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On Lake Garda, the Poet & the Dictator Who Shaped the Destiny of Italy


Villa of Gabriele D’Annunzio

A Surprise Discovery in Gardone Rivera

We selected the town of Gardone Rivera, on the shores of Lake Garda, because of its proximity to the Sirmione Peninsula and the archaeological site of well preserved Roman ruins.

We usually plan some “open time” in our travel itineraries to allow us some flexibility during a visit to a new area to explore an interesting town, or museum, or just take a spontaneous side trip.

The Vittoriale Degli Italiani (Shrine of Italian Victories) museum worked out perfectly, and it was only five minutes from our hotel. We actually discovered a fascinating introduction to one of Italy’s most famous as well as interesting personalities: writer, poet, and World War I hero Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938).

The final residence of D’Annunzio is now a museum dedicated to his life and accomplishments.  A review of this incredible man’s life makes an excellent read and provides an entertaining glimpse into the political side of Italy’s history leading up to World War II.

In the years before World War I, he was one of Italy’s most influential politicians, and a charismatic leader adored by his followers. He served valiantly in the navy, air force, and army as a true war hero known for his boldness and out right courage. His many medals and awards are on display in the museum. D’Annunzio was also regarded to be a national treasure.

A quintessential “Renaissance man,” he did it all as artist, poet, journalist, playwright and one of Italy’s most popular - as well as controversial - writers of the 20th century.

Another part of his legend was derived from his legendary affairs (he boasted to have seduced over 1,000 women) which was also attributed to an outlandish lifestyle, his purported suave Italian demeanor, and presumably his many erotic publications that may have peaked their interests - at 5’ 4” in height and not terribly attractive, it had to be something!

The Era of the Fascist Regime

During World War I, D'Annunzio became a powerful figure, and began asserting his very strong ultra-nationalist doctrine. At the same time, Benito Mussolini was developing his movement with a more extreme rightist tilt.  After the dust settled, Mussolini had more power, influence and aggression than D’Annunzio, and created a more dominant form of Fascism.


The dictator and the poet (Vogue Italian/Corbis)

D’Annunzio supported Mussolini and his rise to power, but did not participate in the Fascist political party, remaining officially neutral. One consistent thing; he did not like Germans and the Nazi movement, and continually counseled Mussolini to avoid an alliance with Adolf Hitler - obviously to no avail.

Eliminating the Competition

On the evening before a fateful assembly to determine the “meeting for national pacification”, the poet was thrown out a window of his Lake Garda Villa onto the courtyard and his active career came to a bone-crushing halt. Two months later, Mussolini did his march on Rome and took control of the country.


The bone-crushing courtyard landing zone

Mussolini and his followers adopted a great number of D’Annunzio’s ideas; his approach to government; his skills with motivating and influencing masses of people; and the elaborate nationalistic ceremonies, right down to the Roman salute.


Maintain and Control

The dictator kept D'Annunzio on the sidelines and out of his way. Mussolini was known to have said… “With a rotten tooth, you either pull it out, or fill it with gold!  With D’Annunzio I have chosen the latter treatment.”

So he vastly enhanced D’Annunzio’s villa into a monumental residence, in essence  literally paying him to remain out of politics.


Entrance to the auditorium


Garden sculpture



Also on display at the museum are his books, uniforms, medals and art work as well as a few of his war-relic mementos, such as a torpedo boat, the front half of an armored cruiser, and even the hero’s airplane.


D’Annunzio’s actual combat aircraft


One of many military displays


On March 1, 1938 D’Annunzio died at the age of 75 of a cerebral hemorrhage.  His funeral was a large Fascist state affair, and Mussolini walked with his coffin. Il Duce was quoted to say… “You may be sure Italy will arrive at the summit you dreamed of.”

In Summary

The visit to Lago di Garda and the town of Gardone Rivera provided us with memories of beautiful scenery, excellent cuisine, and exposure to the absolutely wonderful, warm and friendly people.

A definite highlight was the surprise history lesson.  By leaving some open spots in your daily itinerary, it is amazing what rewards come your way.

Please follow us in the next article about exploring the Roman ruins of Lake Garda.

After all, what is the hurry… be inspired.

© 2016 Inspired Travel Itineraries with Bob and Janice Kollar

© 2016 Picture Credits Bob & Janice Kollar

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