A small round church founded in 1082 as instructed by Matilde di Canossa, the Rotonda di San Lorenzo is a brick Romanesque building inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The oldest church in Mantua, it is dedicated to 3rd century Roman martyr St Lawrence, condemned by the pagan prefect of Rome to a slow and cruel death by fire.
Today almost a metre and a half below the level of the piazza, the church was originally part of a spiritual pilgrimage towards the relic of the Holy Blood, which was preserved in the nearby Church of Sant'Andrea.
The "Rotonda" has a domed interior with two orders of columns and a matroneum, the gallery area where only women could pray. There are traces of the original byzantine style frescoes and decorations, with angels and Jesus Christ as Judge. In the apse is a later, 15th century fragment showing St Lawrence being killed, literally 'grilled' to death, on the gridiron.
Closed in 1579 by decree from Guglielmo Gonzaga, the building was incorporated into a larger structure of residential houses, thus partially disappearing.
Fortunately, in 1908, the surrounding buildings were for the most part destroyed. The church came back to light and was attentively restructured to its original splendour. Now a subsidiary church of the parish of Sant'Andrea, it has been taken care of by the Dominican Fraternity since 1926.
The Rotonda di San Lorenzo can be visited Monday - Friday: Summer: 10.00-13.00 and 15.00-19.00 winter: 10.00-13.00 and 14.00-18.00 - Saturday and Sunday: 10.00-18.00, but check the official Mantua Tourism site for details. English speaking guided tours with local guides are available and can be arranged by the tourist office.Any suggestions?
The town of Villa Pasquali in the district of Sabbioneta is largely known for its impressive parish church, dedicated to Sant’Antonio Abate – Saint Anthony the Great. This splendid example of Baroque architecture is a welcome surprise for people visiting Villa Pasquali.
The church was built in the second half of the 18th century on the behest of the parish priest Giovanni Battista Pedrazzi, while the architect was the Bolognese Antonio Galli Bibiena. As most of the members of his family, he was a stage scenographer as well as an architect and this generally reflected a great deal on his work; this monument is no exception.
The church was constructed between 1765-1784, but in November of the second year of building, the cupola and the area around the chancel suddenly collapsed.
When the church was completed in 1784, the second bell tower remained unfinished as did the façade. In fact, the cotto-tiled façade was supposed to have been plastered, but has remained fair-faced. A curious aspect of the façade is that its aspect follows two different styles: the Tuscan order for the bottom part and the Corinthian for the top part, with a large central entrance and two smaller lateral ones.
The ground plan on the inside is longitudinal with a single nave flanked by four adjoining foursquare chapels dominated by small cupolas ornate with rose windows, friezes, stucco symbols and frescoes.
The two chapels on the left are dedicated to San Francesco di Paola – Saint Francis of Paola and to the Sacro Cuore – the Sacred Heart, whereas the two on the right are dedicated to the Anime purganti – the Holy Souls of Purgatory and to San Sebastiano – Saint Sebastian.
The majestic cupola with its pierced cotto vault is particularly striking because of the natural daylighting system it generates, highlighting the frescoes and creating different contrasts between light and dark.
In this central cupola, the light enters directly through the eight windows in the roof lantern and splays evenly on the surface of the vault. The chapels in the transept and in the apsis are also pierced and lit up by slits that give indirect sunlight because the light falls on the bearing ribs of the vault, producing evocative light effects.
Important statues and paintings can also be found, such as the altarpiece, which depicts the Temptation of Saint Anthony, painted by the Cremonese Agostino Amadini, a copy of the one in the Sant’Agostino church in Cremona by Giovanni Battista Trotti, il Malosso. On the counter-façade we find a representation of the Adoration of the Magi by Francesco Antonio Chiozzi and wonderful frescoes of the Annunciation of Our Lady and the Archangel Gabriel by Giovanni Morini.
Photo credits: Luigi StranoAny suggestions?
ThE splendid Arco palace in Mantova, once the residence of the prestigious Arco family, is a formidable example of neoclassical architecture. Built at the end of the 18th century on the site of a pre-existing palace after designs by architect Antonio Colonna, the palace was later extended by Francesco Antonio d'Arco in 1872 - hence its name.
After countess Giovanna d'Arco's death in 1973 the palace was bequeathed to the city of Mantua.
It is currently run by a foundation, which has carried out extensive renovations and brought the palace, reopened in April 2016, to its original splendour. It is really the case to say that the beauty and grandeur of this palace fully compare to those of more renowned royal palaces and residences.
There are a large number of rooms in show with their original 18th and 19th century furnishings and decorations. Other rooms contain collections of chandeliers, pottery, weapons, musical instruments and a notable selection of natural history items such as minerals, fossils and herbs.
