When people ask me where my hometown is, I always have to work out the best way to explain it as it is such a small place that sometimes it is not even shown on the maps and with such a long name so hard to remember…and so I say “20 minutes from Verona, 1 hour from Milan, next to Lake Garda”.

Castiglione delle Stiviere is a town in Lombardy 20 km from Mantua, 10 minutes by car from Desenzano del Garda, right in the middle of two districts, Mantua and Brescia.

It is the birthplace of the Jesuit Aloysius Gonzaga (Italian: Luigi Gonzaga): his body is still buried in Rome but his head is kept in the Basilica named after him (Basilica di San Luigi) right in the middle of town. The Medieval Castle has been restored mainly by the Gonzaga family in the 16th century and every year in June, there is a historical commemoration with a parade represented by the citizen dresses up in medieval costumes to honoured its protector San Luigi.

Not a lot of people know that it is the birthplace of the Red Cross as well, established by Henri Dunant during the Battle of Solferino in 1859: the Red Cross museum is actually pretty cool as it exhibits original pieces, transports and tools from that battle.

But of course there is a lot more to it that people will never know: I left this place when I was 19 promised to myself I would never come back to live here and so I did. I just go back to visit my family from time to time but I cannot emotionally take more than 5 days at a time.
This place is probably where I suffered the most, this place ripped me apart for many reasons and it took me ages to get the pieces back together but yet, It is the place that forced me to grow up real fast, teaching me that families are not always there to support us or protect us, and so I stayed focused on what I wanted from myself and my life and left as soon as I could.

This place made me the person I have become, from this place I have learnt bad and good feelings, it has taught me how to hate and love with the same intensity, it has taught me that words are not enough, you need fact to believe in somebody, it has taught me how to see through things to understand their real meaning.

This place has been an inert witness of the worse moments of my life BUT yet, it is the only place where I can get real hugs from people that have been knowing me since I was little, where my history is well known by the people that mean the most to me, the ones I don’t have to explain myself to because they just understand me, this place is still the only place in earth I call HOME.

Photos credit: @thehyppomyselfthecat