The name Limon, often transformed into Limonum, Limono and Limone, appears on many documents from the 10th century. According to some, the name derives from limen, which means border, or lima, which means river. It therefore does not come from the word lemon, but also “derives from an ancient Celtic word, limo or lemos, which means elm.”
The town was named Limone San Giovanni in 1863 and acquired its current name – Limone Sul Garda – in 1904. The first settlements found in the surrounding areas of Benaco (the ancient name of the lake) date back to the Neolithic period. In fact, in the nearby Valley of Ledro you can visit a museum dedicated to the pile work houses from the Bronze Age found in that area. In the year 600 before Christ, the Celtic tribes that inhabited the lake were conquered by the Romans during the second century before Christ. After this, the lake’s historical development follows that of the rest of northern Italy: from the Longobards, to the arrival of Carlo Magno (Charles the Conqueror), the Venetian Republic, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Italian Renaissance, the World Wars, up to the birth of the new Italian Republic. However, the most important period for the social, economic and cultural development of Limone was the domination of the Venetian Republic or “Serenissima” (the Splendid) as it was called during the first half of the 15th century.
Due to the administration of the “Serenissima”, Limone developed from a typical rural village based on fishing and the growing of olives to the most northerly centre for the cultivation of citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges and citrons. They built the world famous lemon groves called “Limonaia” with high walls to protect the trees from the cold north-eastern winds. The huge columns in these groves were used to support wooden rafters which during winter covered the grove transforming it into a greenhouse. However, things were not as easy as they may have seemed. Earth had to be imported for the lemon trees from the southern part of the lake because the original soil was very poor as it consisted only of gravel. The water supply for the lemon groves was a masterpiece of an irrigation system. In the diary of J. Wolfgang Goethe entitled Travels in Italy, he mentions the lemon houses of Limone that he saw during a boat trip from Torbole to Malcesine. This famous description immediately brought the town, its gardens and lemons to the attention of the international literary world: “September 13, 1786. The morning was magnificent: a bit cloudy, but calm as the sun rose. We sailed past Limone, with its terraced gardens perched on the hill slopes: it was a spectacle of abundance and grace. The entire garden is composed of rows of square white pillars topped by heavy beams to cover the trees that grow during winter. The slow crossing made it possible to better observe and contemplate this pleasing spectacle”.
Apart from the cultivation of citrus fruits in the 19th century during the reign of the Habsburg family, Limone also offered other products such as magnesium (from Via Benedetto Croce), paper (near a place called La Milanesa), quicklime (around Valle del Sìngol – Reamòl) and silkworms due to the mild climate. Unfortunately, during World War I all these prosperous businesses came to a sudden end because of the geopolitical and strategic location of Limone. The whole area, which was situated on the immediate border with Austria and which was in the active combat zone between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Italian Reign was completely evacuated. When people returned to their homes after the war there was nothing left from the former activities and they had to start again by fishing and growing olives. Throughout this whole period the only way to reach Limone was by water or through difficult mountain paths. Limone was isolated until 1931 when it became connected directly to the northern and southern villages by the famous Western Gardesana Road, still in use today.
With the construction of the Gardesana Road a new economical resource was discovered: the tourism. The constant development of tourism transformed the poor fishing village into one of the most prosperous centres on Lake Garda.