The entrance to Il Vittoriale, designed by architect Gian Carlo Maroni, is made up of a two-arched portal with a niche in the middle that houses a small fountain bearing d’Annunzio’s words: “Inside this triple circle of walls, where that religious book that I believed to be appointed to the rites of the homeland has already been translated into living stones and has been called Il Vittoriale by Latin conquerors”. Above it a soldier’s helmet, between two cornucopias, protects the Prince of Montenevoso coat-of-arms – the title bestowed upon d’Annunzio in 1924 when Fiume was annexed to Italy. A tympanum with d’Annunzio’s famous motto: “I have what I have donated” seals the entrance to Il Vittoriale and serves as a warning to visitors.
Today, due to museum requirements, both the ticket-office and the entrance can be found on piazza del Vittoriale.
“Secret d’Annunzio” Museum
From the ticket-office, walking down a battlemented avenue, one reaches the “Secret d’Annunzio” Museum. It was set up in 2010 and hosts some of d’Annunzio’s possessions for daily and personal use, in addition to those used by his many “guests” such as lace dresses, silk chiffon night gowns and silk crepe petticoats. Amongst the many objects on exhibition, the museum also showcases some of the jewellery belonging to his “guests”, tableware, luggage, the Poet’s clothing (his riding clothes, evening attire, overcoats, dressing-gowns, his renowned nightgown with the large hole edged in gold thread used during his nocturnal encounters) and then his shoes (counting more than two-hundred), including the very famous ones with a “wild gonfalon” decoration.
Niche of the Enigma
The niche, or aedicule, of the Enigma stands on the right-hand side of the avenue leading to the Priory and hosts a contemporary work of art by Ugo Riva. Along the same avenue, visitors encounter and then (symbolically) go beyond the Arch of the Guest.
Pilo del Piave Square
Pilo del Piave, built in imitation of pilum on board warships, supports Arrigo Minerbi’s Victory of Piave that was offered by the City of Milan to Gabriele d’Annunzio in May 1935. A small square is located just a few steps away, facing onto a theatre and the lake, where the Commander willed the erection of the “Hitting the Bull’s-eye” pilum in memory of the Fiume endeavour. It is made up of a marble frieze with three arrows hitting the bull’s-eye, along with a flagstaff flying the red and blue flag of Il Vittoriale.
The Outdoor Theatre is one of the places that the Poet most ardently desired. It was planned together with Maroni beginning in 1931, when the architect spent some time in Pompeii studying the structure of its Teatro Grande. The works for such an impressive building were only completed in 1952 and neither d’Annunzio nor Maroni ever saw the final results and were never able to see the performances staged there during summer months. The theatre faces onto the lake with its spectacular natural setting. In addition to enjoying performances or concerts staged by the theatre, visitors can also contemplate the island of Garda, the Manerba Castle, Mount Baldo and the Catullian headland in Sirmione with just one gaze. Mimmo Paladino’s Blue Horse has become a part of the spectacular natural setting since the year 2010.
Esedra Square may be reached by walking along a short avenue from the theatre. It was designed by Maroni in a semi-circular shape and is surrounded by double arcades surmounted by six flagpoles flying as many flags. In the front stands a fly-over bridge connecting the Schifamondo wing (today housing the “d’Annunzio the Hero” Museum) to the Towers of the Archives. The Poet’s coat-of-arms as Prince of Montenevoso stands out in the middle of the square, together with the motto “Immotus nec iners” (Motionless but not idle). The Small Temple of Memories also stands in the semi-circular square. It is a little sacrarium that housed the Commander’s remains until 1963, when they were transferred to the Mausoleum. Bas-reliefs were walled outside, with views of Spalato and Zara painted by Napoleone Martinuzzi, along with memorial slabs from Pola, Fiume and Pescara.
Garden of Victories
A small avenue leads from Esedra Square to the so-called Garden of Victories (reopened in 2015), where one can enjoy a magnificent view of the lake and of Pilo del Piave. The garden hosts a sculpture by Ugo Riva (Truce) and new cypress-trees (named individually) have recently been planted in substitution of those felled over the years.
Dalmata Square gets its name from the statue of the Virgin with Sceptre from Dalmatia that stands on the top of the high pilum. The latter is made up of a cylinder in Istria stone, decorated with eight heads of bearded men representing “eight winds of the Italian compass rose” – as recited by the inscription that runs along the steps at its base.
The Priory and the Schifamondo wing face onto the square, which presently host the “d’Annunzio the Hero” Museum.
