Set upon the hills just five km from Lake Garda is Lonato del Garda. This beautiful little city offers exceptional monuments and offers a completely preserved example of an ancient village. Lonato del Garda boasts beautiful architecture such as seventh century basilicas, the fifth century Torre Maestra and the imposing Rocca, undeniable testimony to the long period in which Lonato was ruled by Venice. Both the Museo civico Ornitologico and the Fondazione Ugo da Como are based in this region, and the work of the later to protect ancient homes has ensured that these house-museums are among best preserved in Italy. The wonderful resort can fulfil a wide range of needs from those who wish to spend their days by the lake, with it’s beautiful beaches, to those who desire to sample the rich cuisine and use the modern sports grounds.
HISTORY
The town lies on the landscape of Morenic Hill, on the south-west side of Lake Garda. Here the first human settlements appeared in the Bronze Age on pile-dwellings, as testified by archaeological findings in the areas of Polada and Lavagnone. The name Lonato is believed from some scholars to derive from the Celtic term “Lona” meaning little lake. In the imperial Roman time, Lonato was crossed by the Basilica Emilia way, which used to connect Gallia with Aquileia. Roman ruins were found in the area of Monte Mario and Pozzo. The town was destroyed in the year 909 by the Hungarians, after which a new castle was built and the town fortified. In the following centuries Lonato was destroyed and rebuilt various times. In 1512 King Louis XII of France established his headquarters here when he invaded Italy. In 1516 Lonato become part of the Venetian Republic, until Napoleon arrived in 1796, when he fought and beat the Austrians during the first Italian campaign. In 1859 the town was part of the Italian Kingdom. During World War I the “basso Garda” defensive line was built, while in World War II it was a training centre for the X MAS. The coat of arm is a lion rampant turned on the left side, with two golden keys grasped by the front legs. In 1509, King Louis XII of France granted to Lonato the honour to enrich the coat of arm with the three lilies of France, in gratitude for the favors that Lonato’s community offered him. Lonato received the honorary title of city with a presidential decree on November 21, 1996.
WHAT TO SEE IN LONATO DEL GARDA
Rocca Visconteo-Veneta (Castle), locally known as the Rocca, stands on the summit of the Morenic Amphitheatre dominating the southern side of Lake Garda. The western slope of the hill shelters the historical centre of Lonato, the limits of which border the Po valley. The fortification may be considered one of the most important in Lombardy. Its irregular and vaguely triangular form reveals a central structure almost 180 metres in length and approximately 45 metres in width.It is composed of two structures at different levels: the so called Rocca in the upper part, and the lower part called headquarters. Despite the long domination by the Visconti and Scaligeri families, the walled embankment, built with large morenic rocks, has Guelph merlons. In all probability, Lonato’s castle was first built around the year 1000 when fortifications were raised around the area against the invasion of the barbarians. Its architectural design closely follows the standards of the 15th and 16th centuries when it was rebuilted by the Visconti family of Milan. After passing from the Gonzaga domination to Venice, then back to the Gonzaga and again to Venice, the castle passed to the Austrian Empire and finally to private hands. The military base was demolished and the internal and external surface was transformed into agricultural land. In 1912 the castle was declared a national monument; it was bought by Senator Ugo da Como in 1920 who partly restored it, and since 1996 it houses the Museo Civico Ornitologico, conferences, weddings and theatral shows.
The Museo Civico Ornitologico (Museum of Birds) is located inside the castle and contains more than 700 specimens. The species represented are from the area of Lake Garda but also of exotic origin, together with specimens with rarities, unique characteristics, plumage anomalies.
The House of the Podestà was built in the second half of the 15th century as seat of the representative of Venice, who was in charge of the control in the surrounding area. Lonato was under the Venetian republic for more than 350 years (1441-1796) and its government was interrupted only once and very shortly by the marquis Francesco Gonzaga (1509-1516). After Napoleon gave Venice to the Austrians, the House of the Podestà passed first to the Austrian public domain, which used the building as barracks, and then to the commune of Lonato, which didn’t take care at all of the building. In 1906 the House was bought in a public auction by Ugo Da Como, who, conscious of the historical importance of the place, called the architect A. Tagliaferri (1835-1909) to restore it. His purpose was to give back the ancient dignity to the Venetian building and as was fashionable in his time, they furnished the house, and today the extensive collections, including the library, 405 incunabola (one of the most important collection in Italy), 470 manuscripts and rare illuminated codes, parchments and prints. It also contains one of the smallest books in the world, 15×9 mm, which reproduces the letter by Galileo Galilei to Cristina di Lorena. In addition, it holds manuscripts letters by Ugo Foscolo to his lover Marzia Martinengo, written in 1807-1809. Ugo Da Como and his wife Maria Glisenti passed in this building their summers and, visiting it, we can nearly exactly see the house as when they lived in it. The house is located in a charming group of buildings surrounding the stronghold and belongs to a private foundation wanted by Ugo Da Como and set up in 1942.
The Duomo (Cathedral) of San Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist) dates from the 19th century. It is an example of Baroque architecture, designed by the Lonato architect Paolo Sorattini (1680–1762) and built during the second half of the 18th century. Its balanced cupola (20 meters of diameter and 60 meters high) and facade soberly decorated with marble are the basilica’s most notable points. The magnificent baroque interior is enriched with frescoes and altar pieces by Venetian artists such as Antonio Balestra and Giambettino Cignaroli.
Torre Civica: erected in 1555 it was placed above the city with its merlatura, which can be traced back to the XIX century. It has three bells dedicated to the village’s saint. From the inside it is possible to admire the intricate details of the clock.
Colonna Veneta: situated in the main square it is mounted with the lions of San Marco, a testimony to the long period that Lonato del Garda spent under the government of Venice. The colonna was begun in 1441 and sporadically worked upon until its completion in 1796.
Fornaci Romane is a Roman site south of Lonato in Gorghi. Six Roman brickworks were recently found and restored. The brickworks have circular shape with a firing chamber built using a technique with casts of pebbles stuck together with mortar. The ruins seems to indicate that this location was an important industrial center between the 1st and 2nd century AD.
WHAT TO DO IN LONATO DEL GARDA
Lonato has a beach that everyone calls Lido di Lonato, with bar, restaurant, paddle boats, canoes for hire, sunbeds, parasols, cabins and showers. The landscape is an ideal place for relaxing and well-being with long walks through mule tracks and narrow paths. One of the best walks available is from the Castle of Drugolo to the castle of Padenghe. Be transported back to the Middle Ages as you walk through the woods rich in oaks, lindens, maples and hazel trees, vineyards, olive groves, barley and sunflowers fields all emphasizing the beauty of the landscape. In Lonato there are the Shopping Centre “Il Leone”, that hosts 120 shops, one big superstore, hairdressers and cafés and restaurants; and the multiplex Multisala King. The list of things to see and do in Lonato does not end here. Lonato is home to the skeet shooting range, called Trap Concaverde, which hosted the International Skeet Shooting Federation’s world championship competition in 2005. The South Garda Kart track is a top European Kart circuit, located near Lonato, east of Milan in Northern Italy. Opening in 1988, the venue has grown to become arguably the highest rated Kart circuit in Italy. Being certified as a CIK FIA homologated track means that large events take place, hosting several European and World Championship events. Facilities at the venue are extremely good, and reflect the size of the circuit. They include a 2,000 seater grandstand (bigger than some full sized race tracks!), full tarmacced pit area, a Kart shop and a permanent restaurant/bar. Several Formula 1 drivers can be seen testing at the track during the winter, which last year included Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica.