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The history of the city. A journey through the centuries

Findings dating back to the Early Bronze Age (2000-1800 BC) make it possible to locate human settlements that characterize the so-called "Polada Culture" in the Benacense morainic amphitheatre.
Between the first and second century AD the banks of Lake Garda were elected to the agricultural residence of many wealthy Romans, as evidenced by the villa identified in Desenzano in 1921 on the place where the ancient Via Emilia, which connected Brescia to Verona, passed.
During the Longobard period Desenzano was part of a district that went from the shores of the lower lake to the Mantuan countryside.
The Pieve of Desenzano, among the first Christian churches in the Garda area, initially dependent on Verona, passed under the civil jurisdiction of Brescia in 1192, and in 1220 became a fiefdom of the Confalonieri family.
Around 1170, Niceta brought the Cathar heresy to these places: Sirmione and Desenzano, who also had a catharist theologian and bishop, became its centers of diffusion until the intervention of the Inquisition in 1276.
In the dispute between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, the latter found refuge in the castle of Desenzano but were eventually overwhelmed. From 1426, with the dominion of Venice, Desenzano entered the "Magnifica Patria" becoming an important commercial center, above all thanks to its grain market, and cultural: as early as 1449 public teachings were held in Desenzano and in the 16th century an Academy was established.
During the French invasion of the League of Cambrai Desenzano refused to give himself to the cardinal d'Amboise and placed himself under the protection of Mantua, but he still had to bow to Louis XII.
From 1512 to 1516 looting by German troops took place. The '500 reserved other misfortunes, such as the passage of the lansquenets and the plague of 1567.
In 1772 Desenzano succeeded in obtaining, after almost 350 years of conflict, independence from Salò. After the Jacobin revolution of 1797 it became the seat of the Department of Benaco. With the Restoration, under the Kingdom of Lombardy-Veneto, Desenzano was elevated to first-class commune and in 1816 and 1821 received visits by the Austrian Emperor Francis I.
In 1859 the battle of S. Martino and Solferino (Napoleon III and Vittorio Emanuele II against the Austro-Hungarians), which saw the birth of the Red Cross by Henri Dunant whose Museum, unique in the world, is located a few kilometers from Desenzano in the village of Castiglione delle Stiviere. This occasion transformed Desenzano into a single, large hospital.
Both in the first and second world war Desenzano was bombarded, which destroyed the railway viaduct of 1852.

For the tourist or the resident citizen is not difficult to retrace in broad terms the crucial moments in the history of this charming Garda city, if he looks at some buildings, monuments and archaeological complexes, which still today remind us of life of the past.
We begin our journey by entering the eastern gate of the ancient village. A few steps from the lake, in what was once the cloister of S. Maria de Senioribus, is the Archaeological Museum, whose visit allows us to go back to its origins. It is named after Giovanni Rambotti, a scholar who is responsible for the discovery of the prehistoric settlement of the Polada culture (2000 BC). Observing the artifacts jealously kept in glass cases, it can be deduced that the first human settlements in the Benaco area date back to an era between etmesolithic (8000 BC) and bronze (II millennium BC). To this last age belongs the most important find there preserved, the "jewel" of the entire archaeological exhibition: the oldest wooden plow in the world, dating back to about 2000 BC, extracted in good condition in the area of ​​Lavagnone (south of Desenzano), thanks to the oxygen-free environment, characteristic of the peat bogs, in which it was found.
If we continue along the lakefront towards the western part of the historical center, near the lake, we must visit the archaeological complex of the Roman Villa, whose owner "Decentius" has probably given the name to our city. The remains of the villa, which had more constructive eras, between the end of the republican age (I century BC) and the end of the imperial age (5th century AD), extend for about one hectare and represent the most important evidence in Northern Italy of a large late Roman ancient villa. It is undoubtedly a complex building, of great extension, with a unitary orientation, whose residential sectors alternated with rustic structures. The large villa overlooked the lake, indeed this had to be the determining element in the distribution of the different rooms, designed to offer from their inside multiple points of view towards the water and also to be seen from the lake. The main paths of the villa were organized sequentially from the lake towards the internal part of the construction and oriented orthogonally to the shore. The villa then undoubtedly had its offshoots on the lake, consisting of piers, moorings and docks and perhaps a fish pond ("piscinae") for fish farming, which completed the possibilities for enjoyment and exploitation of the lake environment. Observing the mosaic floors representing different pagan scenes, one is captivated by their beauty due to the variety of colours of the mosaic stones used: cupids, cupids on chariot races; maenads and satyrs; beasts that assail wild animals, allegories of the four seasons; a character (Orpheus or the Good Shepherd) with a dog and a sheep in a bucolic landscape.
The Roman age ended with the invasions of Germanic and Eastern populations, which also destroyed the villa. In order to cope with the looting and devastation of one of them, the Hungarians, around the 10th century, the Castle was built on the top of the hill overlooking the port and a large part of the surrounding territory, on the foundations of a Roman "castrum" of quadrangular shape; the inside of the building was occupied by a real small village with its streets, the square, the bell tower, and its church dedicated to S. Ambrogio. Of this defensive structure today only the fortified enclosure and a building used for military barracks built in 1883 remain.