The facade of the Priory, namely the house of the Brother Prior (as d’Annunzio liked to call himself), was inspired by Palazzotto del Podestà in Arezzo. The architect named Maroni, complying to the Commander’s precise instructions, arranged two high-reliefs depicting the Lion of St. Mark’s and the Eagle of St. John to the sides of the Priory. There are several coats-of-arms between the two frescoes discovered during building activities, including those belonging to the Medici and Canossa families, the cities of Florence, Trieste and Trento (which was taken down from the Municipal Building of the city and donated to the Poet). The emblem designed by d’Annunzio depicting a greyhound with the motto “Neither more motionless, nor more faithful” stands out in the middle.
A small stone pronaos was added to the original entrance gate, surmounted by a balcony. On its arch one can read: “May peace befall this house. / May the spirit of victory grant peace to this house belonging to a mighty man”, in addition to two Victories attributed to Sansovino that have been placed above the arch itself. As a finishing touch to the façade, the Poet willed a high-relief in bronze with a Franciscan subject. It has been inscribed with some verses from the Canticle of the Creatures, together with one of his verses: “Blessed are those who die of a good war”.
“D’Annunzio the Hero” Museum
In 1926 Gabriele d’Annunzio, together with architect Maroni, planned a new wing for Il Vittoriale that he named Schifamondo. Unfortunately he never had the chance to take up residence there since construction works continued at length and the Poet died before they were finally completed.
Today the Schifamondo rooms are the premises of the “D’Annunzio the Hero” Museum, dedicated to the Commander’s memorabilia and relics from the war. The structure of the museum mirrors what d’Annunzio conceived for his new residence: beginning with the Hall of the Plaster Casts, designed by Maroni with a gilded coffer ceiling reminiscent of those on board ships and steamers – similarly to the furniture designed by Ettore Canali. In the middle of the alcove one finds a niche decorated with Renato Brozzi’s clairvoyant winged eye, whereas the Poet’s death mask (moulded by Arrigo Minerbi) is arranged on the bed. This is where d’Annunzio’s body was laid in wake on March 2nd before the funeral, which was attended by Mussolini alongside the Poet’s wife Maria Hardouin di Gallese.
Alongside the bed we can observe two Prisons by Michelangelo and in the middle stands a copy of Aurora (Dawn, which gives the room its name) from the Medicean Tombs in Florence. Six paintings by Gaetano Previati were hung on the walls in 1958; they were commissioned by Alberto Grubicy and conceived for a music room, but were later presented to d’Annunzio as regent of Fiume.
The top floor of the museum houses what was intended to be the Commander’s new study. In the middle of the desk stands a plaster cast of The Cyrene Venus, surrounded by his war memorabilia: beginning with Giacinto Bardetti’s Statue of the Soldier, to the Coffer and Flag of the Royal Ship Puglia, his medals, uniforms and Romaine Brooks’ painting portraying d’Annunzio in his aviator uniform.
Countless are the souvenirs and objects from his past as an aviator: from the small book of Letters by Saint Catherine of Siena that d’Annunzio brought along during his Flight over Vienna, to the leaflets scattered over the city and the logbook, the gloves he wore during his flight over Kotor and the messenger-bags bearing the three colours of the Italian flag that were used during his flight over Pula.
New display rooms were set up in 2011, containing approximately seventy items (weapons, uniforms, flags, autographs) deposited in Il Vittoriale and belonging to Ambassador Antonio Benedetto Spada’s collection (who dedicated the display rooms to his son Mario, who died prematurely). A glass showcase contains the long manuscript entitled Notte di Caprera, which d’Annunzio dedicated to a hero like himself – namely Giuseppe Garibaldi.
Auditorium and S.V.A. Airplane
On 9 August 1918, d’Annunzio reached Vienna on board a two-seater S.V.A. airplane (the only one of its kind as it was modified especially for him) to launch 40,000 leaflets over the city. The famous vehicle, whose cockpit was decorated by Guido Marussig, reached Il Vittoriale in January 1935. One could only expect its collocation to be an amazing and fascinating one: today the airplane is suspended from the dome of a large polygonal-shaped theatre, today called Auditorium, and may be admired from different standpoints.
The Auditorium (besides being the premises for conferences, study seminars, concerts and events) houses a display called “A Tribute to d’Annunzio” on the top floor. It is a display of permanent and travelling artworks by contemporary artists. Amongst the works belonging to the permanent collection, visitors may admire the sketches for Giorgio De Chirico’s Figlia di Iorio, those for Mario Pompei’s Parisina and Enrico Del Debbio’s Città morta. The travelling artworks are obviously varied, but amongst those hosted in the past we wish to mention Giano Marinetti Filippica Annunziazione by Luigi Ontani and Paolo Schmidlin’s Corè.
