History and territory: the Upper Garda from prehistory to modern time

Paesaggi Sommolago  

The itinerary started with the exhibition Historical landscapes and Sommolago settlement structures, from the pre-historical to the modern era.

In the hall dedicated to the Upper Garda communities that inhabited the territory from the late Middle Ages to the 17th century, are exhibited objects and documents that witness the most important historical events of the so-called "Sommolago", including maps and landscape paintings dedicated to the trade routes, plans of the towns, economic activities and fortifications. Starting in the 10th century, many castles were built in positions that allowed for effective control over the territory and its routes of communication. Several of these are the castle of Arco, the Rocca of Riva del Garda, the castle of Tenno, that of Drena, the Bastione of Riva and Castel Penede in Nago.

The age of Madruzzo
The Madruzzo dynasty, related to the great noble families of Italy and of Europe, held close relations with Riva where they owned much property, while the Rocca was their favourite residence. The Madruzzo's also held relations with the Jewish community living in Riva since the middle ages and permanently settled there until 1776. Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo (1539-1567), Bishop-Prince of Trento, is quoted as a protector in several dedications on books printed in the Jewish printing works of Jacob Marcaria who worked in Riva around the mid 16th century.

Storia, allestimenti   The railway
The M.A.R. (Mori – Arco – Riva) railway was inaugurated on January 28th, 1891, after just 11 months of work. The M.A.R. line, a 24 km long section that took one hour and 30 minutes from end to end, used to join the station of Mori with Riva del Garda. The railway, built to boost the Upper Garda economy, was also important for the logistic needs of the strategically positioned Riva del Garda and of its forts in the years immediately prior to WWI. The line fell in disuse in 1936 and replaced with automobile services.

The forts
The Upper Garda area has the unique feature of having within its territory all kinds of permanent forts built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire between the mid 19th century and 1918.
Following the two Risorgimento wars in 1848 and 1859, the Imperial Royal Austro-Hungarian army decided to fortify the Upper Garda area so as to defend its borders with the Kingdom of Italy. This project was launched with the construction of the San Nicolò and Nago forts. After the third war of independence in 1866, new forts were added: Sant'Alessandro in 1881-2, Batteria di Mezzo in 1900, Garda in 1907, Tombio in 1912. The Tagliata del Ponale fort, begun in 1904, continued to be expanded all through the Great War, until it ended.

The unique climate of Upper Garda, the presence of Mediterranean flora and the typically Italian character of its towns, were the main reasons for which, at the end of the 19th century, Arco and Riva were two of the most acclaimed leisure and spa resorts in Central Europe. Arco, the growth of which was favoured by the Archduke Albert of Hapsburg, cousin to the Emperor Franz Joseph, became a winter health resort. Villas and hotels were built and played host to members of the court of Vienna, the family of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the last king of Naples Frances II as well as other noble characters. In Riva, the lake attracted the construction of bathing establishments and modern hotels, while the von Hartungen physicians in their health centres offered homeopathic and natural therapies, attracting famous intellectuals, among others, such as Heinrich and Thomas Mann, the Brod brothers and Franz Kafka. The territory's strong vocation for tourism has continued to this day.

The 19th century
The ideals of liberty spread with the arrival of Napoleon's General Vaubois in Riva in 1796, together with the intention of cutting free from Vienna's rule in order to become one with Italy. Austria's reaction throughout the 19th century was to repress this aspiration for greater autonomy. In 1866, the Upper Garda became the border country with the Kingdom of Italy: the Austrian authorities intensified their political control and reinforced the presence of the military by building forts and barracks. The clash between the irredentist ideals, championed by the population's intellectuals, and the traditional loyalty to the Austrian dynasty peaked between the end of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th.

Storia, resistenza   The 20th century
Starting in the first days of August 1914, the Austro-Hungarian army recalled to arms the able Trentino men in order to send them mostly to the
oriental front, in Galicia. When Italy joined the war on May 24th, 1915, the Upper Garda found itself on the front line and, consequently, the imperial authorities ordered the evacuation of civilians from the Valle di Ledro valley and the Sarca plain all the way to Dro and Ceniga. The refugees were hosted in the Empire's regions, mainly Bohemia and Moravia.
The Great War caused many problems to Upper Garda. On the one hand, the devastations caused by the conflict and, on the other, the changes occurred after its annexation to Italy. The military feat at the Dalmation port of Fiume, headed by Gabriele D'Annunzio, occurred between 1919 and 1920, the period that saw the beginning of the poet's relations with the so-called Sommolago, then continued with the building of the Vittoriale monument in Gardone according to the design of the Riva architect Giancarlo Maroni, who was put in charge of reconstructing Riva. Here, as elsewhere in Italy, the twenty year period of Fascism featured the suppression of freedom, in a climate imbibed in propaganda and rhetoric. In the attempt to improve the local economy, the eastern Gardesana was built in 1929, the western Gardesana in 1931 and the port of San Nicolò in 1938.
During WWII and until September 8th, 1943, the history of Lake Garda coincided with that of the rest of the nation. After September 8th, 1943, Trentino was declared Operational Area of the Prealps (Alpenvorland) and was preannexed to Nazi Germany. Upper Garda was the stage of one of the most important episodes of Trentino resistance: on June 28th, 1944 the Nazis assassinated 11 partisans and arrested several dozens of them. The exhibition Achtung Banditen! explains this espisode. On April 30th, 1945 the area was freed by groups of partisans and citizens who revolted a short while before the arrival of the allies.