Situated on a spur of rock sheer above the lake and recently restored, the Sanctuary of Montecastello is one of the most famous and well-loved sacred places in the Garda area, especially for its splendid position, for its architectural and artistic beauty and for the historical and religious events centred around it.
The papal bull issued by Pope Urbano III in 1186 mentions a Monte della Stella (Mountain of the star).
The name derives from the bright star through which, legend affirms, the Virgin Mary intervened in the course of a battle between the armies of Brescia and Trent in the second half of the thirteenth century.
The intense light is supposed to have paralysed the soldiers of Trent who were thus defeated. At the end of the sixteenth century the bell tower and the presbytery were built; other works such as the addition of the actual church with a nave and two aisles, were carried out in the seventeenth century.
Having gone through the imposing stone portal which has “ Ad maiorem Dei Gloriam” and the date 1679 written on it, you arrive in the churchyard.
Built on the ruins of an ancient castle, the building is made up of a lower Gothic-Romanesque church and an upper baroque church which is still used today. This houses, in the presbytery behind the altar, la “Casa Santa”, the remains of a small temple that is said to date back to the year 802. The high altar (the work of Brescian artists, the Boscaì,) is extremely beautiful, with gilded wooden pillars with the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul on them. Behind the altar , with a glass front, you can see a fresco of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus, attributed to the school painting of Giotto.
The four medallions that surround this fresco are by Palma the younger and are painted on copper. Paintings by Andrea Celesti (1637 – 1712) are most interesting, as are the votive offerings, including one offered by the Comune of Tignale and attributed to Andrea Bertenza in gratitude for the killing (16 August 1617) of the notorious bandit Zuan Zanone Beatrici, known as Zanzanù .
With his gang he had terrorized the population of the area around the lake between the 16th and 17th centuries.
There is a retreat house beyond the Sanctuary which attracts thousands of pilgrims each year…
Churches S. Pietro
Rupestrian settlements EARLY MEDIAEVAL CHURCHES AND OTHER RUPESTRIAN SETTLEMENTS IN TIGNALE Apart from San Giorgio in Varolo, evidence has been found of early medieval foundations in three other churches in Tignale: the Sanctuary of Montecastello, San Pietro (St. Peters’) in Gardola and in the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta. SAN PIETRO (ST. PETERS’) IN GARDOLA The Church of San Pietro is about 200 m. from the centre of Gardola, which has a part protruding which is a hillock in the form of an ellipse, an area which is still called “castello”(castle) today, even if, after various studies and with all the necessary prudence, the origins would seem to be much older, from before the Roman period, or late-Roman.
Before the excavations carried out in the seventies and in 1985-86, only the altar table would have suggested, if it had been studied, an older period with respect of the actual layout.
The function of the altar table at the time of the de-consecration of the church is not known. It was constructed using a pink stone which, under macroscopic examination, might have come from the stone quarry on Mount Denervo, in Tignale.
This is extremely interesting, because in this area it is rare to find early mediaeval church furnishings that are not of white stone. The front of the church was demolished during the first world war because the church was used as a store for lorries, and in the fifties the building was transformed into a theatre and the altar was moved to its present position in the church in Olzano.
Later during the digging of a trench to fix the box for the prompter, they found a walled-in chamber, inside which they found a reliquary in calcareous stone. According to a typology in widespread use from the fourth century the reliquary was in the form of a sarcophagus and decorated with crosses within a simple frame and containing a cover which was curved when seen in section.
In 1985 - 86 the trench was widened exposing a large semi-circular apse with other structures inside which were not examined at that time. In 2002, with the excavation still open from those years before, it was possible to survey and analyse the archaeological deposit layer by layer, recognizing a sequence which was then confirmed in the intensive excavation in 2003.
This sequence comprises at least eight periods of building for the place of worship:
- a first church with one nave,
- the insertion in the chancel of a square enclosure with a chamber for reliquaries,
- the reconstruction of the chancel in the Romanesque times,
- the building of an arch across the church in the middle of the nave (the two foundation pillars of which are still in place) in the late Middle Ages, possibly in the fifteenth century because of the numerous comparisons in churches in the Garda area.
- a further renovation of the apsidal area during the sixteenth century,
- the opening of a side chapel on the southern side about the middle of the seventeenth century,
- the reconstruction of the front of the church immediately after the 1st World War,
- the transformation into a theatre.
