History and culture of Lake Garda

The entire Garda area has been marked over time by numerous significant historical episodes of which it still bears testimony.

Many sites are open to the public and can be visited independently, while others are accessible only through organized excursions to discover the history and culture of Lake Garda

GardaLanding is able to organize interesting tailor-made historical-cultural itineraries in the main places to visit on Lake Garda

This type of program is ideal for history lovers, cultural associations and educational institutions.

The visits can follow a common thread linked to a specific historical period in particular.

Prehistoric Times
Roman period
Medieval period
Renaissance period
Habsburg period
The World Wars of the Twentieth Century


Prehistoric Times

The Garda area was already inhabited in prehistoric times, as evidenced by ancient rock carvings dating back to 1500 BC. In particular, a good number of engravings are visible on the Veronese shore, between Garda and Malcesine.

In the municipality of Torri del Benaco, in the locality of Brancolino there are the two best-known: Pietra delle Griselle and Pietra dei Cavalieri.

The Museum of the Scaliger Castle in Torri del Benaco dedicates a room to Rock Engravings, an important symbol of this historical era.

Other evidence of the ancient civilizations that settled in the Garda area between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age are the remains of pre-Alpine pile-dwelling villages.

Most have been found on the southern shore of Lake Garda: the site of the Lavagnone di Desenzano and the pond of the ash of Peschiera.

These pile-dwelling sites have been included together with those of the rest of the Alps in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Many of the remains are still submerged, but faithful reconstructions and relics collected in the research are kept at the Natural History Museum of Verona.

To find out more about the ancient history of the lake there is a museum in Bardolino and the museum of fishing and lake traditions in Peschiera del Garda.

A journey through history and culture for an authentic experience in the most beautiful places to visit on Lake Garda

Roman period Gardalanding
Credits: Stefano Valeri

Roman period

Verona in particular bears traces of the Roman era, which after Rome is one of the Italian cities with more visible artifacts. First of all, the symbol of the city, the Arena, an amphitheater from the 1st century AD. used at the time for gladiator fights. The arena can be visited and is still in use for the summer season of opera and major concerts.

Verona had a great importance already at that time, being at the crossroads of via Postumia, Gallica and Augusta. Just stroll through the center to admire this open-air museum between cobbled streets, the Gavi arch and Porta Leoni. Near the Roman Theater, in the Archaeological Museum, there are many artifacts found in the city, from mosaics to objects of common use.

Brescia also retains many traces of what was one of the most important historical and cultural periods of the city. In particular, it is possible to visit the large Archaeological park of Roman Brescia, with the Capitolium and Roman forum, Unesco heritage since 2011.

The important communication route that connected Milan to Brescia and Verona (La Via Gallica), crossed the territory of the Lower Lake. The Romans therefore arrived as far as the shores of Lake Garda, also building impressive buildings here and leaving their traces.

In Sirmione it is possible to visit the Grotte di Catullo, the remains of a grandiose Roman villa, as well as the largest archaeological site in northern Italy.

Another villa whose splendid mosaics depicting scenes of hunting, fishing and peasant life are perfectly preserved is located in Desenzano. The villa is thought to belong to the brother of the emperor Magnezio: Decentius, from which the name of the city derives. In Desenzano, its imposing Castle dominates the landscape, which also dates back to Roman times and was rebuilt in the 11th century.

Via Gallica also crossed Peschiera del Garda, at the time called Arilica, from which its citizens called “Arilicensi” still take their name today.

Inside the Cantarane Bastion it is still possible to see the remains of one of the two Roman towers that supported a bridge, the only passage over the Mincio river. This made the city, located on the road, a pivotal point of control of transits.

Do not forget the territory of Valpolicella through which the Via Augusta passed towards the Brenner. A perfectly preserved Roman mosaic was recently unearthed under a vineyard just outside Negrar. Testimony of an area rich in Roman settlements with villas, villages and cellars.

In fact, already in Roman times, vines were cultivated in this area and made wine from dried grapes, ancestor of the current famous Amarone.

Discover the history and culture of the places to visit on Lake Garda with a tailor-made experience.

Credits: Niels Keekstra

Medieval period

The medieval period is one of the epochs that left its mark in a very evident way on the whole territory of Verona and Lake Garda.

In particular, after the year 1000, at the time of the lordships, three families left behind very valuable and highly appreciated defensive architectural structures: Scala, Visconti and Gonzaga.

Della Scala family

Verona and the lake from the mid-1200s to the end of the 1300s were ruled by the Della Scala family. The history of Lake Garda is linked to this family for a long time.

In a short time, they became one of the most powerful lords of Italy and carried out various defensive works to protect their territories.

This is why in the main cities of the lake there are majestic examples of medieval fortresses with towers, keep and crenellated walls.

We are talking about the walled town of Lazise, ​​the fortress of Peschiera del Garda and the castle of the Sirmione peninsula. Continuing north we find the castles of Torri del Benaco and Malcesine.

A south-western defensive system was also built in the hinterland, bordering the Visconti and Gonzaga territories. This system includes the castles of Ponti sul Mincio, Monzambano, Villafranca, Soave and Valeggio sul Mincio.

In Verona dominates the imposing Castelvecchio, the manor built in the mid-1300s, and its crenellated bridge over the Adige river.

From this flourishing era under the Scala family, there are also churches and monuments in the city such as the fountain of Madonna Verona, the Lamberti tower, and the Torre del Gardello. In the historic center it is possible to admire the Scaliger palace, the residence of the lordship and the characteristic Scaliger Arks, the monumental tombs built in the Italian Gothic style.

The lordship of the Visconti and Gonzagas

With the end of the Scaligeri lordship at the end of 1300 the Visconti dominion begins for Verona.

