Mantua, Italy Tourist Attractions
SituationThe provincial capital Mantua, former residence of the Gonzaga family, lies south of Lake Garda in the Po plain on the lower course of the Mincino, which here forms a marshy lake divided into three parts: Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo and Lago Inferiore.
The town is still surrounded by a ring of walls and bastions. Today it is a relatively prosperous industrial town, especially in the sphere of plastics.History and artOriginally founded by the Etruscans, the town was noted in antiquity only as the home of the poet Virgil (70-19 B.C.). It rose to some importance in the 12th and 13th centuries under the Hohenstaufen Emperors. From 1328 the town was ruled by the Guelf house of Gonzaga, who acquired the title of marquis in 1433 and of duke in 1530 and made Mantua one of the most refined and cultivated of princely capitals, a great center of art and learning. Marquis Lodovico (1444-78) summoned the Florentine architect Leon Battista Alberti to Mantua, and in 1463 enrolled Andrea Mantegna, leader of the Padua school of painters, in his service; the beautiful and accomplished Isabella d'Este (1490-1539), wife of Giovanni Francesco II, carried on a lively correspondence with the great men of the day; and Raphael's outstanding pupil, Giulio Romano (1492-1546), came to Mantua in 1524 and was active as an architect and painter. After the Gonzaga line died out (1707) the town passed to Austria, as one corner of the defensive "quadrilateral" of Peschiera-Verona-Legnago-Mantua and held it until 1866 (except for a brief interlude during the Napoleonic period. The Austrian patriot Andreas Hofer was shot in Mantua in 1810 on Napoleon's orders (memorial tablet, outside the town, to the north).
In Piazza Mantegna, in the center of Mantua, stands the church of Sant'Andrea, a masterpiece of Early Renaissance architecture built by Leon Battista Alberti in 1472-94, with a transept and choir of 1600, and a dome of 1782. The white marble facade, in the style of a classical temple, has beside it the earlier Gothic tower of red brick (1413). The interior, with its massive barrel vault, is of imposing effect. In the first chapel on the left is the tomb of Mantegna, with a bronze bust; in the last chapel on the right are frescoes by Giulio Romano. From Piazza Mantegna the arcaded Corso Umberto I, the town's principal shopping and business street, leads west to Piazza Cavallotti, from which the Corso della Libertà, a wide street built over an old canal, runs to Piazza Martiri di Belfiori.
Palazzo della Ragione
Adjoining Piazza Mantegna on the east in the Piazza delle Erbe, are the Torre dell'Orologio (clock-tower), the Palazzo della Ragione (13th century, with much later alteration) and the little Romanesque church of San Lorenzo (11th century) on a circular plan.
In the medieval Piazza Sordello (at one time the political and artistic center of Mantua), are two crenellated Gothic palaces, the Palazzo Guervieri (12th-13th century), with the 55 m/182ft high Torre della Gabbia, and the 13th century Palazzo Bonacolsi or Palazzo Castiglioni.
Adjoining the Piazza Sordello in Mantua is the Baroque Bishop's Palace (18th century).
Cathedral of San Pietro
On the northeast side of Piazza Sordello in Mantua stands the Cathedral of San Pietro, originally built in Romanesque style as the burial church of the marquises of Canossa and the Gonzaga family, remodeled in Gothic style between 1393 and 1401 and reconstructed internally to the design of Giulio Romano after a fire in 1545; it has fine Baroque facade (1756). Behind the church stands a Romanesque campanile.
Opposite the cathedral in Mantua the massive Palazzo Ducale, the sumptuous residence of the Gonzagas and one of the most splendid palaces in Italy, now houses a number of important museums and collections - the Municipal Collection of Antiquities (Greek and Roman sculpture); the Museo Medievale e Moderno (mainly medieval and Renaissance sculpture); and the Galleria, a valuable collection of pictures displayed in a series of rooms richly decorated with frescoes and ceiling paintings. Outstanding among these rooms are the Appartamento degli Arazzi, with nine tapestries made in Brussels about 1528 (scenes from the life of SS Peter and Paul) after cartoons by Raphael; the Gallery of Mirrors; the Appartamento del Paradiso, from which there are beautiful views of the lakes. On the ground floor are the rooms occupied by Isabella d'Este, the Gabinetti Isabelliani, with richly sculptured ceilings.
