It is not a real dream castle, as one would expect in these parts, but the fortress of Bardolino presents itself to visitors in its ruins, to imagine what it might have been like in the past!
In this area, where human presence has been documented since prehistoric times, the first fortified settlement probably dates back to the early Middle Ages, when the King of Italy Berengario I built several defensive systems at the end of the 9th century. Today, let’s see what remains of it…
History: a defense against the Hungarians
Like many other fortresses in the Garda area, Bardolino Castle was also built to repel assaults by barbarian populations and defend the lake’s inhabitants in case of attack.
Around the 10th century, several fortifications were built around Lake Garda, and although the so-called Bardolino Castle has its earliest documentation later on (around 1100), it probably existed before then. These castles were later “fertile ground” for their reconstruction during the Della Scala dynasty (lords of Verona) between the 13th and 14th centuries.
In this case too, it seems that the Bardolino castle was rebuilt and expanded by the Scaligeri, and the Scaliger tower that we still see towering over the village today was erected.
When you enter Bardolino, you realize that many parts of the old castle are now incorporated into the urban fabric, as are the walls that surrounded the village; they were once reinforced with battlemented towers, walkways and ramparts to guard the territory.
We know what its original shape was like thanks to a map dated 1439, which shows a “fortified” square commune. The village had been circumscribed by the Della Scala inside walls and with the lookout tower always on the alert. In this way, the territory was protected but could open up to the lake.
The entrances to Bardolino
At the time, the castle was also surrounded by a moat, and its access was guaranteed by the San Giovanni gate to the north, and the Verona gate to the south. The village of Bardolino was, therefore, squeezed between the harbor, the square, the gates, and the towers, including the ancient churches of San Zeno (9th century) and San Severo (11th-12th century).
Today, instead, we see the remains of the castle through the high Scaliger tower inside the village, the gates, the tower on the lakeside, now truncated by time compared to its original height with probable battlements.
The demolition of the walls of Bardolino, for example, took place over time when the village began to expand and the threats of invasion ceased. The moat was covered, and only the form of the streets reproduces the ancient layout.
The Tower of Bardolino
For a period, the Scaliger Tower was also an exhibition space for art shows and events. From its first destination as an enemy lookout tower, and today a ruin of an ancient past, it had become a place where you could taste local food and wine (Bardolino wine is famous!) and experience the territory through concerts or cultural events.
Beyond the destination of the tower, art in Bardolino is also a point of attraction for the famous Church of San Zeno outside the walls, a true jewel of Carolingian architecture in Italy. Its plan follows that of the Latin cross and shows decorations inside; from century-old capitals to frescoes always from the 9th century with a Madonna and Saint Peter.
Other medieval frescoes can be found in the Church of San Severo, built with Romanesque architecture in the 11th century, and equipped with a very particular bell tower.
For those who want to explore other civil architectures, in Bardolino there are also several villas with gardens such as Villa Carrara Bottagisio on the lake (now the town hall), and Villa Guerrieri Rizzardi with a splendid green space around it, where you can regenerate!