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Panorama of Sirmione


Sirmione - bicycles and flowers


Harbour at Sirmione

Welcome to Sirmione
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 7,280 (2004)
Official site: 
Sirmione
Wikipedia:
Sirmione
Map:
Multimap

A small, thin peninsula, about 4 kilometers in length, divides the bottom of Lago di Garda into two equal halves.  Sirmione sits near the peninsula's tip, a small but pretty little "spa" town that is one of the Lake District's busiest tourist towns during the summer months.  Its hotels, restaurants, shops and an array of multi-coloured piers, docks, beach lidos and, of course, its genial climate are undeniably attractive to holiday-makers.

During the summer months, you will almost certainly get caught in the parade of slow-moving traffic on your way to the town center, but if you like the feel of a lazy, breezy, lakeside town - however ancient its provenance and appearance - the bother is certainly worth the ride.

Sirmion's townsite has been almost continuously inhabited since the late 6th or early 5th Centuries BC by tribal Celts.  Evidence that people - probably of Gallic origin - lived on palafitte, stilt-borne houses built in the shallow of the water - dates back to the 3rd Century BC. By the 1st century, under Roman occupation, Sirmione became a resort for rich Romans from Verona, then the most important center in north eastern Italy.  One of its famous citizens was the Roman poet, Catullus, who wrongly has been said to have been the owner of a villa whose ruins are now one of the town's more interesting attractions.

By the time the Roman Empire was entering into its decline, during the late 4th and early 5th centuries AD, the town had been fortified with various defences.  As Roman power collapsed and for decades after, Sirmione endured various violent convulsions as successive powers vied for control of Italy's north.  Ultimately the town came to enjoy a long period of peace, as well as a modicum of regional importance once the Lombards had established hegemony over what is now the modern Italian Region of Lombardia and parts of the Veneto.  Ansa, the wife of King Desiderius, who ruled during the mid 8th Century AD, built a church and monastery which still stand, albeit in much modified condition.

The Lombards were themselves overtaken by Charlemagne whose short-lived "empire" collapsed.

By about 1000 AD, like many other cities and towns in northern and central Italy,  Sirmione seems to have evolved into a "free" comune, but like its counterparts elsewhere, the town ultimately came under despotic rule.  By the 13th century it was controlled by the Scaligera family, who, in about 1250 AD, built the square towered rocca - or castle - which, surrounded on almost all sides by water, dominates the  town's waterfront even to this day. (Today, there is not much to see on the inside, but a romp on the castle's battlements and will yield some wonderful views of the lake and the town.)

In due time, local despotic rule gave way to the larger, more expansive power of the Republic of Venice, La Serenissima, and for a period of over 375 years - from 1405 to 1797 AD - Sirmione, along with the other towns and cities of the Veneto, found themselves within the embrace of the Republic.  In 1797, Venice was conquered by the Austrian Empire

The Austrian's were themselves temporarily dislodged by Napoleon's armies and short-lived administration, but when Napoleon was defeated, Austrian rule was re-established, continuing until 1959 when Austrian rule was overthrown by an insurgent Italian force under Vittorio Emanuele II, Duke of Savoy, whose military actions in the latter stages of the Risorgimento resulted in the formation of modern Italy in 1860.  Inevitably, Sirmione was caught up in the depradations of World Wars 1 and 2, but otherwise, it's history since the unification of Italy has been uneventful.

Sirmione's castle, the Roman ruins of  Catullus's villa and its singular location on the southern shores of Lake Garda would in itself have been ensured the town's evolution as a tourist center.   But, adding to the town's pull, are the very active thermal hot springs that burble in the deep waters off the shores of the peninsula.  Interestingly, the modern spas have only been operating since 1899 when they were discovered by a deep-diving Venetian playing an educated hunch. 

The Romans and Lombards had "taken the waters" at Sirmione and  indeed Catullus's  Villa and other properties incorporated thermal baths into their precincts - but in the late middle ages knowledge of the  springs was "lost".  Modern travelers can enjoy the springs if they check into one of the spa hotels located at the end of the peninsula or can stay in another hotel and visit the Catullo or Virgilio Spa complexes on a drop in basis.

Visitors can also rent bikes, cars, scooters and surf boards or just enjoy the views from the shore.  Lake fishing is very much an active occpuation for local fishermen and every Friday there is a fish market.

If strolling the streets of the city and waterfront is insufficient to satisfy your curiousity you can visit the principal historical landmarks of Sirmione which include:
  • The Grotto of Catullus (Grotte di Catullo), probably the greatest  example of a private Roman villa ever discovered in northern Italy. The villa had a rectangular plan and measured 167 x 105 m.  It seems to have been built as a bath and spa complex before Catullus arrived to retire in the area.
  • The Scaligera Castle (13th century), including a rare example of medieval port fortification, which was used by the Scaliger fleet.
  • The church of San Pietro in Mavino, built in Lombard times but renovated in the 14th century. It has frescoes from the 12th-16th centuries, while the Romanesque bell tower is from 1070.
  • Santa Maria Maggiore (1400) with a single nave decorated with 15th century frescoes and a contemporary wooden statue of the Madonna Enthroned.

If you take a stroll to the hilly, furthermost end of the peninsula you will find yourself in a much less crowded area, covered in cypress trees and olive groves.  There you will also find the above noted Church of San Pietro and it's shady grounds where you can perhaps enjoy a picnic.

The Spiaggia Lido delle Bonde, located along the shore is a private beach complex where you can snack, swim, and sunbathe on the beach or on the offshore rocks.

The Grotte di Catullo are in a fenced-off area just past the Spiaggia.  The complex is open to the public during posted hours.

Edited by Vian Andrews

Lombardia

45°24′N, 10°17′E

Distances

Verona - 42 km;
Brescia - 43 km;
Bergamo - 87 km;
Vicenza - 88 km;
Milan - 133 km;
Bellagio - 147 km;
Venice - 156 km;
Como - 171 km

Directory

Sirmione Hotels

Tourist office
By the bus station and main car park.
Tel: 030-196-114


Sirmione - Coat of Arms

 

Notable people

> Alfred Tennyson described in a poem his impressions of Sirmione in the summer of 1880.

> Italian writers who wrote about Sirmione include Giosuč Carducci, Antonio Fogazzaro and Gabriele D'Annunzio.

> Ezra Pound and James Joyce met in the city in 1920.

> Maria Callas had a villa in Sirmione.

> English writer Naomi Jacob lived in Sirmione until her death in 1964. A small plaque in Sirmione commemorates her.