A little treasure trove
The old town
The ancient walls
Walking around Bardolino means to enter a world in which past and present meet each other. Bardolino means not only beautiful landscapes, good wine and entertainment, but also discovering an important historic and artistic heritage.
While walking around the streets you will enjoy the remains of the medieval walls dating back to the twelfth century if not even before.
We know from reliable sources that the first defensive structures might date back to the ninth century, when king Berengario allowed the inhabitants to build fortresses to protect the villages of Lake Garda.
At that time Bardolino featured square city walls open towards the lake, with two doors and four towers, one for each side.
The city walls maintained their structure up to the eighteenth century, except for some widening during the Scaliger Era (including the turret); heedless of the ancient fortresses, private citizens started introducing new buildings.
In the nineteenth century further destructions only spared a few walls, that is the ones that currently exist. The port holds the tower that is placed against a seventeenth century building (the current Hotel Catullo); it is sloped due to sinking.
The two doors are visible too, one to the north and one to the south: Porta San Giovanni towards Garda and Porta Verona towards Verona.
Still in the heart of the village, there is the old and recently restored San Severo church, together with other historic churches that are worth visiting.
In the very centre of the village, Piazza Matteotti holds the magnificent and recent S.S Nicolò e Severo church overlooking the whole square.
The old town is made of tiny streets that are perpendicular to the coast; the houses, built one behind the other, offer a jump back into the past, when Bardolino was a village of fishermen.
Nowadays the alleys and their balconies in flower offer enchanting views while tiny shops and cafés create a happy holiday feeling.
Moving to the lakefront, visitors can enjoy the tower mentioned above and an interesting stone altar called “Preonda”.
It is a rough stone plank of unknown origins which might date back to the thirteenth century.
The name probably means “pietra dell’onda” (wave stone) as it was originally located on the beach, where it was in close contact with the waves.
Nowadays a kind of symbol for the inhabitants of the village, the Preonda has been placed in several different locations before reaching the current one.
In the past fishermen used it as a fish stall; it was also a meeting point used to discuss the latest news or to talk about politics but also a date place for couples.
According to the tradition going around the Preonda brings good luck and it means you will come back soon!
The whole promenade from Lido Mirabello (towards Cisano) to Lido Cornicello (towards Garda) is decorated with 72 tulip beds; both residents and visitors have caught it in thousands of pictures over the years.
The work is the outcome of a partnership with Parco Giardino Sigurtà. Thanks to the care the district gave to the greenery and its maintenance, in 2008 Bardolino was awarded with the national prize called “Comuni Fioriti” (cities in flower) rewarding the commitment of Italian local managements to embellish the city centres.
The same care is given to order and cleanliness; in 2011 Bardolino indeed gained a further recognition called “Borgo più felice d’Italia” (happiest Italian village).
Numerous villas look out onto the lake, such as Villa delle Rose with its gothic style and its enchanting garden or Villa Bottagisio Carrara with its wide park open to the public.
Today the Bardolino lakefront celebrates with numerous festivals, such as the Festa dell’Uva e del Vino and the enchanting Christmas markets.
In the past Lake Garda was the holiday destination of rich tourist elites. The aristocratic families have always been interested in this Region.
In particular the western shore already held numerous villas during the Roman Empire; some centuries later the Renaissance culture boosted the construction of magnificent buildings all along the lake.
The area was definitely charming due to the beauty of its landscapes, the lush vegetation, the healthy climate and the serenity of the place, before tourists gradually crowded it.
Bardolino also holds thirteen Venetian Villas; they were aristocratic residences dating back to the Republic of Venice, between the fifteenth and the nineteenth century.
Nowadays these historic residences attract the visitors’ attention although the inside is not admitted to the public; while walking around the village, they cannot do without looking at the beauty of their shapes and luxuriant gardens.
The Venetian Villas usually took place within larger agricultural properties.
The very heart of the architectural complex held the owners’ residence (known as “casa dominicale”) that was more refined than the others as it was not only a ceremonial place but also a summer residence; the same area also held the “barchesse”, that is, rural service buildings where all the activities were coordinated: kitchens, farmers’ houses, stables, basements and much more.
Each villa took its name from the aristocratic family living in it.
It is the first villa we find starting from the village centre; it is located behind the Chiesa di S.S. Nicolò e Severo, near the public gardens.
The historical knowledge of this villa is insufficient, but it might date bake to the nineteenth century.