Going down along Via Castello, the steep and shorter street that connects the upper part with the lower part of the city opens up into the central square of Desenzano: Piazza Malvezzi. Here everything speaks to us of the era of Venetian rule. In this square for centuries there was first every Monday then every Tuesday what was considered the most important grain market in Lombardy, under the strictest control of the Venetian authorities. For the economy of Desenzano, closely connected with the square was the port, today called "old", built at the end of the fifteenth century with the carrying of huge masses of rock and stones, remade and enlarged by the doge Andrea Gritti in the first half of XVI century, during which some buildings for residential use with capable foundations for the storage of grains were built on the resulting embankments. This large and fortified port was able to accommodate the merchant vessels that from the northern part of the Riviera transported oil, citrus fruit, wine, wool, drapes and ferrous materials to Desenzano, returning to the lands of departure with the ships loaded with cereals.
To the south of the port, about half of the porticoes, the unfinished Palazzo del Provveditore stands out, overlooking the main square, next to the beginning of Via Castello, reflecting the harsh contrast between five towns on the Riviera (Desenzano, Rivoltella, Padenghe, Pozzolengo and Bedizzole) and Salò where the Venetian Provveditore resided every sixteen months from Venice. They asked several times to the Dominant between 1532 and 1588 to be able to escape the jurisdiction of Salò and obtain their independent Provveditore, for this reason the community of Desenzano, evidently confident in the acceptance of the request, commissioned the project for the abode of this authority to the architect Todeschini and started construction work. But the Venetian Senate did not consent so the palace was never completed, remaining mutilated by the third arch, never built.
Also during the second half of the 16th century the "granarolo" was built, a large portico surrounding a series of foundations facing the port on two sides and the "Casa del Comune", which instead it was never erected. This project was also realized by Todeschini, and corresponds to today's Palazzo del Turismo. The Venetian domination ended the Napoleonic invasion of 1796 and officially finished March 18, 1797. On May 20 of that year the local Jacobins broke down the statue of Blessed Angela Merici, raised in the center of the main square in 1782, and took her to the parish church. . In its place they placed "the tree of liberty" which was nothing more than a pole painted in French national colours, surmounted by a Phrygian cap, a symbol of revolution. However, the statue was relocated to the square three years later, on May 1, 1800, when the Austrians, taking advantage of the absence of Napoleon Bonaparte, occupied in the Egyptian campaign, reconquered all the former Venetian territory.
Our short journey ends in San Martino della Battaglia, a town located south of the territory of the Municipality of Desenzano. The French gave their blood tribute to the independence of our country. The Tower over 65 meters high that was raised in 1893 reminds us of that dramatic day of 24 June 1859, in which for fifteen hours (from six in the morning to nine in the evening) the Franco-Piedmont armies on one side and the Austrian armies fighted. The battle was very bloody and cost more than 25,000 soldiers; 15,000 were the wounded. It was fought in two sectors: the northern one around S. Martino, where the Piedmontese under the orders of Victor Emmanuel II repelled the Austrians; the south, around the fortress of Solferino, when Napoleon III throws four divisions of his Guard between the bodies of the Armada commanded by Baraguay D'Hilliers and Mac Mahon.
Today, if during a clear day you climb on the top of the tower, you can see a fascinating sight: the lake, the mountains that surround it on the sides, the morainic hills cultivated with vineyards and olive groves, and the plain seem to embrace with an unforgettable effect.

The historical figures of Desenzano del Garda

  • St. Angela Merici
  • Angelo Anelli
  • Giuseppe Bonatti
  • Gino Benedetti
  • Achille Papa
  • Ulysses Pope
  • Luigi Bazoli
  • Giuseppe Malvezzi
  • Giovanni Rambotti
  • Tommaso Dal Molin
  • Sant'Angela Merici
  • Angelo Anelli
  • Giuseppe Bonatti
  • Gino Benedetti
  • Achille Papa
  • Ulisse Papa
  • Luigi Bazoli
  • Giuseppe Malvezzi
  • Giovanni Rambotti
  • Tommaso Dal Molin
 
Sito istituzionale della città di Desenzano del Garda
Via Carducci, 4 - 25015 Desenzano del Garda (Bs) - Tel. 0309994211 - Fax 0309143700
C.F. 00575230172 - P.I. 00571140987
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