Travel Guide of Sirmione, Lombardy, Italy

Sirmione is a comune in the province of Brescia, located in the center on Lake Garda. For centuries a military outpost, for the presence of Roman and medieval remains today the main industry of the town is tourism. Known by all as “the pearl of the islands and peninsulas”, Sirmioneis a place renowned for the well-known healing properties of its thermal water.

Sirmione develops on a thin peninsula whose natural features have been a reason for admiration and fame since ancient times. In correspondence with a long and thin peninsula that divides the gulfs of Desenzano and Peschiera. From the middle of the southern coast of Lake Garda a very thin strip of land extends for 4 km to the north, in some places just 120 m wide. Sirmione, a picturesque village dating back to the Lombard period even if archaeological excavations have brought to light Roman remains.

Sirmione has inspired and fascinated many artists over the course of history for the beauty of the landscape, to the point of earning the nickname of the peninsula of poets. Tradition indicates as the birthplace of Gaius Valerius Catullus, one of the most famous Latin poets. Its magical atmospheres were already described by the Roman poet Catullus in the first century BC. Sirmione enjoys wide fame thanks to writers such as Catullus, Stendhal, Lawrence and Goethe who celebrated in their writings the artistic and environmental beauties.

In addition to hosting a spa of international level, it offers a rich historical and artistic heritage, which includes the remains of an ancient Roman villa from the early imperial age, otherwise known as the Grotte di Catullo, the Rocca Scaligera and the church of S. Pietro in Mavino, dating back to the eighth century. approximately. The historic center is characterized by narrow streets with stone walls, capable of giving visitors romantic and suggestive views.

Sirmione is also the starting point for boat trips on Lake Garda, from the shortest circumnavigations of the Sirmione peninsula to admire the caves of Catullus and the Scaligero Castle from the water, up to longer excursions to Isola Borghese, the Garda Islands, Salò, etc. The immediate hinterland of Sirmione is also the Lugana wine production area. There are numerous wineries where it is possible to take guided tours with tasting.

Today Sirmione is one of the most important tourist resorts on Lake Garda: it offers sports and recreational facilities equipped for practicing water sports (windsurfing, sailing, etc.) and hotel facilities of international standard able to satisfy the requests of even the most demanding customers.

The first traces of human presence in the area of Sirmione dates from the 6th–5th millennia BC. Settlements on palafitte existed in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC.

Starting from the 1st century BC, the area of the Garda, including what is now Sirmione, became a favourite resort for rich families coming from Verona, then the main Roman city in north-eastern Italy. The poet Catullus praised the beauties of the city and spoke of a villa he had in the area.

Right on the tip of the Sirmione peninsula, there remain the ruins of a huge villa, the “Grotte di Catullo” which preserve frescoes dating back to the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. Near the ruins there is a small museum which preserves archaeological finds and reconstructions. of the Roman villa.

In the late Roman era (4th–5th centuries AD) the city became a fortified strongpoint defending the southern shore of the lake. A settlement existed also after the Lombard conquest of northern Italy: in the late years of the Lombard kingdom, the city was capital of a judiciary district directly subordinated to the king. Ansa, wife of King Desiderius, founded a monastery and a church in the city.

Remembered as “Mansio” (set of public buildings subjected to a decurion), after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Sirmione became part of the Lombard kingdom and, during the 12th century, had its own administration dependent on Verona. During the Scaligera lordship, in the 13rd century, was surrounded by walls and equipped with the imposing fortress, and then moved to Venice in the 15th century.

Since the Lombard period the area was part of the court of the Monastery of San Colombano del Priorato di Bardolino and of the priory of Solarolo (Manerba del Garda), dependent on the Abbey of San Colombano di Bobbio and of the great monastic fief of Bobbio. The monks evangelized the territory by promoting the expansion of trade, agriculture (especially the vine and the olive tree), the fishing system, and culture, introducing important innovations and opening trade routes.

Around the year 1000 Sirmione was probably a free comune, but fell in the hands of the Scaliger in the early 13th century. Mastino I della Scala was probably the founder of the castle. In the same period Sirmione was refuge for Patarines hereticals. The military role of the city continued until the 16th century, but a garrison remained in the castle until the 19th century.

Sirmione was a possession of the Venetian Republic from 1405 until 1797. Under the Serenissima, Sirmione remained linked to the Veronese district. During the reorganization of the fortifications of the Lower Garda, the fortress lost its importance to the advantage of nearby Peschiera. However, it remained a military outpost as evidenced by the construction of the church of Sant’Anna, inside the castle, for the religious service of the garrison.

During the 15th century the church of Santa Maria Maggiore was built on top of the remains of that of San Martino in Castro. In the seventeenth century, the noble Francesco Rovizzi built a residence and a small church dedicated to St. Ursula in the locality later known as Rovizza.