The lordship exploits many of the fortresses and walls built by the Scaligeri to control the territory and maintain their power. In particular, we owe to them the construction of Castel San Pietro and Castel San Felice, built on the hills near the city of Verona.

Traces of them remain in the Garda area in Castelnuovo with the Viscontea Tower and the Rocca di Lonato. Another of their works was the Borghetto sul Mincio bridge-dam, designed to divert the course of the Mincio and deprive Mantua of the waterway that fed the lakes. The goal was to be able to conquer Mantua, the center of the prestigious Gonzaga family who, however, maintained their dominion over the city until 1700.

Credits: Franco Lanfredi

Renaissance period

The Renaissance in Verona and on Lake Garda was marked by the domination of the Serenissima Republic of Venice.

This dominion, which lasted for almost four hundred years, brought stability and security to the territory and a consequent widespread well-being.

In this historical era, large noble palaces and new imposing fortifications were built on Lake Garda to counteract the use of new attack and breakthrough tools.

Among the most impressive works that the Venetians created on Lake Garda there is undoubtedly the fortress of Peschiera del Garda. The pentagonal-shaped complex placed in a strategic point for controlling the water basin. They also built the two access gates, Porta Verona and Porta Brescia and the Ponte dei Voltoni that crosses the Canale di Mezzo.

In Verona the Venetians built the monumental doors in Renaissance style and in the same style they made the facade of the Palazzo del Capitano and the Loggia del Consiglio.

Among the Renaissance palaces we mention Palazzo Maffei, Palazzo della Gran Guardia and Palazzo Carlotti.

In the territory of the province, however, the fashion of the Venetian villa spread. Villa Mosconi Bertani, Villa Santa Sofia and Villa della Torre, are some examples in Valpolicella; while Villa Guarienti dominates the lake from the magnificent Punta San Vigilio di Garda.

The city of Mantua under the dominion of the Gonzagas became one of the most prestigious capitals of the Italian Renaissance.

The Gonzagas were among the main patrons of the time and made Mantua one of the most prominent cities and one of the greatest centers of art.

The family welcomed various prominent intellectuals to his court, who left an indelible imprint on the architecture of the city.

To them we owe the Palazzo Ducale with the famous Camera degli Sposi, the churches of San Sebastiano and Sant’Andrea and Palazzo Te.

Forte Ardietti
Credits: M. Pavioli

Habsburg period

During the period of the Habsburg domination of 1800 in Verona and throughout the surrounding area, great military works were carried out.

In fact, the empire-built walls, bastions, fortresses, barracks and logistical buildings. Visiting these sites allows us to understand the organized and effective military strategy that characterized it.

The city walls, the Austrian military hospital, the Arsenal and the Mastino barracks are still well preserved in Verona. Going up with the funicular you reach Castel San Pietro, converted into a barracks by the Austrians. Ideal place to have complete control of the territory.

Austrian towers and forts are distributed throughout the hilly area of ​​Verona, which is why the area today takes the name of Torricelle.

The military fortifications also extend over the entire Garda area, creating a single defensive and territorial control complex. Some of the forts still visible today are: Forte Papa in Peschiera, Forte di Pastrengo, Forte Ardietti in Ponti sul Mincio, Forte di Rivoli, Forte di Riva del Garda.

The Empire also established a "defensive quadrilateral" which connected the fortresses of Peschiera del Garda, Mantua, Legnago and Verona. By controlling the vast territory of the Po Valley and hindering the transit of enemy troops in the area.

The Garda area, in particular Custoza, San Martino and Solferino, were the site of tragic and bloody battles between Italians and Austrians during the wars of independence. In San Martino it is possible to visit the monumental complex built in memory of these Risorgimento battles which preserves clothes, weapons and other war memories.

Credits: Maria Bosetti - Maria.santiago18 (IG)

The World Wars of the Twentieth Century

The history and culture of many places to visit on Lake Garda are also linked to the twentieth century.

Many of the structures built by the Habsburg Empire were in fact also used during the Great Wars for military use.

A building that played a fundamental role in the fate of the First World War was the Palazzo del Comando in Piazzaforte di Peschiera del Garda. Today known as the Historic Building, the inter-allied conference was held here in 1917 to decide how to react to the defeat of Caporetto. King Vittorio Emanuele III met with the representatives of Great Britain and France, to analyze the military situation, and study the necessary countermeasures.

Inside the Palazzina Storica there is now a museum that collects evidence related to the Great War, from objects and uniforms to original documents.

In the Garda area other museums tell of this important period of the great wars.

Among these, the Mu.sa di Salò which tells the identity of the city in its rooms, which has become famous for being the seat of the offices of the Italian Social Republic. Founded by Mussolini in 1943 and also known as the Republic of Salò.

The museum collects weapons, uniforms and tells his contribution to national history, often hosting many temporary exhibitions on the subject.

In the Trentino part of the lake, at the foot of mountains dotted with fortifications and trenches, several museums and historical sites are part of the Trentino Grande Guerra network. The museums collect materials and images in memory of these events that have profoundly marked the territory, the population and the landscape.

Unique of its kind is the Vittoriale degli Italiani in Gardone Riviera.

A complex of buildings, gardens, waterways and a splendid open-air theater. Built starting in 1921, by the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio with the help of the architect Gian Carlo Maroni.

The house-museum was built in memory of the inimitable life of this poet-soldier and his exploits during the First World War.

There are many paths to discover the points of interest of all these eras. For this it is necessary to rely on one of our experts in the history and culture of Lake Garda.

With him you will be able to develop itineraries that allow you to see the best of this priceless heritage.

For a complete experience of the most important places to visit on Lake Garda