Thursday, 8 May 2008

Lake Garda and the local military history

OK, I sneaked off for a weeks holiday on Lake Garda in Italy. Although it was mainly a walking holiday there was a lot of history about as it was on the old Italian/Austro-Hungarian frontier.

Day one was quite stunning as we walked up the mountain at the north end of the lake and passed the remains of lots of fortifications. Monte Brione was covered in fortifications from the water level at Fort San Nicolo through to Forte San Alessandro at the summit. This area of concrete is all that is visible of Batteria di Mezzo part way up.

Late on I discovered that there is a collection of the best sites in the region assembled by Reinhold Messner here It seemed that wherever we walked in the area we would come across remnants of WW1. At the refuge at Passo Nota they even had a book covering the fighting in the region (unfortunately in Italian) but with some unusual pictures of troops coping with fighting in the mountains. Quite interesting as we had ascended by a contemporary military road with tunnels, pausing just before the pass at a war cemetery.

Of course the area did not just see fighting in WW1, much earlier the area was controlled by the Scaligeri family who built/extended a number of castles including this one at Malcesine.

It is of particular interest to visit as it details the Venetian expedition to relieve Mantua/Brescia. They had to move 6 galleys, 2 galleons and 26 barques up the river Adige then drag them across the Nago pass to Torbole at the north end of Lake Garda before sailing down to attack the fortifications/dam on the river Mincio.

Even more dramatic was the castle at Arco, though I didn't get chance to visit



Steve said...

...lovely scenery - and the castle at Arco immediately made me start thinking about the Bavarian general in the Spanish Succession - probably not him but there is mention of Johann Philipp d'Arco (a contemporary - and Austrian) - wonder if he has anything to do with the castle......

Fire at Will said...

More on the Castle of Arco. Archaeological findings, discovered in different periods, reveal that it was inhabited before the Middle Ages. It is certain however that the castle already existed in the year 1000 and was built by the community's free nobles as a defence structure. In the 12th century, the noble family of Arco took possession of the site, usurping the civic rights regarding the traditional place of defence and proceeded to build the castle structures. The Arco family were feudal vassals of the Tridentine Prince, of the Scaligeri, the Viscontei, and finally, of the Counts of Tyrol. The oldest part of the castle, on the upper level, built by the Goths in 516 in compliance with Theodoric's will, then was transformed into the "Torre Renghera", bell tower that would call the people to gather.
A little below, between cypresses and olive trees, is d'Arco family's old refined palace tower (12th century). It was built at a later date with respect to the top tower. It is an impressive structure, among the remains of buildings that preserve interesting historical and iconographic findings.

The last reference to an "arco" on the local tourist information website is to Nicolò d’Arco
(1479-1546) Son of Count Odorico and Susanna Collalto, was one of the most illustrious protagonists of the Renaissance in Trentino and Northern Italy. Nicolò is the author of an important collection of Latin verse that reminds us of the humanistic tendencies of the Veneto and Lombardy courts. In his compositions we find passionate love, descriptions of the Arco and Mantua landscapes, and a desire for life and peace.
The personality of Nicolò d’Arco is also seen in the frescoes that decorate the rooms in his house at Arco, in which the family coats of arms appear together with aspects of early sixteenth century culture.

Paladin said...

Lake Garda has featured in military history since ancient times. Hannibal Barca recognised its significance in the Second Punic War and he manoeuvres in this area should be of interest to military history students.

Prince Eugene of Savoy fought here during the War of the Spanish Succession and much of Napoleon's Italian campaign was fought around this region.

For students interested in this region I would recommend "A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars' by Esposito. It contains the best maps of Lake Garda which can be used to study Hannibal/Eugene/WWI etc. as well.