The structure is quite simple and it is characterized by rectangular windows equipped with lintels; the body is connected with a square terrace. In the past there was also a wide park then replaced with new buildings.
In the port area the lakefront holds Villa Guerrieri-Rizzardi-Loredan; it goes from via San Martino up to the lake.
The part that runs along the street held the service rooms, while the one facing the lake held the country house.
The current structure dates back to the nineteenth century restoration, but the original walls testify to at least three domus gentiliciae built between the fifteenth and the sixteenth century as showed by the elegant sixteenth century loggia.
On the southern side there is a wide garden full of numerous tree species, while since the nineteenth century the eastern part has been holding the Guerrieri and Rizzardi’s farm that has survived until a few years ago.
The old basements were carefully redeveloped and nowadays they hold the “Borgo Bardolino”, an evocative courtyard full of shops and restaurants that was open to the public in 2016.
Villa Giuliari Revedin-Gianfilippi Canestrari-Campostrini
Only a stone’s throw from Villa Guerrieri – Rizzardi – Loredan towards Garda there is Villa Giuliari-Revedin, Gianfilippi Canestrari, Campostrini that runs along piazza Matteotti.
It dates back at least to the seventeenth century and it too was restored in the nineteenth century when a porch was built with a balcony looking out onto the square.
The atrium holds an epigraph that testifies to the presence of Alexander I in 1822.
Due to the construction of new buildings, the villa completely lost its park.
This noble residence is also known as “Villa delle Rose”, due to its beautiful garden full of plants, hedges and green paths visitors can admire while walking on the lakefront towards Garda.
The building features gothic elements such as the trifore and it consists of several sections: the linear façade on the lakefront held the country house and it features several trifore and a bifora.
At the top of the structure the eaves with its dovetail battlements give the building a defensive nature. Inside the villa there are numerous frescoes and eighteenth century decorations.
It is also known as “Villa delle Magnolie”, due to the presence of beautiful magnolias; it dates back to the sixteenth century and it features a plain and elegant style.
In the past the villa was surrounded by a wide park that was reduced do to the construction of new buildings. The villa holds the ruins of an ancient limonaia, that is a typical structure of Lake Garda used for citrus trees plantation.
Near punta Cornicello there is an open green park; at the end there is the eighteenth century villa today property of the city.
It is a three-storey building showing different architectural styles, from the medieval style to the neoclassical one.
Villa Bottagisio Carrara was recently restored and since 2012 it has been holding the Bardolino public library, together with numerous events and exhibitions.
Along the eastern Gardesana street towards Garda, there is the eighteenth century Villa Ferrari; it is surrounded by a wide park once reaching the lake shore.
The main facade looks out onto the lake and it is enriched with several windows and a little balcony at the second floor offering an enchanting view.
The building has one floor with a tympanum; the stone pinnacles on the top further increase the height effect.
Villa Da Persico-Marzan
Cisano holds Villa De Persico-Marzan that might date back to the eighteenth century, despite the numerous makeovers.
During the twentieth century significant restorations aesthetically changed the structure, such as the introduction of a new section stretching towards the lake.
Corte San Colombano
It is a partially neo Romanesque courtyard building with a quadrangular fortified tower enriched by dovetail battlements, raising on top of a churchly building.
The history of this building is really old and it is quite different from the previous ones. It even dates back to the age before the Expedition of the Thousand, when the monks of San Colombano monastery settled in the area founding the priorato di San Colombano di Bardolino; it was the administrative centre of the numerous properties of the monastery on the Lake Garda eastern shore.
In 1810, a Napoleonic decree was promulgated ordering the abolition of monastic orders and the state property administration bought the courtyard building to sell it to private citizens.
The buildings were repeatedly modified over the years and till today they are private property.
Casa rurale Caldana-Dalle Vedove-Sabaini-Andreoli
This simple building, also known as Corte Caldana, is located at the entrance of the village, going from the lake to Calmasino.
It is the oldest building of the hamlet as it might date back to the fifteenth century and it features interesting architectural and decorative elements.
It was a country residence surrounded by protective walls. The courtyard holds two different bodies belonging to different work phases: the main body with its hut shaped façade was the oldest and noblest section, while the second body with its simpler lines was added later.
Not so far from Casa Caldana there is Villa Guerrieri dating back to the first half of the eighteenth century. The villa is located at the very centre of Calmasino and it overlooks the current square.
The L shaped complex is surrounded by four streets and till today it occupies for the most part the urban fabric with its wide garden.