Several beautiful rooms such as the Hall of Portraits, the Hall of Diana, The Hall of Pallas or the Hall of Justice host the rich art gallery, with paintings by Lorenzo Lotto, Niccolò da Verona, Alessandro Magnasco and Frans Pourbus the Younger. A famous cycle of paintings by Giuseppe Bazzani can also be admired in what’s known as the Hall of Alexander the Great.
Particularly interesting are the visits to the library with its multitude of ancient books and also the kitchen, with its collection of copper objects and tools providing interesting information on 19th century domestic life.
In the pleasant garden, typically bordered by an exedra, are the remains of two Renaissance palaces, in one of them is located the remarkable Sala dello Zodiaco – a true gem with impressive frescoes attributed to Giovanni Maria Falconetto.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday with different hours depending on the season. Check the website for details and special events, such as historical re-enactments, when actors fill the rooms pretending to be members of the Arco family, telling the story of this amazing palace. A real must for children and adults alike!
Ph. credits: Candida HöferAny suggestions?
The city of Sabbioneta was founded by Vespasiano Gonzaga in the second half of the 15th century and in 1577 it became a duchy, independent from the Gonzagas in Mantua. Vespasiano Gonzaga transformed the old medieval town into a military stronghold, planning the building of the city walls and the urban configuration from 1554-1591, the year in which he died.
Sabbioneta was built according to the concept of the ideal city, typical of the Renaissance, and hosts a number of important monuments, one of which is the Palazzo Ducale – the Ducal Palace, now the town hall.
The Palazzo Ducale was the Duke’s political and representative headquarters and the heart of the duchy’s power. A two-floor structure with a front portico with five arch openings, it was constructed between 1558 and 1568 and completed after 1578.
Above the openings are five marble framed windows, on top of which stand triangular and curved gables. On the architraves, the Latin words VESP. D. G. DVX SABLON. I are engraved – Vespasiano, first Duke of Sabbioneta by the Grace of God.
Five busts are placed over the windows – copies of the originals, which are kept indoors. A turret with arched windows and pilasters stands in the central position.
From the front gate, the entrance leads to a wide hall with two large central columns. An impressive spiral-shaped staircase used to take visitors to the second floor, but after the restoration project of 1968-71, it was removed and has yet to return to its original abode.
Particularly interesting are the Sale d’Oro with their golden wooden vault ceilings and the Sala del Duca d’Alba – dedicated to the Grand Duke of Alba in Spain, a personal friend of Vespasiano, still complete with a majestic fireplace in pink marble from Verona.
The Sala delle Aquile with its wooden statues of members of House Gonzaga on horseback; the Galleria degli Antenati with its grotesque motifs depicting many of the Gonzagas (including Vespasiano and his second wife Anna d’Aragona and their only son, Luigi Gonzaga, who only lived to be 14 years old); the Sala degli Elefanti; the Sala dei Leoni with the family coat of arms, held up by two lions; the Sala delle Città and the Sala dell’Angelo with ceilings in cedar wood and, finally, the Sala degli Ottagoni and the Sala dei Grappoli, which once housed the Duke’s immense library.
Many of the beautiful frescoes were carried out by artist Bernadino Campi from Reggio Emilia, whereas the grotesque motifs were the work of the specialist Giovan Francesco Bicesi, known as Fornarino, from Mantua.Any suggestions?
Located in the centre of Mantua, you'll find the beautiful Teatro Bibiena not far from Palazzo Ducale. Also known as "The Scientific Theatre" or the "Academic Theatre", this astonishing building was built between 1767 and 1769 and designed by Antonio Galli Bibiena. This small Mantuan jewel retains most of its original features, making it a not-to miss spot of the Lombard city.
The façade was designed by Giuseppe Piermarini in the neo-classic style while the interior is mainly Baroque. Since the theatre has never undergone any major renovations it is one of the best examples of what theatres may have looked like during the Baroque era.
It has a rare bell-shaped floor-plan and four tiers of boxes extending around the entire perimeter of the theatre, including behind the stage. Frescoes by Bibiena and statues depicting notable Mantua citizens are part of the rich décor. The seats on the orchestra level are, however, a modern addition: originally this space was occupied by wooden benches.
The Bibiena was not the first entertainment building to stand in Mantua's centre; the theatre was in fact built in the place of a previous 16th century theatre, which was originally a gift by Cesare Gonzaga to a group of intellectual friends. Known as the Accademia degli Invaghiti, they used to meet in there in order to discuss art, literature and music. The spot soon became an important centre for the Renaissance culture.
When the second theatre was built, it was again to serve the needs of an Academy and not for recreational purposes only.
Originally the Accademia, by then renamed Academy of Science, Literature and Arts, had asked the Gonzaga family for a room in which they could conduct scientific studies, principally of anatomical nature; the Gonzaga decided instead to build a theatre suited to seat about 300. This allowed scientists to conduct their studies during the day, while in the evening the building could be used as a proper theatre. Proceeds from box sales directly funded the Accademia and their research, thus connecting arts and science in an unprecedented way.
