Valmagne Abbey was founded in 1138 by Raymond Trencavel, Vicomte de Béziers. Valmagne then experienced a time of rapid growth as local landowners bestowed both land and money on the monastery. The buildings were extended and a vineyard of 5 hectares was established by the monks. From the 12th century to the beginning of the 14th century, Valmagne was one of the richest monasteries in southern France and at its peak was home to nearly 300 monks. As the monastery expanded the original Romanesque chapel became cramped so in 1257 permission was granted to build a new church. The new church was constructed over the next forty years in the Gothic style and aside from the removal of the stained glass has changed little since completion.
The Black Death devastated the region in 1348, causing many monks to die and others to flee the abbey. The decline was compounded during the Hundred Years' War when Valmagne suffered attacks and looting by passing mercenaries. As successive abbots were unable to balance the books, many of the abbey's lands and possessions were sold. From 1477 the abbots were appointed from outside the community and this led to a relaxation of the laws of religious life and a decline in the loyalty of the abbot for his abbey. During the French Wars of Religion of the 16th century, the abbey was almost abandoned and in 1575, an attack by Huguenots broke all the windows of the church and caused considerable damage to other buildings, particularly the cloister.
Preservation work was undertaken in the 17th century, and parts of the church were sealed to prevent falls. At the same time the cloister was repaired, but the abbey had fallen into debt and lacked the finance to restore the structures properly, hence many windows in the church were bricked up instead of being re-glazed. By the 18th century, the community was very small and during the French Revolution the abbey was sacked again and furniture, paintings and archives were burned. In 1790, the last three monks left Valmagne taking the few remaining valuable items and the abbey was confiscated. It was sold in 1791 to Monsieur Granier-Joyeuse who converted the church into a wine cave, installing large barrels in the apse and side chapels of the church. On Granier-Joyeuse's death in 1838 Valmagne was acquired by Count Henri-Amédée-Mercure de Turenne and has remained in the same family ever since.
The present Gothic church was rebuilt in 1257 on the foundations of a smaller Romanesque chapel to a traditional plan with a nave and transept, and nine radiating chapels off the semi-circular ambulatory. The nave is preceded by a narthex flanked by two defensive towers.
The groin vaulted cloister of Valmagne surrounds a large garden courtyard, with five large arches on each of the four sides. The chapter house is on the east side of the cloister and is one of the oldest parts of the abbey. It is unusual in that it has a single-span vaulted roof and therefore does not need the internal columns which are typical of chapter houses in other monasteries.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.