The lemon house of Castel

After seeing the great number of visitors arriving last season, we realized that certain values and traditions must be revived and can become a tourist attraction for our client. More than 30,000 visitors are an important achievement that lets us understand what people are looking for when they plan their vacation. Tradition is an added value found more and more frequently in the search for sustainable tourism that recognizes the cultural and natural elements of travel destinations. New appreciation of these sites, once again open to the public, intelligently expands our tourism offer with the added value of our history and culture, which brought the first tourists to the lake over a century ago, attracted by these incredible constructions that gave the scenery an enchanted appearance.

La Limonaia del Castèl - ("Al Castèl" Lemon House)
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Lemons in Limone - almost four centuries of history - It seems that lemons were first imported from the Genoan Riviera to Lake Garda in the 13th century by the monks at the St. Francis monastery in Gargnano, after which their cultivation was extended to Maderno and Toscolano. Numerous travelers have written about them since the 15th century, and an unusual reference is made to Limone in the History of the Salò Riviera (1599) by Grattarolo: "long before any buildings existed, there was a lemon tree: when boatmen sought shelter from the fury of the wind, they said they went to the lemon tree."
To protect the plants and the fruit from occasional winter frosts, the first lemon-houses were built in the 17th century, with walls, columns, stairs, doorways and beams where, from November to March, the uprights and glass panes were fitted. Most of the buildings were constructed during the first half of the 18th century, especially by the Bettoni family, in the gardens of Garbéra, Reamòl and Nua. From that day on, Limone was known as the "lemon town", and the entire span of the gulf was marked by these imposing structures, which were immortalized in paintings and praised by writers and poets.
J. W. Goethe was also struck by the Limone landscape during a boat trip from Torbole to Malcesine on September 13, 1786: "It was a lovely morning, though cloudy, but was very calm at dawn. We passed in front of Limone where the terraced gardens planted with lemon trees have a beautiful, lush appearance. The garden is composed of rows of white square columns, set at a certain distance from each other, that climb up the terraced mountain. Very strong beams are placed on the top of the columns to cover the plants during the winter. There was nothing better than observing and contemplating this pleasant view while sailing slowly by."
Limone was the world's most northern point for citrus groves grown for commercial purposes: hundreds of thousands of lemons were exported mainly to Germany, Poland and Russia, thus guaranteeing many jobs and considerable profits for the area.
The first signs of the crisis appeared in the second half of the 19th century, initially due to the gummosis disease (1855), then from competition from the south after the Union of Italy (1861) and the development in transport, and finally due to the discovery of synthetic citric acid. This all meant that the cultivation became less profitable. World War I, when materials used to cover the gardens were requisitioned, and the exceptionally cold winter of 1928-1929 struck the final blow.
The Castèl Lemon House
Numerous columns and walls remain to remind us of the florid past of lemon cultivation in Limone. To revive this traditional past of great historic and cultural interest, the local Limone council has bought the lemon house in Castèl, which is the old town center between the mountain and Via Orti and Via Castello. The lemon house spreads over several terraces (còle), three on one side and four on the other of the central section (casèl), covering a total area of 1,633 m².
The construction dates back to the beginning of the 18th century and was owned by various wealthy families in the area: the Amadei, Bertoni, Patuzzi, Girardi and Polidoro families. In 1926 it was bought by Giuseppe Segala, whose heirs donated it to the local council in 1995.
After the first phase in which the cóle were cleaned, beams (sparadòs and cantér) were replaced (1997), and the roof was renovated over the entrance to the casèl (1999), restoration work continued on the building with a grant from the Lombardy Regional Council through the Comunità Montana Parco Alto Garda of Brescia as part of the 2000 ? 2006 Rural Development Plan. In 2002 - 2003 the central casèl was renovated, irrigation ducts were restored, bathrooms were built, the electrical system was installed and the two cóle were covered with roofs.
In April 2004 around fifty plants were planted: lemons, limes, grapefruit, mandarin oranges, tangerines, chinotto, clementines and kumquats. The Lemon House has been open to the public since July 22, 2004.
A museum for the lemon-houses of Garda
Preparations are underway to turn the central casèl of the Castèl lemon-house into an educational museum. Carlo Simoni, Project Manager, says, "Besides being monuments to the skills and environmental awareness of Garda, the lemon-houses are vital links in several itineraries that together constitute what is probably the most important tourism theme of the entire area."
Besides the patrimony of the lemon-houses of Maderno and Gargnano or the ones in Sisengla on Monte di Gargnano, or below Piovere, one must also consider the value, from the perspective of a museum, of the lemon-houses still in activity in Gargnano and the potential for the town linked to a partial but innovative use of the complex owned by Società Lago di Garda.
Two cases from this diversified background that nonetheless shares historical and cultural aspects can be considered pillars in the "subsystem" of lemon-houses within the museum network of the Upper Garda area: the Castèl lemon-house in Limone, a striking vision at the center of the town, and the Pra dela fam lemon-house in Tignale, a favorite destination of visitors and the site of ongoing citrus-growing activities. Both are fertile terrain for a museum project based on innovative methods and modern objectives able to differentiate the offer. It is essential for the main attractions in the system to be coordinated and complementary, becoming fundamental stops on a single tour for tourists and students."

Text: Domenico prof. Favaa

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