All of Gabriele d’Annunzio’s legendary homes, from the famous Capponcina to his chalet in Arcachon, always included comfortable and well-equipped dog pounds for his beloved animals – greyhounds in particular. Therefore he also gave instructions for building a dog pound inside Il Vittoriale (recently reopened after years of abandon), which today may be visited and from which one may gain direct access to the Valley of Crazy Water or reach the Royal Ship Puglia that can be seen amidst the foliage.
Viale di Aligi
Viale di Aligi (a character in The Daughter of Iorio, one of the Poet’s most famous tragedies) leads towards the MAS hangar, the Royal Ship Puglia and the Mausoleum.
One encounters the Dolphin Fountain at the end of Viale di Aligi. It collects water from the stream of Crazy Water (the original one that reaches Il Vittoriale hill and crosses it) and then flows downstream into the valley. In the middle of the fountain stands a bronze statue of Aphrodite emerging from the waters together with a dolphin.
The small Swan Lake may be reached by walking along the path adjacent to the Dolphin Fountain, right alongside the refreshments area (only open during summer months).
The MAS 96 (torpedo armed motorboat) employed by d’Annunzio during the famous Bakar Mockery (raid that he embarked upon together with Costanzo Ciano and Luigi Rizzo the night between 10 and 11 February 1918) was donated to the Commander in 1923 by Admiral Thaon di Revel. Once it reached Il Vittoriale, the MAS motorboat was docked at Torre San Marco (still property of Il Vittoriale) and was used by the Poet for entertaining guests and friends, but especially for his leisure outings on the lake. Today it is stored inside a hangar that was especially designed for this purpose by architect Maroni.
Gabriele d’Annunzio rests in the Mausoleum, surrounded by his faithful companions – including architect Gian Carlo Maroni.
The project for the Mausoleum, that was completed following the Commander’s death, was conceived following the example of Roman tumulus burial mounds: it has three rounds in stone dedicated to the Victory of the Humble, the Artifiers and the Heroes, supporting marble arches by Botticino (a gift from the City of Vicenza) that surround the Commander’s arch standing on the highest peak in the middle of the site.
The Poet never witnessed the completion of the Mausoleum, but he was the one who chose the highest hill in Il Vittoriale (called Mastio or Colle santo) for his burial. His body was transferred to the Small Temple of Memories in 1963. Since 2013, Velasco Vitali’s iron and cement dogs stand alongside Gabriele and his companions.
Royal Ship Puglia
The Royal Ship Puglia, a gift from Admiral Thaon di Revel, by will of d’Annunzio was set inside the park of Il Vittoriale with its bow in the direction of the Adriatic Sea (in memory of its captain Tommaso Gulli, who died in the waters of Spalato in 1920).
The unassembled ship reached Gardone on board twenty railway carriages and later was reassembled on the hill by Lieutenant Silla Fortunato (who is commemorated with a small display in the ship’s stern) together with architect Maroni. Whereas Renato Brozzi created the bronze sculpture called Angular Victory, which stands on the stern atop a bundle of arrows with the motto “So I Wound”. Recently the ship’s hold, which has been completely restored, houses the On Board Museum with different model battleships belonging to Duke Amedeo d’Aosta.
Even the Commander preserved some of his war memorabilia within, such as machine-guns and the cannon that was fired on the occasion of anniversaries especially commemorating war endeavours and Fiume, or simply as a greeting for his guests.
Valley of Wise Water
A small path leads from the Royal Ship Puglia to the Valley of Wise Water – a particularly charming natural setting crossed by the homonymous watercourse that flows downstream into the Pond of the Dances. During the stroll, one can admire some stone niches just below the Royal Ship Puglia and listen to the soft gurgling of “sister water”.
Valley of Crazy Water
From the Royal Ship Puglia one can admire, and especially walk through by using the path, the Valley of Crazy Water. It is an area abundant in spontaneous vegetation, waterfalls, ravines and natural tuff stone. According to the Poet’s instructions, its waterfalls, streams and rugged settings were multiplied; he also had bridges and walkways built, including the one called Fortune that was once decorated with animal antlers/horns. The Crazy Water stream, right under the ship’s stern, meets with its twin Wise Water stream and together they flow into the Pond of the Dances.
Bridge of Iron Heads
At the far end of the Valley of Crazy Water, one reaches the Bridge of Iron Heads that is built in white Verona stone with seat parapets. Some howitzer bullets (a gift from Marshall Armando Diaz) have been set into its piers.
Pond of the Dances
This is a very special and nearly magical place: it is a stone basin in the shape of a violin (in memory of Gasparo da Salò, who is considered the inventor of the violin), where the Poet and Luisa Bàccara organized small concerts. These concerts were held on a round platform on the pond and were performed by the “Veneziano” Quartet of Il Vittoriale; or, without Luisa, this is where he organized his encounters with guests and “badesse” (his fleeting lovers).
