Few people know that Lake Trasimeno is one of the largest Italian lakes, but the oldest one in the Peninsula. And yet less people know that Isola Maggiore, situated in Lake Trasimeno has been inhabited since Roman times. In recent times the island has had alternate periods of flourishing and decrease from the demographic and economic points of view. The environmental changes also influenced the main activity of the locals which is obviously fishing.
The Isola Maggiore has always been inhabited even during crisis periods. This has permitted the conservation of most of its architectural and artistic beauties. Furthermore the culture and language of the territory have survived thanks to oral communication.
An important moment in the island’s history is the period between the 12th and 13th centuries, when the water level rose. This came after a hot and dry period in which the lake waters lowered. These fluctuations influenced the fishing techniques. The traditional ones that employed hooks and two types of nets (hand and trawling nets) were substituted by a practical one based on an observation: during the winter season fish hid in the warm vegetation of the swamp. That is why the tori were born: they were large refuges made of oak branches that were placed underwater.
In the 13th century the City of Perugia started to exploit the resources of the lake. In fact the earnings generated by bids of the Comunanza dei frutti delle acque del lago (the Committee for the Fruits of the Waters of the Lake) played an important part in the City’s income. That is how Perugia’s aqueduct and the beautiful Fontana Maggiore (built between 1276 and 1278 and enriched with works by Nicola and Giovanni Pisano) was built: with the revenue produced by the income of the selling of fish from Lake Trasimeno. This is the reason why on the upper basin of the Fountain one of the three sculpted female figures represents the “Lady of the Lake”. She brings fish (mainly two typical lake species - tenches and nases) to the town. As for the other 2 figures, the one at the center is the personification of the town (the “Lady of Perugia”) and the one on her right is the “Lady of Chiugi”, who holds a sheaf of wheat. The territory situated on the west side of Castiglione del Lago was called “The granary of Perugia”.
The fountain thus explains through symbolism where the prosperity of the town originated. During the second half of the 13th century Perugia was among the richest and most powerful cities in the central part of the Peninsula. Initially the proceeds derived from fishing in the Lake funded public works, but towards mid 14th century things changed. Factors such as pestilence, famine and wars hugely influenced the budget of the city, which consequently tried to exploit the lake’s reserves even more.
During the second half of the 13th century there were two islands that controlled most of the fishing on the Lake: Isola Maggiore and Isola Polvese. From late medieval times to the modern period the former slowly became the most important fishing venue in the area.
Campo del Sole is an original open-air museum with 27 statues and a central sculpture made between the years 1985 to 1989 included, by famous Italian and foreign contemporary artists. The sculptures are in sandstone and they are located in an open space along the banks of Lake Trasimeno.