbor for the ships on which these same Veronese sailed here.

You can arrive in Sirmione by land, or you can also take such a boat … The latter is much more pleasant


In the III-IV centuries A.D. the city walls were built up, but this city did not save only from the barbarians. The ancient Germanic tribe of the Lombards settled here, and it was from him that the name of this region later came – Lombardy. At the end of the 8th century, a monastery of the Benedictine order was built in Sirmione, which was patronized by the wife of the last Lombard king, Queen Ansia. In the 1260s, the town of Sirmione came under the arm of the influential Veronese clan della Scala (Scaligers), who made a huge contribution to the cultural development of Verona, and many other cities to the north of it. Naturally, to protect their possessions, as well as the approaches to Verona, the Scaligers immediately began to build castles here and built several of them.

Top view of the city and the castle. The walled square of water is the harbor of the castle, where the Scaliger ships once stood. By the way, the residents of the town have enough water and greenery!


This is, first of all, the Castelvecchio castle in Verona itself, the Malcesine castle and a number of others, but only the castle in Sirmione is considered to be the most – even this epithet is used – beautiful! And it happened because this castle (it just happened!) Did not have a chance to survive serious sieges, as a result of which all its battlements, and the same square crenellated towers retained their original appearance without any changes. Unless it is now guarded not by guards in helmets and with halberds in their hands, but by wild ducks and snow-white swans floating around him.

The castle looks impressive from a distance


It is worth emphasizing that the Scaligers were supporters of the Ghibellines, and in 1276 Mastino I della Scala arranged in Sirmione a bloody beating of all who stood for the Guelphs – a kind of St. Bartholomew’s Night, massacring entire families of their political opponents. Well, he himself, who lived in the castle, surrounded on all sides by water, was practically not in danger. It was possible to get into it only through a drawbridge, the thickness of the walls was such that, before the appearance of artillery, they could withstand any attacks.

Dovetail teeth. This means that the building belongs to the Ghibellines. Donjon is 47 meters high!


Moreover, the Scaliger castle itself on the shores of Lake Garda was built in such a way that it was located in the narrowest part of the peninsula as much as four kilometers long! It blocked the enemy’s access to it from the mainland, served as a harbor for the Verona flotilla, and behind the castle were the houses of the inhabitants of the city, who, if anything, could strengthen its garrison.

Drawbridge leading to the gate


But now we entered the castle through … the side, not the main gate. And what do we see inside? A bit … On the ground floor, various stone statues and architectural fragments of buildings of the past are exhibited: capitals, columns, carved stones that adorned buildings, and, in general, that’s all. But then you can climb to the top of the keep, where 146 steps lead, and from there look around. And to think: how beautiful everything is around and … damn it, where did it take me! The view from the tower to the city (it looks like a toy), and the lake (it seems to be fabulous) is just wonderful. Well, then from the keep you can go to the walls and go around the entire castle around the perimeter, imagining how they once lived here.

As you can see, there are two entrances to the castle from the bridge: a gate for a permanent entry-exit and a gate that was opened only for horsemen. Accordingly, two lifting bridges, lifted with the help of the logs-balancers extending into the grooves of the wall


As already mentioned, it was almost impossible to take this castle by storm, so no one tried to do it. But since it is impossible to get into the castle, then it is also impossible to get out of it. Over time, prison cells were set up in its high towers, from which there was nothing to escape, it was impossible.

Above the gate is the Venetian winged lion of St. Mark – a symbol of Venetian rule


In 1405, Verona and all the cities that belonged to it passed into the hands of the Venetian Republic, so the Venetian garrison was placed in the Scaliger castle. Now this castle began to play an even more important role, since it was easy to control the entire water area of ​​Lake Garda from it. Therefore, the Venetian doges kept the castle buildings intact. It was under the Venetians that a new stone wall was built around its harbor, where their guard galleys now stood.

The photograph with a person is for scale. It is clearly seen that the height of the gate was such that it made it easy for a rider with a spear to pass, however, the spear had to be tilted most likely …


But time is unmerciful, and already in the 16th century, the decline of the glory of the Scaliger castle begins. Moreover, the architect Michele Sanmicheli has built a completely new fort with bastions for cannons in the city of Peschiera del Garda. The garrison of the Venetian Doge was transferred there, and the Scaliger castle began to be used as warehouses and an arsenal. When, during the Napoleonic wars, the territories belonging to Venice were captured by the French, their garrison stood in the Scaliger castle until 1814. In 1861, after the Italian states were finally united, Sirmione became part of the Kingdom of Italy. But the new government did not show much interest in him, since there were just a lot of castles like the one that stood there throughout the country. However, at the end of the 19th century, hot springs with healing mineral water were discovered in Sirmione, and … the city immediately turned into a major balneological resort.

But these gates through the territory of the castle are used to this day.


Once again, as in the days of the proud Roman Empire, wealthy Italians, who really liked this picturesque town, came here again, and they began to build their villas here. Tourists appeared who needed sights to be photographed against their background. All this led to the revival of the ancient Scaliger castle, which already at the beginning of the 20th century became the property of the state, which allocated money for its restoration.

Walls and half-towers surrounding the castle harbor. At that time, not every castle, even one standing on the water, could boast of having its own protected harbor!


This is how his new life began as a tourist attraction and a museum of castle architecture. Since there were only military garrisons and warehouses in the castle for several centuries, it would be naive to expect that some medieval paintings or interiors will be preserved here. No, in the Scaliger castle, tourists do not appear at all for this, but in order to touch its ancient battlements, walk through the castle courtyard or, climbing a high tower, gaze from it the transparent blue of Lake Garda, enclosed in a ring of green mountains, and enjoy the tranquility of contemplating this well, absolutely idyllic landscape.

Scaliger coat of arms


Well, if you want antiquity, then here on the very edge of the peninsula you can see it too: these are the ruins of an ancient Roman villa of the 1st century AD, and they are well preserved. True, it is quite far from the castle to go there, but in the shade of trees, and not in the sun, which is important for Italy. By the way, there is also a beach where you can swim.

Inside the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore


The oldest church in Sirmione is the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, which is interesting for the fact that frescoes of the 12th-16th centuries have been preserved in it. And this despite the fact that it was rebuilt several times. So you can get pleasure here, so to speak, complex, and also have a tasty meal and taste delicious local wine. And again, not just eating, but at the same time looking at the castle and its battlements and towers!

But such fruits are sold right at the pier and juice is immediately squeezed out of them. They seem to be lemons, but they are too big!

Our boat leaves from Sirmione. This is what the Scaliger castle looks like from the side of the lake

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