A BRIEF OUTLINE OF DESENZANO
Today Desenzano del Garda is a lively town of about 25.000 inhabitants, situated at the south-west extremity of Lake Garda. It is in the centre of a wide gulf delimited in the west by a hill called Monte Corno and in the east by the peninsula of Sirmione. From its privileged geographical position you can admire the most beautiful European lake at its widest point.
The place-name Desenzano derives from the Latin name Decentius, the owner of the 4th century farm and villa whose ruins can be visited today. There is also a folk etymology: since the village stretches along a hillside the place-name can be connected with the Italian word "discesa", i.e. downhill.
The town had its current denomination in 1926 when, within the frame of the reorganisation of the local administrations, Rivoltella del Garda, an old village dated back to the 13th C., was suppressed and associated to the neighbouring town of Desenzano. The railway line Paris-Bern-Milan-Venice-Zagreb, the coach service up to Veneto and Trentino as well as the regular navigation line on the whole lake, the motorway exit (A4 Serenissima) and the proximity to the airports of Montichiari and Verona make Desenzano a junction of such importance that it can be considered the 'capital town' of the lake.
Therefore Desenzano offers the opportunity to spend an intelligent holiday, that combines rest and fun with a stimulating search of enchanting landscapes and historical remains. In addition towns rich in artistic masterpieces such as Verona, Mantua and Brescia are within easy reach.
To the immediate south of Desenzano you can relax and wander in the hills of the largest morainal amphitheatre in Italy, in search of picturesque villages.Then in Desenzano, besides relaxing and enjoying every comfort of a modern town with a marvellous old town centre closed to traffic, you can plan short excursions to vary your stay.
In less than an hour you can reach Monte Baldo (more than 2000 m. high), passing rapidly from a mediterranean to an alpine habitat. The lovers of sports can go windsurfing, free-flying, skiing and practise mountain-bike.
The city is a popular holiday destination in Southern Europe. It attracts a myriad of tourists from around the immediate area due to its beautiful view of the Alps on the southern shore of Lake Garda and its three large beaches (Desanzanino Beach, Spiagga d'Oro Beach, and Porto Rivoltella Beach).
During the winter the climate is temperate and without fog and during the summer you always have the relief of the lake breeze.
Archaelogical discoveries dated back to the Bronze Age (2000-1800 BC) indicate the presence of human settlements that characterize the so called "Polada culture" in Lake Garda's morainal amphitheatre.
Between the first and the second century AD the lake shores were chosen as the country seat of many well-to-do Romans, as evidenced by the villa discovered in Desenzano in 1921 exactly on the Via Emilia, the ancient road which joined Brescia to Verona.
During the Longobard period Desenzano was part of a district which covered the southern shores of the lake and the Mantuan countryside. The Pieve was one of the first Christian churches in the area. At first it was under the authority of Verona, then, in 1192, it passed within the civil jurisdiction of Brescia, and finally it became a feudal possession of the Confalonieri family in 1220.
Around 1170 Niceta spread the Cathar heresy in the surroundings: Sirmione and Desenzano, where the heresy had also a Cathar theologian and bishop, became centres of worship till the intervention of the Inquisition in 1276. In the quarrel between Guelfs and Ghibellines the latter found shelter in Desenzano Castle but in the end they were overpowered.
From 1426 Desenzano fell under the rule of Venice, the Magnifica Patria (magnificent country) and became an important cultural and commercial centre, especially thanks to its corn market; in 1449 public lessons were already held here, and an Academy was founded in the 16th century.
During the French invasion of the League of Cambrai, Desenzano refused to yield to the Cardinal of Amboise and asked for the protection of Mantua, but it had to submit to Louis XII.
From 1512 to 1516 there were several plunders by the imperial troops of the Habsburgs. The 16th century brought about other misfortunes such as the passage of the Landsknechts and the plague of 1567.
In 1772 Desenzano succeeded in obtaining independence from Salo' after almost 350 years of conflicts. Following the Jacobin revolution of 1797 it became base of the Department of Benacus (the ancient denomination of Lake Garda).
With the Restoration the Austrians controlled the Kingdom of Lombardy and Venetia and Desenzano was raised to first class town; the Austrian Emperor Francis I visited it both in 1816 and 1821.
In 1859 Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II fought against the Austro-Hungarian forces at San Martino and Solferino. The carnage during the battle gave birth to Henry Dunant's Red Cross whose unique museum is a few kilometres from Desenzano in Castiglione delle Stiviere. The tragic event turned Desenzano into a huge hospital.
Both in the First and in the Second World War, Desenzano suffered heavy air raids, which destroyed, in the latter one, the railway viaduct built in 1852. A sightseer or a resident finds it easy to trace the crucial historical moments of this joyful lake town although in broad outline. If you only try to look towards the monuments or the archaeological areas which are evidence of life in the past.