Address: Piazza Sordello, I-46100 Mantova, Italy
Opening hours: Jan 1 to Dec 31: 8:45am-7:15pm
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), Liberation Day - Italy (Apr 25), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25)
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €6.50, Concession or reduced rate €3.25
Castello San Giorgio
At the northeast corner of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua stands the palace church, Santa Barbara, in High Renaissance style (1565) and the older castle, the massive Castello San Giorgio (1395-1406). On the first floor the Camera degli Sposi contains magnificent frescoes by Mantegna (1474), depicting the brilliant life of the court of Lodovico and his wife Barbara of Hohenzollern. On the ceiling are fine trompe-l'oeil paintings.
Monument to Virgil
Northwest of Piazza Sordello in Mantua is the Piazza Virgiliana, with a monument (1927) to the poet Virgil, who was born near Mantua, in Andes (now Pietole).
Hall of Justice
South of the Palazzo di Giustizia in Mantua the church of San Sebastiano was the first Renaissance church built on a Greek cross plan (1460-1529) as a votive church for Ludovic II.
Palazzo del Te
South of San Sebastiano is the single-story Palazzo del Te, built 1525-35 by Giulio Romano as a country house for the Gonzagas and decorated with frescoes and stucco work under his direction. The interior rooms are worthy of note: they include the Sala dei Cavalli, the walls of which are decorated with paintings of royal horses, the Sala di Psiche with representations of Amor and Psyche, and the Sala di Giganti.
The Palazzo d'Arco in Mantua has an interesting collection of 18th century furniture, paintings and ceramics.
Address: Piazza d'Arco, I-46100 Mantova, Italy
Opening hours: Mar 1 to Oct 31: 10am-12:30pm, 2:30pm-6pm; Closed: Mon
Nov 1 to Feb 28: 10am-12:30pm, 2pm-5pm; Closed: Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
Nov 1 to Feb 28: 10am-12:30pm, 2pm-5pm; Closed: Mon, Tue, Wed, Thu, Fri
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Easter - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €5.00, Concession or reduced rate €2.00
Teatro Accademico is a small 18th century theater located in Mantua. It was designed by Bibiena and contains a unique decoration of imitation marble and pasteboard.
The surroundings of Mantua include the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Gothic pilgrimage church of Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Santa Maria degli Angeli
On the Cremona road (3km/2 mi west of Mantua), lying off the road on the right, on the Lago Superiore, the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli (1429) is in Lombard Gothic style, with a beautiful altarpiece by Mantegna.
Santa Maria delle Grazie
Near the west end of the Lago Superiore, stands the Gothic pilgrimage church of Santa Maria delle Grazie (1399). The over-furnished interior contains 44 figures in wood and wax of notable visitors to the shrine (including Charles V) and a fine altarpiece ("St Sebastian") by F. Bonsignori.
Abbazia di Polirone, San Benedetto Po
There is a rewarding trip to the little town of San Benedetto Po (18m/59ft; pop. 8,000), with a former Benedictine monastery (Abbazia di Polirone) founded in 1007 by Marquis Tedaldo of Canossa and dissolved in 1789. The church, originally built in Gothic style was remodeled by Giulio Romano as a splendid Renaissance building with an octagonal dome over the crossing and a fine portico; in front of the presbytery are floor mosaics (12th century). The internal furnishings are mainly 16th century. Note the terracotta figures by Antonio Begarelli in the nave and choir. In the monastery buildings grouped around the cloisters are remains of some Renaissance frescoes. Some rooms of the monastery house the Museo della Cultura Popolare Padana, with 10,000 items on display documenting the life and work of the people of Mantua and the neighboring provinces of Modena and Reggio nell'Emilia. The exhibits include puppet theaters, evidence of the spiritual and religious life, as well as objects portraying the everyday lives of the farmers and craftsmen.