Il Vittoriale degli Italiani is a group of buildings, roads, squares, an outdoor theatre, gardens and streams built since 1921 in Gardone Riviera, on the shores of Lake Garda, by Gabriele d’Annunzio with the help of architect Gian Carlo Maroni in memory of the “inimitable life” of the poet-soldier and the Italian endeavour during World War I.
Today Il Vittoriale is a foundation open to the public and visited by approximately 180,000 people annually.
1 February 1921 – D’Annunzio rents the villa in Cargnacco (district of Gardone Riviera) that once belonged to Henry Thode (renowned art scholar whose first wife was Daniela Senta von Bülow, the daughter of Cosima Liszt) for one year at the price of Lire 600 per month. The villa had been confiscated by the Italian government as compensation for war damages.
5 April 1921 – He receives Mussolini in his new residence.
31 October 1921 – The villa in Cargnacco, nicknamed “Colonica” (Farmhouse) for its rustic nature, is purchased for the sum of Lire 130,000. This amount is doubled with the joint purchase of everything contained in the villa: a library counting approximately six-thousand books, the Steinway piano that once belonged to Liszt, portraits by Lenbach, furniture and memorabilia, art books and photographs, manuscripts written by Wagner.
November 1921 – The young architect named Gian Carlo Maroni (1893–1952), born in Arco, former soldier and pupil of Wenter Marini, is already working on the villa’s renovations. The first interventions, as the customer specifies, should involve “un-Thodecizing” the location. Maroni will later be appointed Superintendent for the “Santa Fabbrica del Vittoriale”.
Christmas-New Year’s 1921–1922 – D’Annunzio publishes Il Palladio del Garda in a special edition of “Illustrazione italiana”. Just back from the Fiume endeavour, he insists upon Italy’s “Mutilated victory” and proposes himself as bastion of the Homeland from the new garrison close to the Austrian border. Treves publishes Notturno, “a commentary of the darkness” and the Great War (during the course of the year, he publishes part of his orazioni fiumane).
13 August 1922 – Due to an accidents whose causes remain mysterious, he suffers a severe head injury. He falls from a window on the first floor of the villa that has now been renamed, with a Franciscan flair, Prioria (Priory). On the 15th of that same month, a three-sided meeting is scheduled along with Nitti and Mussolini for deciding the destiny of Italian politics.
16 October 1922 – Renato Brozzi, the sculptor who d’Annunzio defined “animalier”, supplies him with a countless series of small animals in gold and silver.
28 October 1922 – On the day of the March on Rome, Mussolini telegraphs d’Annunzio (who is still convalescent): “I do not ask you to stand at our side… but we are sure that you will not stand against this marvellous youth”.
15 May 1923 – The magnolia grove where “many memorial columns” have been erected, in the Gardens, is called Il Vittoriale for the first time. The name therefore is applied to the rest of the property by extension, whereas the sacred area is named Arengo.
22 December 1923 – The Deed of Gift hands over Il Vittoriale to the “people of Italy”. The texts of Nuovo Patto marino and Per l’Italia degli Italiani are published during the course of the year.
14 March 1924 – On the occasion of the annexation of Fiume, the King bestows upon him the title of Prince of Montenevoso.
22 April 1924 – Eleonora Duse dies in Pittsburgh.
May 1924 – Il Vittoriale is enriched with war relics: S.V.A. airplanes that flew over Vienna, together with some rocks from mountains that witnessed the war (Adamello, Sabotino, Pasubio, San Michele, Grappa) are arranged in the gardens in front of the Priory.
10 June 1924 – Matteotti is killed: the Poet, in private, speaks of “una fetida ruina” (a fetid ruin).
15 June 1924 – He receives Lire 100,000 as down-payment for selling the manuscript of Gloria (the balance, of another Lire 100,000, would be paid three days later) to the government. Guido Cadorin is at work decorating the Stanza del Lebbroso (Leper’s Room) – a symbolic place (the leper, namely d’Annunzio himself, was emarginated in ancient times yet held sacred by God).
August 1924 – Purchase of Villa Mirabella. Adjacent to the Priory, it will host d’Annunzio’s wife, Maria Hardouin di Gallese, during her frequent stays on Lake Garda. The first volume of Faville del maglio, memory prose, is published.
January 1925 – The MAS (that stands for Torpedo Armed Motorboat, but d’Annunzio’s version of the acronym is Memento Audere Semper) employed by the Poet-soldier in 1918 during the “Bakar Mockery” and about twenty railway wagons transporting the bow of the Royal Ship Puglia (in memory of its heroic captain Gulli, who was wounded to death in the waters of Spalato on 10 July 1920) reach Il Vittoriale. It is reassembled and arranged on the “la Fida” headland.
25 March 1925 – He asks Mussolini for his support in building Meandro del Benaco, a coastal road that should be connecting the “liberated Venezia tridentina to the Lombarda, Veneta, Padana and Emiliana regions”.
12 May 1925 – He gives instructions for the Priory facade: “I want to follow the design reminiscent of Palazzo del Podestà in Arezzo… It should be studded with stones, without any sort of symmetrical order”.
17 May 1925 – The S 16 seaplane, to be called Alcyone, arrives at Il Vittoriale.
25 May 1925 – Mussolini visits Gardone: on board the MAS motorboat, along with d’Annunzio, the Duce cuts through the lake’s waters. During the month of May d’Annunzio purchases the Tower-Dock and renovates Portico del Parente (Portico of the Relative, adjacent to the Gardens, decorated by Guido Marussig and dedicated to Michelangelo – who d’Annunzio considers his ideal “parent”).
August 1925 – Purchase of the former-Hotel Washington: the property is a large expansion without any importunate neighbours. Marcello Piacentini visits Il Vittoriale and presents d’Annunzio with copies of the first three years of “Architettura e arti decorative”, the magazine for which he is editorial director.
