The Surprising History of Lake Trasimeno

Have you ever heard of Lake Trasimeno?

Frankly I’m no authority on Italian lakes, but thanks to George Clooney I was at least mildly aware of the existence of Lake Como in the north. Up until last year though, Lake Trasimeno, in Italy’s picture perfect Umbria region, wasn’t even on my radar. Moments into my lengthy cruise of this mysterious body of water, its fascinating history began to unfold before me.

You might not guess it, but Trasimeno is no ordinary lake…

Lake Trasimeno

The first thing you notice when cruising around Lake Trasimeno is an abundance of dark castles peeking from behind overgrown trees on seemingly deserted isles, or casting imposing glances over the green water from a perch high above. Most of the castles are deteriorating, cracked and decrepit, but in a way it makes them more intriguing.

Who hasn’t dreamed of exploring an abandoned castle?

Lake Trasimeno Lake Trasimeno

Exhausted as I was during my visit (I was there the day after attending a blogger conference), I managed to rouse myself long enough for a stop at Isola Maggiore, Lake Trasimeno’s 2nd largest island, for a glorious lunch and a wander through some ancient olive groves. It’s the only inhabited island on the lake, with a bustling population of 35 people.

Isola Maggiore Lake Trasimeno Isola Maggiore Lake Trasimeno

St. Francis of neighboring Assisi himself once spent time hermitting-it-up on Isola Maggiore, back in 1211. The population has fluctuated wildly ever since as local industries of lace making, fishing and agriculture have come and gone.

Isola Maggiore Isola Maggiore Lake Trasimeno

These days, Isola Maggiore is the perfect place for a long Italian lunch filled with delicacies from the lake.

Isola Maggiore Lake Trasimeno Isola Maggiore Seafood Lake Trasimeno Isola Maggiore Lake Trasimeno

My favorite part of the whole excursion, and I’m not kidding, was the way our Italian guides pronounced the word *lake* in English. I’m from the South, so I’m certainly accustomed to the appearance of extra vowels in words. (If you’ve ever heard Paula Deen speak, you’ll know what I mean.) But there was something so different and pleasantly hilarious about the way they said it – I just couldn’t get enough of their explanations!

Phonetically, it sounded something like lAaauieeek, though I know mere letters could never do their beautiful prononciations justice.

Just imagine:

“There are no rivers flowing out of LAaeiueeeek Trasimeno, so the water fluctuates according to rainfall and the seasons.”

Or how about:

“As an endorheic body of water like the Dead Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Great Salt Lake, the lAaaiueeeeek receives water but has no outlet.”

Even the cold, hard facts about lAauiieeeeeek Trasimeno were beginning to interest me.

Lake Trasimeno

Just when I thought I knew all there was to know about rainfall and seafood and fishing villages and crumbling castles and adorable Italian accents, I heard one of Lake Trasimeno’s earliest tales and it gave me pause. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that as travelers, we’re always walking in someone else’s footsteps…

In 217 BC, Hannibal and his Carthaginians, who famously traversed the snowy mountains with elephants in tow, defeated the Romans in one of the most successful military ambushes in history right here on Trasimeno’s shores. In less than four hours, the all-powerful Roman army was obliterated and 17,000+ men were dead. Legend says the battle raged so hard no one even noticed a major earthquake that took place at the same time.

For days after the battle, it’s said the water in Lake Trasimeno ran red with blood.

Lake Trasimeno

There’s a small museum marking the site of the battle just a hop, skip and a jump away from the shore. It’s well worth a look for history buffs but requires a decent amount of imagination, as there isn’t much left to see from a battle that took place 2,000+ years ago.



Angie Away was a guest of the Umbria Regional Tourism Board but all opinions & strangely blurry photos are her own. Click here for official tourism information about Lake Trasimeno.

Get exclusive updates with all the latest news and posts delivered directly to your inbox
  • February 13, 2013

    We just stopped off for an afternoon at Lake Trasimeno a few days before Christmas. Not much is open in winter, but it was beautiful none-the-less. We did enjoy a wonderful seafood lunch and a stunning sunset. I can’t wait to return and spend some more time exploring the lake in the spring!

  • February 28, 2013

    Wow, this looks so beautiful. I have been to lake Como and Garda, but have never heard of this one. Not surprised Clooney bought a house there.

Leave a Reply