The name Sirmione comes from "syrma" that means "tail" or "train".
It is located on a narrow, 4 km long peninsula, on the south of Lake Garda. It’s natural beauty has been admired and renowned since ancient times. Some of the stories Sirmione has to tell come from it’s archaeological findings in the numerous lake dwellings, the impressive ruins at "the Grottos of Catullus", and the Scaligero Fortress. Eminent poets and famous artists have experienced and told the beauty of Sirmione. Today Sirmione is one of the Lake Garda's most important tourist attraction and has a considerable number of high quality hotels for even the most demanding clientele. Guests in Sirmione can enjoy the many alternatives the area offers, from the thermal waters, known since ancient times for their curative nature, to the beautiful Monte Baldo and Alto Garda Bresciano Parks, from the theme parks Gardaland and Aquapark Canevaworld, to the renowned local cuisine and wines.
Leaving from Porto Castello (Castle Port) in Sirmione, and sailing around the coast of the peninsula you can admire the splendid villa that belonged to Maria Callas, Aquaria Spa Center, the roman ruins called Catullo's grottos, Fonte Boiola, from where the famous thermal water of Sirmione springs. We return to Porto Castello passing beneath the drawbridge of Scaligero fortress.
On your right you can see the “Villa Callas”.
Maria Callas was born in New York on December 2nd 1923 and died in Paris on September 16th,1977. She still shines as the brightest star in the vault of the opera. From 1950 to 1959 the famous soprano spent her life at the side of her husband Giovan Battista Meneghini in their villa in Sirmione to rest far from the high-society turmoil. Even if occasional, her stays in Sirmione confirmed the affection which attracted her to Catullus' Peninsula where she came "to fully enjoy this paradise, where Titta and I imagine spending our last days before being buried." Her last words to one of her friends, just few days before death, were: "I yearn for Sirmione." This was her home. The villa is located in the central Carducci square and was restructured by the municipal administration of Sirmione and today houses shows and social events.
The Grottos of Catullus
From the centre of Sirmione you can easily reach the Catullus’ grottos on foot (15 minutes) or by electrical train, only in the summer. By “grottos” we mean the ruins of a big roman villa, situated on the south coast of the Garda lake and which probably belonged to the famous latin poet Caio Valerio Catullus (87-54 b.C.).
The villa was probably built between the end of the 1st century b.C. and the beginning of the 1st century a.C.. It probably fell down and left the ruins we can see today during the 4th century a.C. Sirmione belonged to the Veronese territory and was well known in the ancient world as place to stop along the way from Brescia to Verona. The grottos ruins, which cover more than 20,000 square meters, are situated in a splendid and panoramic position within the area of an archaeological park, just after the Antiquarium, where the finds of the original villa are stored.
The villa has three levels and is divided into various areas which are still easily recognisable: the baths, the pillars and arches where it is believed once housed shops, the famous triple window grotto and the horse grotto, the two larger halls known as the giant's hall and the double criptoportico hall, characterized by around sixty columns. The findings of the archaeological dig (jewellery, coins, fragments of mosaics, frescos and stucco works which once covered the columns) are kept in the Antiquarium at the entrance to the grotto park. Walking through the archaeological park you will enjoy the wonderful natural surrounding and the beautiful view on the lake.
The Boiola spring of Sirmione
It all started in 1889, when Procopio, a Venetian deep sea diver, equipped with a diving suit and special pumps supplied from England, dived to a depth of 20 metres into the Garda lake, near the Catullus grottos where a spring of hot water called Boiola emerged. No one had ever reached this spring before, even if it had been known to exist for three centuries.
After several attempts, Procopio succeeded in planting a long tube into the rock face. From the end of this pipe, a jet of hot sulphurous water gushed to a height of 5 metres above the surface of the lake Garda. That was the first step in the long and difficult process of laying 300 metres of metal pipes, which at last carried the precious thermal waters to Sirmione. In 1900 the first Spa Establishment was opened and two further springs were also opened.
The thermal water from these springs offered the same chemical and therapeutic properties as the original Boiola spring. The thermal water is brought to the Catullo Spa Complex in the old town of Sirmione through a network of pipes, as well as to the Spa hotels and to the Virgilio Spa Complex, which was opened in 1987, at the base of the peninsula.
Scaligero Castle– Sirmione Castle
The fortified medieval centre is defended by the Scaligera Fortress, strategically positioned on the only point of access by the land. There are other similar fortresses from the same period along the Veronese side of the lake.
Sirmione castle is one of the most complete and best preserved fortifications in Italy. The two crenellated towers stand out impressively, a symbol of the power of “Mastino I della Scala” who started the first phase of construction of the Fortress around 1259. The castle was once surrounded by fortifications covering a vast area of the peninsula. It has a main courtyard with a main tower, three corner towers and two entrances. At a later date a secondary courtyard was added to the South of the main one as well as the small Southern entranceway.
On a third occasion, building work was carried out for the dock and the third courtyard. The Fortress is surrounded by the water and you can access the main tower through the drawbridge and climb to the top by the 146 steps. When you reach the top of the tower you can walk where wardens once stayed and admire the suggestive dockyard, ancient refuge of the scaligera fleet.
The thermal water of Sirmione has meteoric origins and before pouring from the Boiola spring follows a long way old 20 years. It comes from the Baldo mountain (800 meters high) and goes down to 2.100 meters below the sea level, where it gets rich in minerals and increases its temperature up to 69 degrees Celsius. In the end it reaches the Boiola spring where a complex piping system brings it to the Catullus and Virgilio wells, situated on the east side of the peninsula.
Sirmione thermal water is classified as mineral and hyperthermal, as it comes from a natural spring, bacteriologically pure, with a Maximum Contaminat Level greater than 0,50g/l (exactly 2,542 g/l) and pours out at 69 degrees. Mineral waters are unique as they exist in nature only and can’t be duplicated. Any attempt of duplication has failed as artificial mineral waters present biological activities different from the natural ones. According to its physical-chemical characteristics, the water of Sirmione is classified as sulphurous salsobromoiodic: it contains a significant quantity of sulfur, in the form of hydrogen sulfide, sodium, bromine, and iodine. The oligo elements present in it , such as lithium, potassium, iron, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel, selenium and zinc, act as catalysts and therefore activate chemical reactions.
The medical literature demonstrates a peculiar attention for the sulphurous salsobromoiodic waters which biological actions are deeply known. In general, the thermal waters determine both a local action and an action on the whole organism (tonic-sedative on the endocrine system, antiallergic on the metabolism). The thermal water of Sirmione proves healthy for the absorption of sulfur through the skin and for the tropism of articular cartilage, mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, the middle ear and vaginal mucous membranes. It also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, with an increase in vascular permeability and a reduction in systemic blood pressure. Furthermore, the analgesic effect of the heat is very important, because by producing an immediate increase of beta-endorphin in plasma, is responsible of the analgesic effect and muscle relaxation
Art and culture
Sirmione is a peninsula very reach in history of which there are still many evidences. Thanks to its favourable natural position, Sirmione has been a privileged place for establishments since ancient times. To confirm this we still can see the ruins of roman villas, especially the suggestive Catullus grottos, poet to whom we owe the first lyric poems dedicated to Sirmione. In Sirmione there are also some important churches, such as San Pietro in Mavino and Santa Maria Maggiore, example of the architecture of the fifteenth century.
Very important for the history of Sirmione is its strategic position, between the plain and the south part of the lake. Also in the modern times Sirmione has preserved its charm and has also captured the admiration of the opera star Maria Callas, who spent many periods of her life in this place with her husband.