September 1925 – Renato Brozzi delivers Vittoria angolare, a great bronze statue that will be arranged at the bow of the Royal Ship Puglia.
October 1925 – Renovation on Stanza della Leda (Leda’s Room) is complete. The bedroom is named for the gilded plaster cast standing over the fireplace, illustrating the mythological coupling of Leda with Jupiter in the form of a swan. Light enters the room through the Veranda dell’Apollino (Apollino’s Veranda, the name comes from the plaster cast of a small archaic Apollo) that Maroni builds from scratch.
June 1926 – Istituto per l’Edizione Nazionale dell’Opera Omnia (Institute for the National Edition of the Complete Works) is founded and will be published by Mondadori. Hence ten-million Lire are deposited into the accounts of Il Vittoriale, which will expand the Santa Fabbrica with Edifici degli Archivi (Buildings of the Archives), its Loggiati that frame the piazzetta dalmata and the Schifamondo wing (variant of Schifanoia). D’Annunzio writes to Maroni: “I ask you for the architectural framework, but save the decorating for myself… I wish to invent the places in which I live”. Il libro ascetico della giovane Italia, a collection of war writings, is published.
13 November 1926 – Maroni manages to find stone lilies and eagles to be arranged in the Gardens (with Villa d’Este in Tivoli as its model).
7 December 1926 – The Officina (Workshop), a study with light oak tables and shelves, has been completed. And so is Stanza della Musica (the Music Room), decorated with Murano glass created by Napoleone Martinuzzi (nicknamed “Fra Napè”).
2 February 1927 – Works on the Schifamondo wing begin.
June 1927 – Napoleone Martinuzzi creates the Canefora (figure of a crouched woman carrying a basket of fruit on her head), a bronze statue arranged on top of a tall pilum in the gardens.
12 September 1927 – La Figlia di Iorio (The Daughter of Iorio) is staged in the Gardens of Il Vittoriale. D’Annunzio begins pondering the construction of Parlaggio, a large theatre.
June 1928 – The second volume of Faville del maglio is published.
8 June 1929 – Following three years of work, the new dining-room has been completed, namely the Stanza della Cheli (Room of the Turtle, the name deriving from the bronze turtle, made by Renato Brozzi, that stands at the head of the table) that connects the Priory to Schifamondo. According to d’Annunzio “it is the only room in Il Vittoriale that is not sad”.
14 August 1929 – He is impatient about moving into Schifamondo. He confesses to Maroni: “I have a nearly tragic need to live in a new home”.
October 1929 – Preparation of the Stanza delle Reliquie (Relic Room) has been completed (it contains relics from all religions) with the assembly of the great stained glass window depicting Saint Cecilia at the organ. The design is by Cadorin, while the realization is by Pietro Chiesa.
August 1930 – Marcello Piacentini is once again in Gardone, where he collects material for the article he will be dedicating to Gian Carlo Maroni, the architect of Il Vittoriale, in the December edition of “Architettura e arti decorative” magazine.
7 September 1930 – The Deed of Gift donating Il Vittoriale to the “people of Italy” is reaffirmed and completed. Plans are made for the purchase of new lots of land, expanding the property to an overall area of nine hectares.
December 1930 – “Sodalizio dell’Oleandro” is established, for the national publishing of d’Annunzio’s works in an economy edition.
18 August 1931 – Maroni asks Giò Ponti for his collaboration in renovating the kitchen and bathrooms in the Priory.
10 September 1931 – Maroni and Brozzi leave for Pompeii, where they will be studying ancient theatres in view of the construction of Il Vittoriale’s great theatre called Parlaggio.
18 February 1932 – D’Annunzio drafts an estimate for approx. Lire 2,000,000 needed for completing Schifamondo. He designs the War Museum, a Far East Room for oriental décors and a hanging garden (all of which have never been achieved).
July 1933 – He succeeds in having the”immonda taverna” (filthy tavern) knocked down, namely an inn located alongside the main entrance to Il Vittoriale. Works begin for the construction of Piazza dei Caduti di Gardone, aimed at harmonizing the monumental residence with its surrounding landscape.
March 1934 – Works are completed on Casseretto, premises of Santa Fabbrica offices and residence of architect Maroni (its sea-faring name comes from the term “cassero”, meaning a ship’s command bridge).
December 1934 – War veterans from Brescia donate a copy of the famous Vittoria (an artefact from the 1st century A.D.), placed in a special temple within the Loggias.
September 1935 – Cento e cento e cento e cento pagine del Libro Segreto di Gabriele d’Annunzio tentato di morire is published, which is the last great work by hand of the memoirist. He supports the African Campaign with messages singing the praises of the Empire, which will be collected the following year in Teneo te Africa.
October 1935 – The Milan Municipality presents d’Annunzio with a copy of Vittoria del Piave by Arrigo Minerbi. The bronze statue is placed on the first pilum of the entrance driveway.
August 1936 – Maroni goes to Pescara for the restoration of the home where d’Annunzio was born.
17 July 1937 – “Il Vittoriale degli Italiani” Foundation is constituted and Maroni is appointed Superintendent.
20 September 1937 – D’Annunzio is nominated President of the Reale Accademia d’Italia.
30 September 1937 – He meets with Mussolini, upon the Duce’s return from his first trip to Germany, at the Verona train station.
1 March 1938 – He dies at 8:00 p.m. of a brain haemorrhage. His sudden death occurs while he is seated at his desk in Zambracca, the room (zambra) that serves as a cloakroom and his private study. Maroni will later complete the Mausoleum (where d’Annunzio is presently buried along with a few Fiume legionnaires) and Parlaggio.