During 1797, Sirmione was first occupied by the French forces. In 1816, Sirmione wasassigned to the V district of Lonato in the province of Brescia of the Habsburg Empire. It became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.

At the end of the 19th century, the works of intubation of the thermal waters took place. The thermal spring was already known in the sixteenth century but the depth from which it flowed, 19 meters below the level of the lake, had prevented any use up to that moment. Thanks to the pipeline it was possible to activate the first thermal establishment and carry out the first analyzes on the quality of the water.

Main Attractions
Today, Sirmione’s main industry is tourism. The city is the most popular holiday resort in the province of Brescia. The territory of Sirmione is particularly attractive: both because it is on the shores of Lake Garda, both for the archaeological site of the Grotte di Catullo, and for the presence of a thermal spring.

The historic center of Sirmione is located within the walls of the Scaligero castle. The ancient medieval village is home to the main historical monuments of Sirmione: the Scaligero Castle, the Grottoes of Catullus, the Church of San Pietro in Mavino, the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, as well as splendid romantic views.

Discover the beauty of the place of the Scaligero Castle, which can also be visited along the perimeter of the walls. Starts from the entrance to the village, consisting of the southern walls of the Scaligero Castle. To create the moat, the canal that cuts the tip of the Sirmione peninsula was dug, making it in fact an island. From the small dock always crowded with fishing and pleasure boats you can enjoy a beautiful view of the castle, with the keep and the crenellated walls.

The classic visit to the remains of the villa of the Latin poet Valerio Catullo who praised its beauty. Also worth seeing is Villa Callas, the home of the unforgotten soprano which also hosts important events, generally musical, in the summer months.

The Baths, already famous in Roman times, for the curative sulphurous waters that flow hot from the bottom of the lake, used for respiratory diseases and skin diseases, are very popular, especially the Baths of Aquaria. The Scaligero Castle and its dock as well as the unmissable caves of Catullus are worth a visit.

Sirmione offers its tourists all kinds of shops, through the streets, there is no shortage of souvenirs, food and wine shops, such as oil, lemons, Lugano wine, and clothing, shoes and accessories boutiques. In addition to the various shops near the center, just outside the town you can also find outlets and company outlets.

For those who love walking in Sirmione it is advisable to do thepanoramic road that starts next to the Castle and runs along Lake Garda, offering truly unforgettable views, while bike enthusiasts can make a beautiful itinerary to discover Lugana wine pedaling through the vineyards.

Lugana di Sirmione with its beautiful lakefront of almost 2.5 km to do on foot or by bike, moreover Sirmione is a perfect base for visiting both the Lower Garda and the Veronese coast which offer dozens of enchanting corners.

Historical architectures

Scaliger Castle
The Scaligero castle is a fortress guarding the only southern access point to the historic center. It was built by the Scala family, from which it took its name, during the thirteenth and fourteenth century and in two phases: the first under Mastiff I and the last under Cangrande. Surrounded by the waters of Lake Garda, it is defended by three towers and by the keep, forty-seven meters high. To the east of the castle there is the fortified dock for the fleet’s refuge. The battlements of the fortress are dovetailed, while those of the dock are spearheaded.

The entrance to the castle is on the right just inside the town. On the entrance portal you can see the Scaligero coat of arms (the shield with the ladder) and the lion of San Marco, emblem of the Serenissima Republic of Venice, symbols of two of the powers that followed one another in control of the region. From the internal courtyard you can go up to the patrol walkways and higher up to the keep from which you can enjoy an exceptional 360° view of the village and the peninsula of Sirmione. From the top of the keep you can clearly see the small dock of the castle surrounded by walls and towers built in the water, which would have protected the boats that had taken refuge there from attacks by the enemy.

Religious architectures

Church of Sant’Anna
It is a small ecclesial building that stands near the Scaligero castle. Dedicated to the mother of the Madonna, it was built in the fifteenth century to serve the Venetian garrison placed to defend the fortress. Inside there are votive frescoes of the sixteenth century, a stone painting depicting the Madonna and a coat of arms of the Scaligeri.

Church of Santa Maria della Neve
The church of Santa Maria della Neve, also known as Santa Maria Maggiore, is the parish church of Sirmione. It was built in the fifteenth century over the remains of the church of San Martino in castro from which part of the material used in the construction comes . The northern facade rests on the ancient wall that surrounded the town. The entrance façade is decorated in terracotta and is characterized by a five-arched portico, originally part of the cemetery as evidenced by some tombs placed on its floor. A milestone dedicated to the third consular year of the emperor Julian the Apostate was reused for a column in the portico. The interior has a single nave and has five altars. The votive frescoes are from the fifteenth century as is the wooden statue representing a “Madonna on the throne” from the same period. The crucifix is from the 16th century and is attributed to Domenico Brusasorzi. The organ dates back to the 18th century.