The Bibiena theatre was also used for conferences - one of the main functions of the theatre today. The most famous historical event, however, remains the memorable concert by young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was invited to perform in Mantua on January 16, 1770 - only a short time after the theatre was inaugurated - during his first Italian tour. Mozart was only 14 years old at the time and his father, Leopold, accompanied him. He would write to Mozart's mom during their stay in Manuta, describing the city, the wonderful theatre and his son's performance.
The theatre is open to the public for visits. Opening hours are: Tuesday - Sunday: 9.30-12.30 and 15.00-18.00 except when events take place. Entrance is 2€ and the visit is self-guided, although private tours are offered by expert guides. If you’re lucky, you might have the chance to witness an opera or orchestra rehearsal – an incredible sound experience inside a building that, over the years, has heard so many beautiful notes.
The Bibiena theatre is inside the vast Palazzo Accademico, home to the Accademia Nazionale Virgiliana. This is the oldest and most prestigious cultural institution of the city and houses a library, a beautiful archive and an interesting collection of surgery equipment from the 18th century.Any suggestions?
Polirone Abbey in San Benedetto Po is an imposing Benedictine abbey founded in 1007 by Tedaldo of Canossa, Countess Matilde of Canossa's grandfather. Matilde herself, the most notable protector of the site apart from the Gonzaga family, was originally buried there: her remains were later sold by the abbot to Pope Urban VIII in 1633 and moved to St. Peters in Rome.
The name Polirone comes from the names of the two rivers that surrounded the island where the buildings once stood, the Po and the Lirone rivers. Today the area is no longer an island as the course of the rivers and the structure of the territory has changed over the centuries.
The abbey was an important centre of monastic culture until Napoleon suppressed all congregations in 1797.
The complex, abandoned and later restored, comprises a large area of the small town and can now be visited. The itinerary includes a visit to the Museo Civico Polironiano di San Benedetto Po, an interesting ethnographic museum of the region.
The visit starts from the church, one of the masterpieces of famous architect Giulio Romano, added to the complex between 1540 and 1544 using pre-existing structure from a previous Romanesque church.
There are remains of a fine mosaic pavement dating back to 1151 and in the sacristy are frescoes by the school of Giulio Romano and also a portrait of Matilde of Canossa. The church also has a majestic organ with more than two thousand pipes and fine wooden cupboards.
To the right of the church is the vaulted Secolari Cloister, from which a baroque marble staircase by Giovanni Battista Barberini (1674) leads up to the Museum.
The displays occupy part of the San Simeone Cloister, built between 1458 and 1480, which also houses the abbot's apartments and a fine library. From here one can access directly the Capitolo Hall, with tombs from previous abbots and proceed to the main cloister, the San Benedetto Cloister.
The visit continues across the square, with the refectory, built in 1478, where a huge fresco discovered in 1984 and attributed to a young Correggio was the architectural frame for a Madonna by Girolamo Bonsignori. The Madonna is now displayed at the Museo Civico of Badia Polesine. Beyond the refectory is the infirmary with 16th century cellars, which can also be visited.
The abbey is the perfect destination for a day out in the Mantua area and should not be missed. It is open all year round with different opening times. Entrance is 8€ but check the official site for details.Any suggestions?
one of the most important and visited Renaissance buildings in Italy, the elegant Palazzo del Te is located on the southern edge on the old town of Mantua, which was once surrounded by four lakes formed by the river Mincio.
Teieto (hence Te) was the name of the island on which the palace stood, which was once connected to the south walls of the city by a bridge. Today the lake no longer exists and the area is part of the town.
The palace was built as a summer villa on the site of the Gonzaga stables and has a very large garden closed at one end by an imposing arcade. It was commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga as a "small residence to which he could retire sometimes to feast, or dine for pleasure”.
Begun in 1525 and completed in 1535, the main building surrounds a courtyard with symmetrical loggias. It has a stern classical façade made of brick and stucco with monumental pillars and a sumptuous interior - a splendid example of Renaissance Mannerism.
The main rooms are found on the ground floor while the upper floor contains collections from the Museo Civico of Mantua.
The Camera del Sole e della Luna (the Chamber of the Sun and the Moon) has an amazing stuccoed ceiling and was used to greet guests arriving from the adjacent loggia of the Muses. The Sala dei Venti (the Hall of the Winds) has a ceiling with zodiac signs. Most paintings and stuccoes were made by Giulio Romano and by some of his pupils, being of immense artistic interest.
The famous Sala dei Giganti (the Hall of the Giants), in which painting and architecture are united in a mix of reality and trompe l'oeil, is a stunning representation of the Fall of the Giants.
