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LEMONS AND LEMON HOUSES

CITRUS FRUITS AMONG WOOD AND GLASS

The tradition of growing citrus fruits on the Brescian shore of Lake Garda has its roots in the 13th century. Over time, different varieties were added and, under the skilful care of expert growers, the lemon houses became an integral part of the landscape. 

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Culture
The lemons & lemon houses of upper Garda
History

A HISTORY SPANNING EIGHT CENTURIES

Lake Garda, known as the Mediterranean of the north, has been home to lemons and other citrus fruits for centuries. The Franciscan friars of Gargnano grew them from the 13th century onwards thanks to their ties with the Republic of Venice, which ruled the lake at the time. Depictions of citrus fruits in the San Francesco monastery in Gargnano testify to the importance of this crop along the shores of Lake Garda. Although requiring some protection, citrus trees adapted to the location perfectly, producing excellent fruit. From here, the practice spread throughout the area, giving rise to the famous limonaie or lemon houses: south-facing terraces, sheltered to the north by the mountains. Despite harsh winter temperatures, lemon cultivation here peaked between 1840 and 1850, with an annual production of around 12 million fruits. Specialists, sellers and exporters became part of a flourishing industry marketing Garda lemons throughout Europe. Citrus fruits are known for their high vitamin content and are used to flavour foods and drinks as well as valued for their uplifting fragrance. Despite the limited flat land here, about 40 hectares were dedicated to citrus cultivation at that time

Madernina

BOTANICAL BACKGROUND

Originally from Asia, lemons were introduced to Italy by Arab traders in Venice, leaving a lasting imprint on the local culture. The lemons grown in Garda are a unique variety known as ‘Madernina’: round, juicy and fragrant with a thin peel, perfect for making a range of delicious products. The lemon trees were supported by a wooden structure called a ‘castèl’ to keep them upright and protect the fruit-laden branches during harvest. Thanks to the skills of specialised growers, the Garda area produced a remarkable yield of around 12 million fruits per year, with the trees bearing fruit four to six times a year. The ‘Madernina’ variety was highly prized for its juice, which was sweet, unlike the sour lemons from Amalfi. However, after Italian Unification and the elimination of customs duties, lemons from Amalfi and Liguria became more competitive due to their lower production costs. Garda's limonaie were labour-intensive, since the wooden and glass structures had to be assembled and dismantled every year. This meant a higher price for the fruit, but provided much-needed winter protection. Specialised tools were created to meet the needs of the growers.
However, after 1850, a disease called gummosis struck the lemon plants, bringing the golden era of Garda lemons to an end. Despite this, some lemon house owners have worked to restore and preserve this precious historical heritage.

Products

MARMALADES, LIQUEURS AND...

The citrus fruits grown in the area produce excellent products such as marmalades: sweet and slightly spicy, they are perfect for breakfast or enjoyed with local cheeses. Among the liqueurs produced, Limoncello is particularly appreciated for its warm and enveloping flavour, while Cedrino is a recognised delicacy. One well-known company is Tassoni: originally an apothecary founded in 1748, it became a pharmaceutical laboratory in 1884. Their flagship product was Acqua di tutto Cedro, an infusion of water and citron, which was later made into a syrup, known as Cedrata Tassoni. In 1950, soda was added to make a sweet, thirst-quenching soft drink. To meet the growing demand for local ingredients, the Upper Garda growers formed the Terre & Sapori cooperative, which sells a variety of citrus products from their outlet in Gargnano, where various local specialities can be sampled and purchased.

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