Sirmione is a municipality that has just over 8 thousand residents, located in the province of Brescia. Its historic center is located on a peninsula that juts out into the waters of Lake Garda and offers views that are nothing but suggestive in every way. For centuries, Sirmione belonged to the Veneto region, later it was moved to Lombardy and the province of Brescia from the administrative reorganization operated by Napoleon. The main source of income for the residents of the town today is tourism, both because of the thermal waters and the numerous Roman ruins. The peninsula on which the built-up area rises, extends for about four kilometers into the waters of the lower Lake Garda, offering several kilometers of coasts and beaches of unique and irresistible charm. The hinterland, on the other hand, extends up to the morainic hills that surround a large part of the southern coast of the lake basin, including the area of production of Lugana.
Sirmione is certainly one of the fundamental stages for those staying in our hotel in Lazise.
The area where Sirmione stands was already populated by some groups during the Bronze Age, who chose it to take advantage of the isolation of the place and the ease of protection afforded by the peninsula on Lake Garda. In the area, numerous remains have been found including stone and metal artifacts. Centuries later, the Romans decided to make it a place to stay. Right on the northern end of the peninsula, the ruins of a large Roman villa rise, which were later renamed to the “Grotte di Catullo” where you can see some frescoes dating back to the 1st and 2nd century BC. Later, in 1197, the Sirmione mayor swore allegiance to Verona linking the town of Garda to the Scaliger power. According to some recent studies, the Scaliger castle was built during the lordship of Cangrande I on the remains of the ancient Roman castrum, where the peninsula narrows and reaches the point of least extension. In 1405, Sirmione came under the control of the Republic of Venice, losing any importance for the nearby Peschiera. From that moment, Sirmione became a simple military outpost until the area was conquered by Napoleon and, after the fall of the Serenissima, subjected to the control of the Venetian Municipality. In June 1805, following the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy, a new administrative reorganization took place. Sirmione was assigned to the 7th canton, which in turn was part of the Brescia district. A very important event for the economic fates of the country was the concern of the intubation of the thermal waters. At the end of the 19th century, the first intubation works took place. The source was already known to all the residents of the place starting from the sixteenth century, but the depth at which the water gushed (almost twenty meters below the level of the lake) had always prevented its use. Thanks to this intubation system it became possible to build the first thermal establishment.
Near the ruins of the Roman villa, a small museum exhibits most of the archaeological findings recovered on site, as well as some interesting reconstructions of the structure. Those who arrive here cannot do without a thorough visit of the crenelated walls that surround the village and, with it, the fantastic Scaliger Castle. The fortified village is the destination of a particularly crowded walk, especially on holidays and during the summer. There is no lack of shops, high fashion boutiques and everything that may interest tourists who reach the area. In addition to the dozens of small shops that support the historic center, one can also find well-stocked outlets and shopping centers, accommodation facilities, and restaurants to suit any taste. Not by chance, Sirmione is renowned for its extraordinary hospitality and the abundance of entertainment options with numerous bars and panoramic terraces. There is no lack of thermal structures exploiting the waters that rise from the bottom of the lake, which were already known in Roman times, thanks to their healing powers and their soothing and relaxing properties. The sulfurous waters of Sirmione have been used for over a century to treat respiratory and skin diseases. All the spa facilities in the area are particularly popular, although the tourists’ favorite is Aquaria. Nowadays, the word Sirmione means shopping, however, a visit to the town must absolutely be finished with a visit to the remains of the villa of the Latin poet Valerio Catullo, who extensively extolled the beauty of the local nature during his stays. While during the day you can enjoy bathing and tanning at the various sandy and pebble beaches, in the evening you can do nothing but be enchanted by the astonishing beauty of Sirmione, which lights up like a small Paris and comes to life with cafes, bars, and nightclubs.
On the southern shore of Lake Garda rise the remains of what was probably the villa of Catullus in Sirmione. The archaeological complex is the most important evidence of the Roman period in the territory and is the best example of a Roman villa in all of northern Italy. The name “Grotte di Catullo” dates back to the 15th century, when the rediscovery of the Latin literature and the poet’s poems (including the Carme 31 in which the poet describes his return to the house of Sirmione), formed the link to the ruins of the villa, back then still hidden by vegetation. The first one who attributed the construction to Catullo was Marin Sanudo Jr., in 1483, this hypothesis was later taken up by numerous scholars and scientists. In reality, there are a few useful elements to locate Catullo’s house safely. Despite the uncertainty, the expression “Grotte di Catullo” is still used today to identify the archaeological site. The villa was built at the beginning of the 1st century AD but, despite its beauty, in the 3rd century AD, it was already long ago abandoned. In this period, in fact, a good part of his architectural decorations was reused in the other large Roman villa in Sirmione, located in Via delle Antiche Mura. Between the fourth century and the fifth century, the building’s structures were included in the fortifications that surrounded the Sirmione peninsula, and numerous burials were built among the ruins of the villa. The archaeological complex, still partially unearthed today, stands on an area of over two hectares. The villa has a rectangular plan, with the long side measuring over 165 meters. It was characterized by terraces and long arcades open towards the lake and connected with a splendid belvedere terrace located on the north side, which also had to be equipped with a velarium. On the western side, however, there is the cryptoporticus, a covered promenade from which one can observe the lake and the magnificent panorama.
The castle of Sirmione is a fortress dating back to the 12th century, which has now become the main access point to the historic center of the town. It is one of the best-preserved castles in Italy, as well as a very rare example of lake fortification. The walls and crenelated towers open onto the keep, 47 meters high and below which, there were the prisoners’ cells. Today, the castle is almost entirely open to visitors and you can also access the walkways located on the walls, from which you can enjoy part of the historic center and the dock. The construction of the fortress began around the mid-13th century, on the ruins of a more ancient fortification. The mayor was Leonardo della Scala of Verona, better known as Mastino della Scala. The castle was built to keep the port and the approaching boats under control, considering that Sirmione, rising in a border position, was more exposed to possible aggression. During the 15th century, two large courtyards and an independent fortification were added to increase the defensive systems of the fortress. When Sirmione came under the control of Venice in 1405, its defensive structures were further strengthened. The realization of the dock is also due to the Serenissima.