Malcesine's most prominent landmark is the Castello Scaligero, which has 13th-century fortifications and an older medieval tower in white natural stone. Like the castle of Sirmione at the southern end of the lake, it is named for the della Scala family of Verona who ruled the region in the 13th and 14th centuries, and has the characteristic swallow-tail Ghibelline merlon crenallations. Remnants of an Etruscan tomb have been found within the castle walls. Most of the structures visible today date to the period of the della Scala. The bell of the castle was cast in 1442 and it is still in service.
In September 1786, Johann Wolfgang Goethe was questioned by the local magistrate on suspicion of being an Austrian spy after drawing sketches of the castle, and recalled the incident in his published travel report Italienische Reise (Italian Journey). During the period of Austrian rule, which ended in 1866 after the Third Italian War of Independence, major renovation work took place inside the castle. The Austrians turned it into a military garrison and the munition store they constructed was later used by the Guardia di Finanza of the Kingdom of Italy as a prison. Since 1902, the castle has been a national monument.
Today, the castle contains a small museum on the natural history of Lake Garda and Monte Baldo. One room in the Austrian powder magazine is dedicated to Goethe and his visit.References:
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.