Whilst the interventions of reconstruction have concentrated on the chancel, the nave has not changed and it cannot be excluded that the long side walls of the early medieval church are still partially conserved in their upper areas.
Extracts from the book “ Chiese e insediamenti rupestri altomedievali a Tignale” by Gian Pietro Brogiolo and Monica Ibsen.
The existence of three hermit settlements, consisting of six grottoes built into the rock, has been discovered in the Comune of Tignale. ( San Giorgio in Varolo, Campione , Valle del San Michele) The dating of these varies (based on the information available) between the end of ancient times and the modern era.
The most important site, without doubt, is that of San Giorgio in Varolo , because of an imposing second phase with frescoes, the dating of which suggests it to be within the first half of the eleventh century. SAN GIORGIO IN VAROLO (Saint George in Varolo) Literary sources and the scarce but very relevant documentary evidence affirm that the complex, consisting of the church of San Giorgio and the system of cells underneath, had been important for centuries.
The results of archaeological surveys have confirmed this and allowed us to further date this activity as extending from the early Middle Ages to the nineteenth century. The documentary evidence about the Mediaeval phase of the church of San Giorgio, located within the parish of Tignale, and attached to the Diocese of Trent until 1785, are all indirect and unproven.
The attestation provided by the presence of St. George’s oratory in the list of property and chapels in the bull issued in 1186 in favour of the parish by Pope Urbano III, cannot be accepted dogmatically, even if it seems plausible, since this list of landed possessions and chapels is perhaps a later interpolation. A letter of 1750, in which the father-guardian Ludiovico Maria Guadagni confirmed to the Bishop of Trent the exemption of San Giorgio from pastoral visits, proves that the church belonged to the conventual friars of San Francesco in Gargnano “ for more than 500 years”.
Certainly in the fifteenth century the hermitage was a settlement of Franciscan friars, as demonstrated by a dispute about alms between Veronese and Brescian friars. It is more difficult to place the hermitage of San Giorgio in the history of the first example of the religious movement of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Garda area, about which there are uncertainties, documentary gaps and legendary mystifications. According to Franciscan sources, Francis arrived in the Garda area from Verona in 1220, on his return from the Holy Land. He is said to have received, either as a gift or having bought from Biemino of Manerba , a house or a piece of land on the Brescian side of the lake, to build a hermitage for friars.
This first settlement has been identified as being on the Isle of Garda, but other sources demonstrate unequivocally the pre-existence or the supremacy of the convent in Gargnano over that of the Isle of Garda. In fact, the convent in Gargnano, until its dissolution in 1769, held a letter written by Bonaventura of Bagnoregio in 1266, in which the minister-general of the Order confirmed the licence already granted by St. Francis to the friars who lived in a place near the Brescian coast of the lake, recognizing a sort of primogeniture of the community.
THE SITE The hermitage located south of the port of Tignale was drastically altered in 1929-31 with the construction of a bridge of the road along the lake, the “Gardesana”. However the structures described by Silvano Catteneo in 1554 are still recognizable: some of the caves were walled-in and in those days used as bedrooms, cellar, kitchen.
A space between these and the lake was at that time occupied by a very convenient courtyard with a small garden of citrus fruits. Another cave, higher up, was reached using a staircase of fifty steps.
Four of these cells have remained almost intact. Even higher there are what remains of the church, corresponding to the presbytery. The main part of this structure relates to three main periods: the oldest to the early Middle Ages, the second to about the year one thousand, the third to between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Very little of the pictorial decoration of the chapel has survived due to acts of vandalism and other illegal interventions.
Extracts from the book “ Insediamenti eremetici” by Gian Pietro Brogiolo.
Pra de la Fam
Pra de la Fam (or Prato della Fame – meadow of hunger) is a place along the lakeside immediately below the villages of Tignale.
There are many explanations for this name, but the most plausible is that of the sailors who sailed from Salò to Riva for the Saturday market. Because of the many currents and storms these sailors were often forced to berth along this strip of land for a day or two and, because of the lack of provisions here, they had to climb up to the village using the winding footpath (still in use) which comes out in the middle of the olive groves of Oldesio.
In 1754 the Parisini family owned the area called ‘Pra de la Fam’ and planted two “lemon gardens”, the larger being of seven terraces. During the mid- to late nineteenth century, the two lemon houses were completely abandoned despite the fact that there was still a market for the lemons, when the road from Gargnano to Riva was built.
