The charming town of Lazise attracts a lot of people who love water sports. The town can be crowded, but not to a point where it becomes unpleasant, at least not in our experience. We certainly did not see the “tsunami of tourists” that our travel guide predicted. The historical centre of Lazise is very small, and it is possible to park your car just outside it. Some rather strange things happened during our visit. First of all, during our stroll we were greeted by a flock of swans. They left the lake and looked at us hopefully, kind of expecting us to feed them. When we could not offer them anything, they started conditioning their feathers. Half an hour later we ordered ice-cream at a shop by the little marina, when suddenly an agitated man cut the line because he believed he had been given too little change. The cashier handled the case quite professionally, but then the man apparently felt it necessary to tell the whole story again to us. It turned out he had almost missed out on one euro! Of course he had every right to get all his change, but the way he behaved and exaggerated the affair was just absurd.
Lazise’s history goes back to Antiquity. Its old name was Lacisium, and that name evidently derives from the Latin word lacus, or ‘lake’. In the tenth century, the town was strengthened because of the Magyar invasions. The order to build fortifications may have been given by the Italian king Berengarius, a great-grandson of Charlemagne (see Veneto: Torri del Benaco). In 983 Otto II, Holy Roman emperor, granted the town several privileges, including the right to levy taxes on the use of the lake. Later during the Middle Ages Lazise fell under the influence of the Scaligeri, the lords of Verona. The walls and castle that can still be admired in the town are silent reminders of their presence. In 1387 Lazise was captured by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Milan, after a brief siege. In 1405 it was taken by the Venetians. Apart from a short intermezzo between 1510 and 1516, when the Gonzagas of Mantova were in control of the town, Lazise remained part of the Venetian terra firma until the fall of the Serenissima in 1797.
The castle and walls were built between 1375 and 1381 by Cansignorio della Scala and his extramarital sons Antonio en Bartolomeo II della Scala. In 1871 the Castello Scaligero was purchased by Giovan Battista Buri, who had the heavily dilapidated castle restored. He also laid out English gardens around the building. The castle, with five towers and a large keep (mastio), is still private property and regretfully cannot be visited. We therefore took a picture and entered the historical centre through one of the three gates. Just a few minutes later we arrived at the marina where the ‘change incident’ took place.
At the marina we find the so-called Dogana Veneta from the Venetian era. The building was originally an arsenal, but served as a customs office between 1607 and 1797. It was quite logical to have a customs office here, as Lazise was on the border between Lombardy and Venetian territory. The Dogana Veneta was used to transfer cargoes and levy toll, but nowadays serves as a conference hall. Behind the former customs office is the small Romanesque of San Nicolò. It possibly dates from the twelfth century. In 1879 it was closed due to dilapidation. It was subsequently used as a theatre, but in 1953 the building was re-consecrated as a church. Nevertheless it was unfortunately closed for maintenance when we visited Lazise.
The other church in the centre is that of Santi Zenone e Martino. The original church may date from the twelfth, and certainly the thirteenth century. At the end of the eighteenth century it was completely rebuilt by Luigi Trezza (1752-1823). The French invasion and subsequent occupation unfortunately led to the construction being suspended until 1821, and ultimately the new church was completed in 1840 and consecrated in 1888. What we see now is a neoclassicist hall church with a single nave. It is large, but artistically not that interesting.
Further reading: Evert de Rooij, Lago di Garda. Een meer vol verhalen, p. 50-54 (in Dutch).