On the spot where the two streams end their route, and as closure to Il Vittoriale’s walls, architect Maroni set the Rivano Portal (a gift from his city, Riva del Garda).
Villa Mirabella (that can only be visited during temporary exhibitions) was conceived by d’Annunzio as lodgings for his guests and artists. Some of the guests who spent extensive periods of time in Villa Mirabella were Antonio Bruers (the librarian who was in charge of reordering the books in the Priory) and the Poet’s wife, Maria Hardouin di Gallese. Maria always upheld good relations with her husband and often attended Il Vittoriale; Villa Mirabella became her permanent place of residence in 1938, subsequent to the Commander’s demise.
In the project for his home, d’Annunzio wanted to include a place where his beloved dogs (especially greyhounds) could rest in peace forever. In 1935 he dedicated a poem to them, which today may be read on a recently-laid plaque. The dog cemetery is located in the Priory gardens, alongside the Casseretto surrounding wall.
Il Casseretto (not open to the public), once premises of Superintendence offices and the “Santa Fabbrica” of Il Vittoriale, was the private home of Gian Carlo Maroni. The architect designed his home-study in 1929, gaining inspiration from the style of the castrum (hence Casseretto), the aft deck of sailboats housing the bridge deck itself.
The fruit orchard, designed along the lines of a Renaissance garden, is surrounded by pillars and arches supporting great lilies and eagles in stone. In the middle rises a column upon which looms Napoleone Martinuzzi’s Canefora, the bronze sculpture of a woman carrying a basket full of fruit on her head. Whereas, on the side facing Valley of Crazy Water, the Poet had an eighteenth-century statue of Julius Caesar placed inside a niche.
“On sunny Lake Garda, lemons preserving the shape of a flower divided into five lobes are called “diele” like the fingers of a hand”, so d’Annunzio described the so-called hand of Buddha, a particular cedar tree that he always wanted in his lemon grove. Today the lemon grove hosts, in addition to plants bearing the hands of Buddha, even Arnaldo Pomodoro’s great Obelisk.
D’Annunzio had the Arengo built in a small magnolia grove just under Apollino’s Veranda. It is a sacred and suggestive place used for ceremonies commemorating his war endeavours and Fiume. Hence a sacred place where rites and rituals were conducted. Symbolism, always so dear to the Poet, is essential to this site: some of its twenty-seven columns, representing Italian victories during World War I, have been set with bullets donated by General Armando Diaz, while another column contains an urn preserving soil from Caporetto – a place representing a milestone in Italian history. The heart of Arengo is the Commander’s throne, decorated with two sphinxes, flanked by Napoleone Martinuzzi’s winged Victory and its steps host the wording: “I sing nothing but great feats / Hence government of the soul”. Some circular seats stand alongside the throne, which were reserved for his loyal men from Fiume and – in the front – the column of the Oath, crowned by a Romanesque capital and surrounded by torch-bearers and bookstands in iron that were decorated with wreaths of laurel during commemorative ceremonies.
Courtyard of Schiavoni
The Courtyard of Schiavoni, a place chosen by d’Annunzio for recalling the Fiume endeavour and his companions, gets its name from the citizens of Schiavonia – term given in Venetian culture to Istria and the Dalmatia coast. Its internal decorations are reminiscent of those on the Priory facade: in addition to the three wells, one of which is identical to the one in his native home in Pescara, the Poet had fragments of tombstones, capstones in Istrian stone, small heads in stone and terracotta, emblems, mascarons and baskets of fruit walled into the site. The decoration is further enriched by the Prince of Montenevoso coat-of-arms, painted by Guido Marussig, flanked by the statue of Saint Leprosella as external seal to the Leper’s Room.
Portico of the Relative
The Portico or Loggia of the Relative, dedicated to Michelangelo (the “relative” d’Annunzio felt particularly close to) is adjacent and communicating with the Courtyard of Schiavoni. The presence of the great artist in the Portico is represented by a marble bust created by Napoleone Martinuzzi and the plaster cast called Belvedere Torso that is one of the most significant examples (according to the Commander) of the perfection of form in art. Some of Michelangelo’s verses stand out on the ceiling, painted by Guido Marussig; while the Poet had some columns, plaster casts, fragments of sculptures, a portrait of Dante, holy water fonts, female heads and a monastic sink from Asolo (Eleonora Duse’s city of origin) arranged between the arches of the portico. The atmosphere of the Priory was recreated in the Portico of the Relative during summer months, in addition to being used as a dining-room for his guests and especially for his female “guests”.