Church of San Pietro in Mavino
The church of San Pietro in Mavino, dedicated to the apostle Peter, according to a document of the eighth century, is already built. It is located on the highest point of the peninsula and probably takes its name from the Latin summa vinea, or vineyard located on the top, hence Mavino. The original building, in Romanesque style, was rebuilt and raised around 1320. The bell tower was built in 1070 maintaining the same style of the church. Inside, the frescoes in the three apses date back to the 12th century, while those on the walls are from the 16th century.

Oratory of Saints Vito and Modesto
Dedicated to the original patrons of Sirmione, the martyrs Vito and Modesto, it is located halfway between the Colombare locality and the center of Sirmione. The factory was built in 1744 to replace a previous church, dedicated to the same martyrs, which dated back to the eighth century . The latter was located within the southern walls of the late ancient era as it was defined in castro Sermione until the Scaliger era, when, with the construction of the new fortress and the new walls, the church was indicated in the documents as extra muros sermioni.

Civil architectures

Palazzo Maria Callas
Palazzo Maria Callas, a 17th century palace located in the central Giosuè Carducci square. The beautiful Art Nouveau villa, owned by the municipality and is dedicated by them to the opera singer Maria Callas. The famous soprano made her debut at the Verona Arena opera festival in 1947. There she met her husband, Giovan Battista Meneghini, a wealthy businessman. The couple spent their summer holidays in the villa they owned in Sirmione.

Palazzo Callas Exhibitions, which dates back to the end of the 18th century, has been renovated by the Sirmione Town Council to host exhibitions and major events and has become a venue of reference for several years. The building has an exhibition area of over 400 square metres, as well as a conference room that can accommodate over 100 people.

Villa Meneghini-Callas
Villa Meneghini-Callas, originally belonged to the Giannantoni family, industrialists of the Lombard bourgeoisie. Owned by the entrepreneur Meneghini, where his wife Maria Callas lived in the 1950s. After several passages between inheritance and owners, it is now a private condominium.

Archaeological sites

Grottoes of Catullus
The term “Grotte di Catullo” identifies a Roman domus built between the end of the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD on the tip of the Sirmione peninsula. The archaeological complex, studied since the beginning of the nineteenth century and brought to light in several phases, is the most important testimony of the Roman period in the municipal area and is considered the most important example of a Roman villa in northern Italy.

The term “Grotte” derives from a fifteenth-century tradition, when the ruins, before the excavations, appeared in the form of caves. Tradition, starting with Marin Sanudo the Younger, identifies the villa as belonging to Gaius Valerio Catullo who in a poem claimed to own property in Sirmione. However, there is no certainty that the building was the same where the Latin poet lived, also due to the ascertained presence of other villas along the peninsula.

Gaius Valerius Catullus was born in Sirmione in 84 BC. His was a rich and important family who gave hospitality to Julius Caesar in a stage of his travels to Gaul. To give hospitality to a figure like Caesar needed a suitable place. This is one of the clues that makes many believe that the large and sumptuous villa, the remains of which tradition calls “the grottoes of Catullus”, is precisely the place where the famous poet was born and spent his childhood.

A passage from Catullus’ poetry dedicated to SirmioneCatullus moved to Rome around 60 BC. Here he led a sweet life ante litteram, frequenting visit by young artists of high hopes, personalities of the time, fascinating women.

Catullus joined the poetic current of the neo-heroes, which revolutionized the art and poetry of antiquity. In an era in which poetry dealt with “high” topics, telling about gods and heroes, celebrating the powerful, authors like Catullus spoke instead of little things: love, friendship, nostalgia, writing immortal verses for their universality and modernity.

The site covers an area of approximately two hectares. The structure has a rectangular plan 167 meters long and 105 meters wide with two foreparts on the two short sides and a garden, now used as an olive grove, in the center. The rooms of the villa that are visible are identified by conventional names, derived both from a local tradition and from interpretations provided by scholars during the first excavations.

Site dwelling Lugana Vecchia, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage as part of the transnational serial site Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps.

The complex had its own spa. We can clearly distinguish two rooms equipped with a hypocaust, the ingenious system of cavities into which hot air was conveyed from a furnace for heating. One, larger, was perhaps the tepidarium, the other, smaller, the calidarium. A quadrangular construction whose walls have been preserved was probably the cistern that supplied water to the baths.

An even larger cistern is instead located in the middle of the esplanade on which the body of the building stood. It was an imposing work, 43 meters long, 8-9 meters deep, carved into the rock and covered by a brick vault arranged in a herringbone pattern which, after two thousand years, is perfectly preserved. In it the water that the entire villa needed was collected since, built on a rocky spur, it was too far from the lake, and it was not possible to reach any aquifer.