The name of this villa comes from the very panoramic position. It was built during the second half of the eighteenth century and then it was enlarged. It consists of the large country house and a lateral body used as “barchessa” (rural service building) with its garden.
The villa holds large rooms; there is no fresco nor other decorative elements and it still features the original doors and floor. Today the building holds the Gruppo Italiano Vini.
It is located in Palù. It is a rectangular seventeenth century house with some farm buildings.
The villa owes its prestige to the old chiesetta di San Francesco dating back to the period between 1569 and 1595; it was ordered by count Girolamo Lombardo on a gratuitous loan for all citizens.
The Bardolino ruins, churches and villas tell us about its origins through the ancient times
Places of worship
The spread of Christianity
The spread of Christianity in Bardolino probably started between the fourth and the fifth century during the Saint Zeno and Vigilio episcopate (respectively the bishop of Verona and Trento).
The evangelization process was a long-lasting one and it was influenced by several factors such as the presence of soldiers and merchants converted to Christianity and the hermits living on Monte Baldo.
However the ecclesiastical authorities started their domain over the area only in the ninth or tenth century; there were different districts, each one having its own parish church, that is a church guided by an archpriest who had jurisdiction over a specific area.
The parish churches held Masses and sacraments and they took place near the cemeteries; for this reason churches were built far from the built-up areas.
Together with churches, there were also chapels and oratories all along the area.
The churches of Bardolino and Calmasino became independent from their parish churches only in the fifteenth century, when they started to have their own priests and baptismal fonts.
Between 1500 and 1700 private oratories were built near or inside the noble families’ residences, as a demonstration of their privileged status or as an act of generosity towards the citizens; an example is the oratorio S. Francesco d’Assisi: a Count ordered to build it within its property in Calmasino.
Nowadays there are a few traces of the oldest churches; they can be found in some ruins, such as the early middle ages plutei on the walls of Santa Maria of Cisano, the San Severo crypt or the old monastery chapel of San Zeno.
The current style of the churches is mostly Romanesque and it dates back to the eleventh and twelfth century.
Nonetheless, some churches such as San Severo rose on pre-existing buildings.
Bardolino was under the Garda parish church and Calmasino was under Lazise, while Cisano was itself a parish church (called Santa Maria).
San Severo was built between the end of the eleventh century and the beginning of the twelfth century.
However according to a king Berengario’s 893 diploma, the church had risen on the ruins of a pre-existing building, as an extension of it.
That building also had a crypt that was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The semi-annular crypt is located in correspondence with the main apse, just under the current presbytery.
For a long time the church was the centre of Bardolino spiritual life but in the fifteenth century San Nicolò became a parish church and San Severo went through a declining period, also due to several alterations and violations.
Today the church features a simple salient facade; the interior is divided into three wooden naves supported by clay and tuff columns.
The interior walls feature a series of eleventh and twelfth century frescoes representing some scenes from the Apocalypse and the True Cross findings together with other paintings visible till today due to the excellent restoration and preservation work.
The bell tower maintains its original structure while the conical pinnacle was built later.
In the late fourteenth century a second church was built in front of San Severo; it held the Confraternita dei Disciplinati.
It has been enlarged, restored and deconsecrated over the years; today it is property of the city and it often holds music events.
This church too has really ancient origins; according to reliable sources it dates back to the ninth century.
According to the tradition, king Pipino, the son of Charlemagne, ordered to build it; in 807 it was given to the San Zeno Maggiore abbey of Verona.
The little church is located on a street that today is considered as peripheral and it takes place near a residential building, thus the facade is no more visible.
The building features a Latin cross plan with a single nave lying on six red marble columns (three for each side); the columns support large round arches. The capitals feature low relief decorations with different motifs such as crosses, roses and leaves.
The remains of medieval frescoes found during the restoration testify to the ancient origins of the church: two recesses of the transept showed the images of San Pietro and the Virgin Mary.
The other frescoes are less clear but they all testify to the Carolingian art.
There is no bell tower, but a bell located on a small supporting wall.
It is one of the few churches of the area that were undamaged by the 1117 earthquake.
The church is located in Cortelline and it is surrounded by the hills and olive trees. According to written sources, it dates back to the beginning of the fifteenth century, but also in this case the origins could be even older (ninth or tenth century), as shown by the interior headstone fragments dating back to the Early Middle Ages.
