Museum of Lake Dwellings on Lake Ledro, Italy

Paalwoningen aan het Ledro Meer

Lake Ledro lies not far from Lake Garda in Northern Italy. The banks of this lake were already inhabited during the Bronze Age, some 4,000 years ago. Archaeological excavations have uncovered many remains of lake dwellings or stilt houses in the village of Molina di Ledro on the eastern side of the lake. A number of replicas have been built here next to the Museo delle Palafitte, which provides visitors with an interesting overview of the history of the original settlements.

Stilt houses on Lake Ledro

These prehistoric remains were first brought to light in 1929 when the water level in the lake was lowered during a water treatment operation. It seems to have been a very large settlement covering around 4,500 m2 standing on as many as 10,000 posts. Because of the large amount of pottery and other objects found here at that time, the decision was taken to mount a large-scale archaeological research programme. 

After that, however, the site was not maintained, resulting in the remains being plundered. There were many robberies and further damage was also caused by amateur archaeologists digging without permission. It was not until 1960 that the site was properly protected and investigated, thanks to intervention by the Antiquities Office of Padua which at that time had responsibility for the Ledro region. Excavations carried out in 1961, 1965 and 1967 produced a significant amount of interesting material. 

The museum was created to display the finds and to give visitors an impression of the cultural, social and economic life of the settlement. Building began in 1968 and the museum opened in 1972. In a modern style using glass and wood, the museum sits neatly in its surroundings without placing any visual barriers between the finds inside the museum and the site outside where they were discovered.

The display cabinets in the museum contain a variety of ceramics in brown or red. These include large smooth bullet-shaped jugs designed to hold food and beakers and mugs, many of which are still almost intact. Among the terracotta tools, the most fascinating are the so-called ‘mysterious’ objects: these are rectangular pieces which, before they were fired in the oven, were inscribed with points and lines of which the purpose and meaning are unknown. 

The finds also included the remains of domestic and wild animals, food remains and sediments left in jugs and pitchers. From these it has been possible to reconstruct the eating habits of the ancient inhabitants. There is also a diverse collection of bronze objects and weapons: axes, daggers with triangular blades, needles and at least four crowns or diadems which would have been used as ornaments on the head. Also on display in the museum is an elegant geometric artefact which is heavily engraved and has on the outside elaborate T-shaped ends. 

Stilt houses on Lake Ledro

Further exhibits include diverse objects made from wood, bone and horn, as well as photographic reproductions of an interesting piece of textile: a linen belt which was found folded together and rolled up so that the most visible part was a striking diamond pattern on both ends. Also remarkable is the large quantity of amber beads, which would probably have been strung together to form a necklace.

In the middle of the hall inside the museum is a canoe 4.5 metres long by 75 centimetres wide, hewn out of an enormous pine tree. Other archaeological finds from the excavations in Ledro can also be seen in the collections of the Museo del Castello del Buonconsiglio and the Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali. 

Stilt houses 
On the shore of the lake next to the Museo delle Palafitte stand reconstructions of several of the original huts. It is not known whether these reconstructions are scientifically accurate because the excavations have not produced any information about the details of their construction. Nevertheless they serve as a visual representation emphasising the importance of this very remarkable archaeological site. 

Museo delle Palafitte 
Via Lungolago 1, Molina

Opening times
March–June and September–November: 9.00 to 17.00. Closed Mondays.
July–August: 10.00 to 18.00. Open every day.

Admission prices:
€ 3.50 full amount
€ 2.50 reduced tariff
€ 7.00 family ticket (parents with children)
Free entry for children up to 6 years old. 

Text                             Harrie Wolters

Translation                 Alun Harvey


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