The north end of the villa ended with a large terrace facing the lake, built on the highest and most imposing of all the substructures. The large platform has almost completely collapsed. Some pierced stones found among the rubble downstream have suggested that around the terrace there was a system of poles that supported a large velarium, a curtain like that of theaters and amphitheaters, which shaded the entire surface of the terrace, making it a pleasant place.

The guided tour of the Catullus caves ends in the small but very interesting museum attached to the service building. There are exhibits found during the various excavation campaigns that have taken place in the villa and in other neighboring areas: fragments of friezes, pottery, oil lamps, bronzes, coins, inscriptions, milestones. A fragment of a fresco found in the villa that deserves particular attention is exhibited in a display case in the museum. It represents a young man, dressed in the typical patrician toga, holding a scroll, the equivalent of a book in the ancient world. Many like to think that it is the portrait of the young poet Catullus.

The product on which the cuisine of Lake Garda is based is the lake fish that constitutes its true heritage. In Lake Garda you can fish about forty different species of fish, mostly indigenous. The most valuable and typical species found a suitable habitat only in Garda is the carpion. Other species include alborella, lacustrine trout, Coregone, pike combined with good local oil. In the centre of Sirmione, near the lake and in the hilly inland area, you shall find several trattorias and restaurants where you can also try the typical products of the area.

And then the Lugana wine, an unmistakable, rigorous and high-class white wine. The cellars of Sirmione produce Lugana white wine in the glacial-sedimentary clayey soils characterizing the territory, where the native Turbiana grape gives its best, allowing Lugana to stand out for its minerality and flavor.

Terme di Sirmione on Lake Garda is one of the most important spas in Italy. Its appeal lies in a unique, essential element: the sulphurous thermal water with bromide and iodide salts, known for its preventive and therapeutic properties.

In 1889 some divers discovered on the bottom of the lake, just off the tip of the peninsula, a spring from which water at about 70 ° temperature came out. The water of Terme di Sirmione is classified as mineral water, bacteriologically pure and hyperthermal, because it flows at a temperature of 69°. Based on its chemical-physical characteristics, the water of Terme di Sirmione is identified as sulphurous salsobromoiodica. In fact, it contains a significant quantity of sulfur, in the form of hydrogen sulfide, sodium, bromine and iodine. The sulphurous waters of Sirmione have shown efficacy in the treatment of some respiratory and auditory disorders, but they are also ideal for carefree relaxation. The water was channeled and is still distributed to spas and some hotels.

The Terme di Sirmione offer has four aspects: health, wellness, accommodation and brand products. The facilities are divided between Virgilio Thermal Centre, Aquaria Thermal SPA and four hotels: the five-star Grand Hotel Terme, the four-star Hotel Sirmione e Promessi Sposi and Hotel Acquaviva del Garda and the three-star Hotel Fonte Boiola. Three of the facilities are equipped with an indoor thermal SPA where, in addition to swimming pools, massages and beauty treatments, specialist medical consultations and diagnostic examinations can be performed, with thermal respiratory, mud and balneotherapy treatments.

Natural space
Explore Sirmione’s water mirrors, strands and green nooks near the historic centre and throughout the Sirmione area. As a treasure trove of history and architecture, Sirmione is a place endowed with natural charm, displaying enchanting views at every spot and in every season.

Parks for a walk, to relax reading a book in the shade of a tree, to play with your children or to attend an event: in Sirmione, in the old town centre and in the surrounding area, there are many places where you can take a break in the greenery, between visits to monuments and various points of interest in the town and its surroundings.

In Sirmione there are several beaches, located in various points of the territory, bathe in Lake Garda and walk along the shore. The fresh breeze of the lake, the scent of olive trees and vegetation, the brightness of water.

Rich in history and enchanting views boasted by Garda Lakeside, Sirmione is a perfect setting to relax and walk along traditional routes and far beyond: you shall stroll among the monuments, immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the hamlet, as well as explore the surrounding natural landscape and the views of the lake, either on foot, walking and running, or by bicycle.

In the inland of Sirmione Peninsula, along a trail stretching among the streets of the historic centre you can visit the several local monuments, ranging from the Roman remains of the Caves of Catullus up to the early medieval sites such as Chiesa di San Salvatore, from the Scaliger Castle to the Callas Palace, where the Divine herself dwelt. You shall plumb the depths of sacred buildings and noble residences, featuring the allure of the ancient hamlet.

In Sirmione you can let yourself be captivated by the appeal of Garda Lake, surrounding the peninsula on three sides, and treat yourself to the delight of walking in nature, along the shores and in the several parks.

Sirmione and its surroundings offer manifold cycling tourism opportunities, suitable for both beginners and experienced sporty people, with routes of varying length, in the nature, all around Sirmione, along the Garda lakeshore or else tourist and historical itineraries