Dwellings of different shapes, sizes and styles have been around for as long as there have been humans. They are informative documents of their time and grant insights into the culture and status of their dwellers. Instable ground conditions at lakes and in wet areas were a big issue in primeval times. Pile dwellings proved to be the solution. You can find a particularly high concentration of pile dwellings in the Alpine regions, 111 of which were declared World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2011. These impressive constructs, which originated between 5000 and 500 BC, are spread across a whopping six countries. 19 of these prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps can be found in Italy, and that’s what we focus on today.
Old dwellings at shores and in the water
Establishing proper housing was a tough feat with numerous challenges making the today’s endless pursuit of a building permission seem harmless. Far less tools and materials were available, the ground frequently wouldn’t cooperate, and the threat of other tribes and wild animals was always looming. Pile dwellings offered a solution for all problems. The piles used for construction – hardly wider than 15 centimetres, usually whole or split trunks – were rammed into the ground at shallows. They could reach heights of three to five metres depending on the water level. Heavy rocks at the pile foot provided additional resistance against the wash of the waves; mud, straw and bark were used as cladding.
Did you know that pile dwellings are still in use today? Well, yeah, they’re everything but prehistoric now, yet they carry on the legacy of their ancestors. Flooding-prone areas in the US, such as California, utilise modern versions without wood, while Southeast Asia and West Africa rely on the “classics”. They make wet and swampy territory habitable and weather the tides.
Pile dwellings in Lombardy
Time to get back to the prehistoric pile dwellings. It goes without saying that not every Italian find was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many more, particularly around Lake Garda. Lombardy is home to the most UNESCO sites with a total of ten.
- Lavagnone: One of the most important places of discovery of the Polada culture (Bronze Age) is located four kilometres from Desenzano del Garda. Characteristic handled vessels and pile remains were found in the peat pit.
- San Sivino, Gabbiano: Manerba del Garda at the southwest shore of Lake Garda is home to a stunning archaeological nature park. The two prehistoric remnants stick out quite literally.
- Lugana Vecchia: Numerous remains of pile dwellings suggesting Stone Age settlements during the 2nd millennium BC can be found in and around Sirmione.
- Lucone: Polpenazze del Garda has always been all about protection, as the 10th century castle built during the looming Hungarian invasion attests to. It goes without saying that the Bronze Age settlement relics are decisively older.
- Lagazzi del Vho: Visiting Piadena, you’re quickly put under the spell of this friendly village. Don’t miss out on the pile dwellings of Lagazzi and the archaeological museum with old finds.
- Bande – Corte Carpani: Cavriana is situated between Mantua and Brescia in Italy’s north. The two districts Corte Carpani and Bande carry particular archaeological significance.
- Castellaro Lagusello – Fondo Tacoli: How about a little trip to Monzambano, one of Italy’s most beautiful villages? The small municipality between the provinces of Mantua, Brescia and Verona enchants.
- Isolino Virginia – Camilla – Isola di San Biagio: Discover a small island with several smaller prehistoric settlement relics off the western shore of Lago di Varese.
- Bodio centrale o delle Monete: Time to move to the lake’s southern shore. The Insubres settled near Bodio Lomnago. However, the pile dwellings are likely older than the Celtic tribe.
- Il Sabbione o settentrionale: A quaint parish church with a little chapel accompanies your foray through Cadrezzate in the north of the region. Discover prehistoric documents during a little trip to Lago di Monate.
Pile dwellings in Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Lombardy has a lot of primeval housing relics to offer, unlike other regions. There are a neat four World Heritage Sites in Veneto and only a single one in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Still, you shouldn’t miss out on a single one.
- Belvedere and Frassino: The UNESCO might list these two settlements as separate entries, but they’re located in the same town. Peschiera del Garda is home to these Bronze Age dwellings at Lago di Frassino and Lake Garda.
- Tombola: These days, Cerea in the Veronese lowlands is known for its furniture manufacturing. You could say that there has always been a traditional of woodworking.
- Laghetto della Costa: This little lake at the foot of Monte Ricco is slightly outside the village centre of Arquà Petrarca. A Bronze Age settlement and a Euganei necropolis were found here.
- Palù di Livenza – Santissima: Water flows through yet another one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. The prehistoric dwellings were discovered around the fertile Gorgazzo spring.
Pile dwellings in Piedmont and Trentino-Alto Adige
Our grand final leads us even closer to the Alps. Two settlements each in both Trentino-Alto Adige and Piedmont mostly cover late pile dwellings. One exception aside, they were all established after 2000 BC, which doesn’t make them any less fascinating.
- 1-Emissario: The untouched lake Lago di Viverone with its primeval dwelling remains extends at the border between the two villages Viverone and Azeglio.
- Mercurago: You might’ve heard of Arona as a Roman military base. The settlement history at Lago Maggiore is much longer, though.
- Molina di Ledro: A special pile dwelling museum houses the relics of these prehistoric constructs at Lago di Ledro. You absolutely must check out the replica of a pile dwelling in the outside section!
- Fiavé – Lago Carera: The oldest surviving remains date back to the year 2300 BC and can be visited free of charge in summer.
The roads to the various excavation sites, archaeological parks and shore relics might be long and winding, but it’s most definitely worth taking the trip. Discover mysterious remains of prehistoric pile dwellings and get to know sleepy villages and fascinating nature during your round trip of Northern Italy. Are you ready for your grand tour of the idyllic UNESCO World Heritage Site?