Basilique is a small, island comune located on Lake Garda (Italian: Lago di Garda) which is the largest lake in Italy. The lake is a popular holiday location and is located in Northern Italy, about half-way between Brescia and Verona, and between Venice and Milan. Glaciers formed this alpine region at the end of the last Ice Age. The lake and its shoreline are divided between the provinces of Verona (to the south-east), Brescia (south-west), and Trentino (north). The setting is natural and contemporary, yet respectful of traditional culture.
A group of deserting French knights founded Basilique in 1292, when they fled seeking refuge from the Mamelukes after the fall of Acre. The knights chose the island for its defensive position and established a stronghold, soon intermarrying with the local population. Over time the legions increased fortifications, but a fire destroyed the original structure in 1457 at which time the remaining inhabitants constructed the foundations for the modern town around the only remaining edifice – the stone tower that was at the centre of the old fort.
In 1491, the town’s famous Playhouse was completed from original plans drawn up for the church Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Venice, and remained in use as a church until the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 when Napoleon’s armies left Basilique largely untouched, perhaps due to the French heritage of the town. Standing empty for many years, the new mayors restored the Church as a playhouse and ballroom.
The town’s basilica, The San Pietro Martire, is a Roman Catholic Church built in 1511. The facade is naked brickwork, divided in three sections and with a 16th-century portal, which is surmounted by a large rose window. The interior is on the basilica plan, with three naves divided by two series of large columns, and a wooden ceiling. The presbytery is quite large, with barrel vaults and two small side chapels. Aside from the high altar, there other minor altars, three for each nave.
In World War II Fascist forces occupied the town and held out against the allies for an extended period after the the rest of Italy had surrendered. High-profile German Officers stationed in nearby Verona favoured the island as a leave destination. Thus, the town was the scene of a number of famous espionage cases, including a particularly intriguing story involving a British double agent, and the Nazi invasion of Russia.
In modern times the economy of the town has relied primarily on fishing, theatre, and tourism for its revenue with the Basilique Club, and the Basilique Performing Arts Company’s production of Romeo + Juliet and Paradise Lost drawing visitors from far and wide.