Between the twelfth and the thirteenth century the building was probably restored and a Romanesque bell tower was added. Later in the eighteenth century the church went through further restoration works, such as the hut-shaped facade remake and the apse demolition to replace it with a larger choir.
The interior has a single nave and the walls show fragments of a low-relief reliquary dating back to the Early Middle Ages.
It is an oratory located at the bottom of the promontory known as “La Rocca”; the first written records date back to the thirteenth century.
The hut-shaped facade is unusually oriented north (Romanesque churches were usually oriented west); the entrance shows remains of a painting of San Pietro by Bartolomeo Zeni, an eighteenth century painter from Bardolino. On the western side the quadrangular belfry towers over the church.
The church has a single nave and a marble altar; near the altar there are the statues of San Francesco and Santa Lucia lying on two Romanesque low-relief pillars.
Some eighteenth century works such as the apse remake and the nave extension gave the church its current structure.
Between 2010 and 2012 the restoration works showed ruins of a Romanesque necropolis. Among the findings there is a Lombard tomb of a man who was buried with its sword and all his stuffs. Over the centuries the church had thus risen on top of those Romanesque funeral ruins dating back to the Early Middle Ages.
Chiesa di Santa Maria
This church of Cisano was already mentioned in a 915 document and it was originally named after San Giuliano (at that time it was a parish church).
It rose on top of a sacellum dating back to the Early Middle Ages whose ruins were found beside the current apse. The facade and the northern section featured fragments of old plutei with different motifs such as shoots, leaves and bunches of grapes.
When autonomous parishes established in the area thus replacing the old structure this church lost part of its value. The structure was probably damaged by the 1117 earthquake and it was rebuilt.
In 1854 the Romanesque church was largely demolished and only the apse survived together with the hut-shaped facade made of clay and cobbles
The current parishes of Bardolino and Calmasino are certainly more recent.
S.S. Nicolò e Severo
The Majestic neo classical S. S. Nicolò e Severo, in the very centre of the village, takes place in the large square facing the lakefront and it was built during the nineteenth century.
It rose on top of the old Romanesque church of San Nicolò, the patron saint of sailors, dating back to the thirteenth century. In the fifteenth century it became a parish and it was named after San Severo since until then San Severo had been the most important church of Bardolino.
On the outside the building features a Palladian facade opposite a neoclassical pronaos with a tympanum lying on four colossal order columns with Corinthian capitals.
A large flight of steps lifts it off the opposite square.
The church has a Latin cross plan with a large rectangular nave and a side transept holding the altar of San Giuseppe to the left and the altar of Madonna del Rosario to the right.
San Michele Arcangelo
This church is located in one of the highest and most scenic places of Calmasino.
The current church was built between 1766 and 1774. This church too rose on top of a pre-existing building, that is the old church of San Michele, whose first written records date back to 1170.
On the outside the building facade is divided in three sections: a hut-shaped central body and two narrow side wings. At the centre there is the gate. On the inside there are two rib vaults on top of the nave showing two paintings: “S. Michele che folgora i demoni” and “S. Michele che incatena gli angeli ribelli”.
In 1969 an oratory named after Sant’Anna was built beside the church.
The presence of the monks
During the Early and High Middle Ages the local ecclesiastical institutions united with the monks of San Colombano who owned numerous properties in the area.
Their settlement was also due to geographical and climate factors; the climate was indeed perfect for olive plantations and olive oil was used for liturgical rites.
Two monastic orders were founded in Bardolino: the order of San Colombano under the Bobbio Abbey (Piacenza) later converted into a priory and the church of San Zeno under the monastery of San Zeno Maggiore (Verona).
The first one was deconsecrated and sold to private citizens (Corte San Colombano), while the second one is now property of the city.
Later in the eighteenth century monasticism went through a period of recovery, tanks to the Camaldolesi hermits; they established in the area of La Rocca in Bardolino and they built the church of San Giorgio; despite some vicissitudes the monks are still there today.
Eremo di San Giorgio
The Hermitage was established by the Camaldolesi Benedectine monks coming from the monastery of Monte Rua; in 1663 they took possession of a plot of land on Monte San Giorgio donated by a nobleman from Verona.
The construction works came along the whole eighteenth century and they ended with the building of the church in 1704. After the 1810 Napoleonic decree ordering the suppression of all monasteries and hermitages of the Kingdom of Italy, the Hermitage was abandoned and farmers occupied it until 1885 when a camaldolese community settled in the area again.