In 1984 the local Comunità Montana in agreement with the owners began to reconstruct the lemon houses and they now contain all the typical elements of lemon gardens of the Garda area.
There are now about one hundred trees cultivated and in May when they flower their perfume pervades the whole area. The lemons are picked in May from the trees in flower the year before, and then from May to October there are new flowers each month and new lemons. These lemons are now given away but they used to be sold in Austria and Germany, and they were extremely high quality products.
Because of the abundance of the production of lemons, the economy of the whole area felt the benefit. Whoever visits this area where there are the remains of these gardens which so impressed the German poet Goethe two centuries ago, should not fail to visit this marvellous lemon house.
The Olive Mill
There are about 14,000 olive trees in Tignale grown on about 125 acres of land. They are still cultivated with patience and tenacity as they have been for years, and at times with the same difficulty for the steepness of the land.
Therefore the pruning, digging, watering and picking are all done by hand. The olives are picked in November and December with a ladder (“called scalì”) leant against and tied to branches. The olives picked by hand from the branches are collected in a basket tied to the waist (“grumial”). Those removed with shears fall onto nets placed on the ground under the trees.
The olives are then stored in open plastic boxes and then taken to the olive mill. In 1766 there were seven olive presses in Tignale, but most of the olives were taken to Gargnano, where there was also the possibility to sell the oil; there they produced about 90 quintals (about 175 cwt). The local method of cultivation was considered outdated because they used little fertiliser, pruned only every three years and in addition the local type of olive trees were very not suitable for the constant production of olives. Through the initiative of the Cooperative Latteria Turnaria now Tignale has its own olive mill.
The equipment was installed and began to function in 1998. It works as a continuous cycle, the centrifuge separates the residue of the olives from the liquid and then the oil is detached from the water. After the decantation the liquid is filtered into another container .
The olive oil produced in Tignale is organic extra virgin olive oil of the highest quality. There are guided tours of the oil mill every Thursday at 5.00 p.m.. In addition, you can buy products from the mill every Tuesday from 10.00 a.m. to 12 midday, and Saturday from 5.00 – 6.30 p.m..
The Park Visitors Centre
The Park Visitors Centre (Il Centro Visitatori del Parco Alto Garda Bresciano) is an important element to help you to get to know the Garda area well, because to admire it in all its splendour you must explore its inland countryside, visit its villages and walk immersed in its alpine scenery. This is why the Visitors Centre is located in Tignale; from Tignale you can see almost all of Lake Garda and it is very special because it unites the Mediterranean landscape of the lakeside area with that of the Alpine scenery inland.
In Tignale those keen on trekking, horse riding and mountain-biking can enjoy magnificent excursions. To visit the area means also to come into contact with the various traditional activities such as fishing, the cultivation of lemons and olives, and the products of local craftsmen. The Visitors Centre tells the story of this delightful area: its territory, culture and its people.
The main part of the Centre is represented by a journey which unwinds through images and sounds, evoking people and the reconstruction of the environment, nature collections, collections of old tools, short documentaries and interactive points. It is a centre of information not only for lovers of the Garda area but also an educative centre for schools and environmental tourism.
The Visitors Centre of the regional park ( Parco Alto Garda Bresciano) has a multi-media library , lecture room, well-equipped teaching laboratory and a multi-media encyclopaedia of Garda which can be ‘navigated ’ interactively.
To complete your knowledge of our area you can visit the Olive Mill, the lemon house at ‘Pra de la Fam’, the old mill , and even the distillery of Cavalier Bettanini.
If you enjoy trekking, mountain-biking or horse riding you will find a network of signposted footpaths for delightful excursions that will lead you to alpine refuges, to pasturelands, remains of the 1st World War, into wonderful pine forests or directly on to the beaches at the Port of Tignale, or Campione.
Here you can practice sailing or windsurfing: thanks to the favourable winds ( the most famous is the “Peler”) the west coast of Lake Garda is a real paradise for lovers of these sports.
However, if you prefer tennis or swimming, Tignale has two sports centres.
The first has a swimming pool and tennis court or small football pitch with a synthetic surface, the second has three open-air clay tennis courts ,one covered court with a synthetic surface and a gym. A few kilometres away you can relax playing on an exclusive 18- hole golf course, open all year round thanks to the fantastic climate here.