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History of the Scaligero Castle

Thanks to mild climate and a good location on the peninsula which provided shelter and food, the Sirmione settlement dates back to ancient times. A small fishing settlement grew to quite a decent size during the ancient times; it is called the town of Serme Muncie in written source materials about the travels of Emperor Antoninus. Fortifications first appeared during the times of the Roman Republic. They were built in the place of today's castle to protect the port and houses of wealthy dignitaries from Verona. During the 3rd and 4th c. AD the fortifications were enhanced, but that did not help to save the town from destruction when barbarians invaded it. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes of Lombards settled in the north of Italy. The word ‘Lombardy’ is derived from the Lombards. By the end of the 8th c. a Benedictine monastery was opened in Sirmione. The monastery was under the patronage of Queen Ansa, wife of the last Lombard ruler. In the 1260s Sirmione came into the possession of the influential della Scala {Scaliger} family from Verona. The della Scala family greatly contributed to the development of Verona and the cities to the north. It supported the Gibellini family, so in 1276 Mastino I della Scala slaughtered whole families of his political opponents, supporters of the Guelpih family, in Sirmione.

Shortly after, Mastino I ordered to build Sirmione Castle not only to reinforce Verona's defences but also to show his own strength and political power. During the reign of the Scaliger family, several more castles were built in North Italy along Lake Garda {including Castelvecchio in Verona, Skaliger Castle in Malcesine}, but Sirmione Castle is deservedly regarded as the most majestic and beautiful among all of them. The way to the Castle, surrounded by water on all sides, led only through a drawbridge, and the huge walls and massive towers were able to resist any attack. Prison cells were later established in the high towers; it was impossible to escape from there. On one side, small port walls adjoined the castle walls. These walls went up right from the water to protect the personal fleet of the Scaliger family.

In 1405 Verona and surrounding towns were annexed to the Republic of Venice and next a Venetian garrison was deployed in Scaliger Castle. As the Castle was important in controlling Lake Garda, Venetian magnates maintained and reinforced its defence capacities. At that time a new stone wall was built around the harbour and the Castle. Venetian patrols were since then located there. The declining years of Scaligeri Castle began in the 16th c. when architect Michele Sanmicheli built a new fortified stronghold with towers in Peschiera del Garda. The Venetian garrison was moved there, while warehouses and an arsenal were established in Scaliger Castle.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the territories that belonged to Venice were conquered and the French forces stationed in Scaliger Castle until 1814. In 1861, after all independent Italian states united, Sirmione became part of the Kingdom of Italy, but at first the rulers were not interested in the Castle's fate. By the end of the 19th c. hot thermal springs were found in Sirmione. As a result, the town became a resort and a huge sanatorium centre. Just as it was during the times of ancient Rome, rich Italians became enamoured with the picturesque town and chose it as a good place for spending holidays and building their villas. Scaliger Castle was revived thanks to tourism development. In the early 20th c. the Castle came into the possession of the State, and after restoration it started a new life as a tourist facility and museum.