Since then up to the present day the complex has belonged to the hermits, with the exception of the 1962 – 1972 decay during which it was entrusted to the diocese of Verona as the Camaldolese community could not afford the management of buildings and lands.
The hermitage is located into a green area of scenic beauty; you can reach it by car but if you want to enjoy the beautiful landscape you should use the walking route.
The architecture of the church is quite simple: it has a single nave with no apse and four smaller chapels (dedicated to the Virgin, San Romualdo, San Benedetto and Sant’Antonio).
The monks’ regular day is devoted to silence and worship; the hermitage is not admitted to the public but there is the possibility of spending a few days there following the “ora et labora” Benedectine precept.
The porter’s lodge of the Hermitage holds a little shop where you can buy the local Olio Extravergine d’Oliva from the centuries-old olive trees or the honey produced by the monks.
The current community of the hermitage belongs to the Camaldolese Congregation of the order of San Benedetto, whose mother house is located in Camaldoli (Arezzo); it was founded between 1012 and 1024 by San Romualdo of Ravenna.
The Bardolino museums reflect its traditional activities.
The Museo Sisan, on the other hand, shows an ornithological exhibition together with exhibits of other traditional activities of the region such as fishing.
This museum too holds old instruments dating back to ancient times.
The Museo dell’Olio is a corporate museum founded by Umberto Turri in the 1988 summer.
This exposition is the only one of its kind and it aims to testify to a productive system interesting the rural population during more than a thousand years.
It also reflects the history of a poor background with no means nor scientific knowledge, needing to get a food of primary importance from such a precious fruit.
The itinerary goes through a static and unchanging technological context to reach the new opportunities of the mechanical industry at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The museum also holds old original instruments used in the olive oil mills during the eighteenth century together with other tools and furnishings dating back to different ages.
A majestic oak wood manual press machine leaps out together with an olive oil mill activated through a water driven wheel mill (perfectly functioning) and other original examples of wood and iron presses.
A special section is dedicated to olive oil plantation and production through educational panels and videos.
The Museo dell’olio d’oliva also aroused the interest of the mass media: numerous articles and television reports made it renowned also in Europe.
Flavio Turri and his wife Liliana Martino directly cured the museum, inheriting this passion from Umberto and further widening the exhibition itinerary. Private and guided tours are offered with the aid of multimedia guides available in five different languages: Italian, German, English, French and Dutch.
Museo del Vino
The Museo del Vino is located within Cantina Zeni in Costabella, along the wonderful scenic route of Bardolino.
The museum shows an interesting itinerary among rudimentary instruments and machineries used in ancient times during the different phases of the production chain, from the harvest to wine-making and bottling.
The exhibition includes several examples of animal-drawn plough, that is the most important instrument of the history of civilization: it allowed to plough deep thus obtaining richer and surer crops.
The museum also holds two beautiful carts from Verona used in the 50s to transport the grapes from the countryside to the wineries during the harvest season, together with a cart with barrels used to move wine from the Bardolino winery to merchants in Milano or Varese.
The museum also holds the private collection of the Zeni family, including four precious presses dating back to different ages that were used for marc pressing from the fifteenth up to the nineteenth century.
Moreover, there are a rudimentary drying machinery and several tools such as wood funnels, buckets of different sizes and pack baskets used for must transportation.
The itinerary ends with the exhibition of wine pumps dating back to the twentieth century used for wine pouring and an old cooper table. The cooper was the artisan who produced wood containers of all sizes, including barrels.
A museum dedicated to the ornithological, fishing and hunting traditions of the Garda district.
This innovative museum holds eight rooms in which finds are described with the aid of multimedia devices available in three different languages: Italian, English and German.
The ornithological section exhibits numerous bird examples categorized on the basis of their nest-building areas; it has been recently restored in order to improve its educational and preparatory but also touristic and scientific value.
Each find is accompanied by complete descriptive captions and visitors can also listen to the birds singing.
The birth of this museum is related to a centuries-old ornithological festival Cisano holds till today on the 8th of September: the “Sagra dei Osei”.
A short re-enactment of the old festival highlights the historic and cultural aspects of this context while underlining the socio-economic reasons of its birth and development for all this time up to the present day.
On the other hand the fishing section is dedicated to the lake Garda professional fishing that has been an important means of subsistence for years, starting from the 70s.
The exhibition also shows the species living on the lake together with rare fishing tools such as fixed nets, harpoons, lures, lines and boats.