Monday, August 18, 2008

Gardone Riviera - and the Vittoriale degli Italiani

Today we'll visit a town on the east side of the Lake of Garda in Italy - it's called Gardone Riviera, and because of its special environment - the town is enclosed by some small mountain ranges, providing protection from winds and cold - it's famous for its mild climate. That's why one of the first larger hotels of Lake Garda was built here - the Grand Hotel, built in 1884 by the Austrian (then mayor of Gardone) Ludwig Wimmer:


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Gardone has a small, but nice promenade - here with the Grand Hotel in the background again:


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But today Gardones main attraction is not that it is a nice and peaceful health resort - it's famous because one of the most incredible Italian poets chose Gardone as his old-age residence - now serving as a museum called Il Vittoriale. We'll visit it soon - but first have to climb up to the upper part of Gardone, called Gardone Sopra. On our way we find this nice ensemble of houses:


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And we'll also risk a look at this rather pretty side street:


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But now we're there - let's enter "Il Vittoriale degli Italiani" - that loosely translates to "Victory memorial of the Italians". It's a very, very strange memorial indeed, mainly one of the poet Gabriele d'Annunzio who lived here from 1921 until his death in 1938.

Why is it strange? Because d'Annunzio, an extremely popular poet & writer, was also a war nut, volunteering to participate in the first world war - he was already 52 years old back then! He did some Kamikaze missions in the first world war, e.g. flew a plane to Vienna to distribute leaflets to the enemy, cruised with a battle ship, and at the end of the war in September 1919 even seized the city of Fiume (nowadays Rieka in Croatia), declared an independent state and governed it in pre-fascistic style until December 1920 - before he retired to his new residence at the Lake of Garda.

At the lake he constructed a quite large complex out of a villa he bought there - after he finished all the work he could look at his own private square, called the "Dalmatian Square". You see his main house, the Prioria, at the left and a loggia at the right:


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The loggia BTW is a very nice one; here a look standing inside it, looking towards the "Prioria" (center). On the right you see that the loggia is open in direction to the lake:


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In his Prioria he had a large number of quite dark (he had trouble with his eyesight in old age and shunned light too bright) and immensely richly decorated rooms that show a very special taste - cultures, religions and modern technology clash wildly, e.g. one room was dedicated to death, one to music, one served to receive friends, one to receive enemies, and several were of course used for writing. In the golden and red dining room he had a large sculpture of a tortoise (incorporating its real shell) that died because it ate too much - it served as a reminder to his guests to moderate themselves ...

Photography unfortunately was strictly forbidden in the Prioria, so you have to have to be content with this view of the Prioria taken from the private gardens:


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In the private gardens we now discover some strange things typical for d'Annunzio, like these canon shells on classical pillars:


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Or this rather incredible combination of eagle sculptures and neo-Romanesque arches:


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But it gets really strange when we visit the large area around the villa; here a look from the top of a hill: on the right we see the rooftops of the villa, but what's that slightly left of the center? A ship among the trees?!


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It really is! D'Annunzio requested and got a real large battle ship - called "Puglia" - from the Italian marine, and got it - he planted it in his gardens, looking towards the lake:


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It's fully equipped, as you may see here, taken from the front of it:


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He also requested and got a anti submarine motorboat he had used for one of his other first world war adventures - he used to do fun cruises on the Lake Garda with it, and it's also on display at the Vittoriale:


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And after his death strange things continued to happen - in the 1950s a large Mausoleum was designed and built, providing a very majestic resting place for the poet, overlooking his "Vittoriale" ...


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... and of course also with a nice view of the Lake of Garda, as you may see here - the other sarcophagi are reserved for other compatriots BTW:


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So, that's it from this strange man! I won't dwell on the further political implications of the life and works of d'Annunzio, e.g. his complicated connections to the Italian dictator Mussolini - you can find enough about that on the web.

A few more pics of the Vittoriale - e.g. from the plane he flew with - at my Vittoriale gallery here.

1 comment:

Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld, CHt. said...

Phil--I love how you combine fantastic pictures and panos with the fascinating stories behind the places you photograph! Thanks for sharing your unique views of Italy! --Cindy from dPreview