The Sala di Amor e Psiche (the Hall of Amor and Psyche), the most lavish of the rooms, has frescoes representing the story of the two lovers and an inscription in Latin along the walls which well defines the purpose of the palace: “Federico II Gonzaga Fifth Marquis Captain General of the Holy Roman Church and Florentine Republic ordered its construction for his honest leisure after hard work to regain his strength in peace”.
Palazzo Te was indeed used as a retreat but mainly for grand entertainments and to receive important guests. Emperor Charles V stayed at the palace on two occasions, in 1530, when he granted Federico the Dukedom of Mantua, and in 1532. Henri III, king of France, was also a guest in 1574.
Palazzo del Te is a must if you are visiting Mantua. It offers guided tours in different languages and also audio guides for those wanting to visit the palace at their own pace. Should you be looking for a unique location for your special day, the palace is also available for civil weddings.
For your visit check the opening hours - make sure you don't miss this pearl of the Italian Renaissance!Any suggestions?
In 1587 Duke Vespasiano Gonzaga of Sabbioneta signed an agreement with architect Vincenzo Scamozzi from Vicenza. This was the beginning of the construction of the very first example of a modern theatre, that is the first free-standing building designated exclusively for theatre performances.
It is also the second-oldest surviving indoor theatre, after the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, and it remains, along with the aforementioned theatre and Teatro Farnese in Parma, one of only three Renaissance theatres to have survived to this day.
It was a bold decision to erect a permanent theatre in a time where plays were mainly performed in the streets. But it was made in accordance to the Duke’s intention to turn his minuscule duchy into a so-called ideal city, and that included a proper theatre. The project was presented in 1588 and took around two years to complete.
On the outside, the theatre appears simple and harmonious. A belt course, separating the first and second floor, bears the inscription Roma quanta fuit ipsa ruina docet – “How great Rome was, its very ruins tell”, revealing the origin of Vespasiano’s inspiration. Below the belt course, the windows are decorated with bossage, while the top part displays a more classic style with gabled windows and recesses where statues once stood.
On the inside, the Teatro all’Antica has a classical outline with a semi-circular cavea (the seating section), an orchestra level and stage, but it also presents novelties such as a foyer and dressing room for the artists.
The stage is on a raised platform and behind it was where Scamozzi’s permanent set design used to be. It was destroyed in the second half of the 18th century and represented an urban perspective with a street lined with elegant and bourgeois buildings. The current set design is a copy of the original and was built in 1996.
Scamozzi’s intention was to create an illusion of being out in the open, which was mainly obtained through the vaulted ceiling made of woven river reeds, which were plastered and painted sky-blue, accentuating the sense of depth.
The cavea is surrounded by a Corinthian colonnade on which stand twelve statues representing the twelve Olympian deities. Between the columns, on the wall, busts of several Roman emperors have been inserted, and exactly in the centre we find the bust of Emperor Vespasian, surprise surprise… just above the seat where his namesake, the Duke, used to sit! The link to the Great Roman Empire is further underlined by two urban perspectives, one depicting the Piazza del Campidoglio – on the Capitoline Hill and the other Castel Sant’Angelo.
Unfortunately, Vespasiano didn’t have time to enjoy his theatre - or at least not as much as he probably would have wanted to - because of his untimely death.
To add insult to injury the theatre suffered a steady decline after his death; first, it was used as barracks and warehouse, then it flooded and by the mid-19th century it became a cinema. It was the 1980s that would see to its restoration and with the insertion of the copy of Scamozzi’s original set design in 1996, it has been restored to look as it did at the opening night in 1590!Any suggestions?
The Ducal Palace of Mantua has an illustrious, intricate and tumultuous history. The exquisite building complex served as residence of House Gonzaga: Lords, Marquis and eventually Dukes of Mantua while, during the Austrian dominion, it also became Royal Palace to Empress Queen Maria Theresa of House Habsburg.
The various separate buildings were built in different eras beginning from the 13th century.
Initially on behalf of the Bonacolsi, who ruled the city of Mantua until the first quarter of the 14th century, and later on behalf of the Gonzagas. It was Duke Guglielmo Gonzago who, in 1556, appointed Giovanni Battista Bertani, the Prefect of the Ducal Studio, to connect all the buildings in order to create a single monumental and architectural structure, one of the largest of its kind in Europe covering an area of approximately 34,000 m², which stretched from the banks of the Lago inferiore to Piazza Sordello, the once Piazza di San Pietro.
After the death of Bertani in 1576, the works were continued by Bernardino Facciotto, who completed the structure by adding gardens, squares, loggias, arcades, exedras and courtyards.
Today, the Palace’s interiors are practically empty because most of the artworks was sold when House Gonzaga fell into poverty (mainly to Charles I of England) and the furniture was partly nicked by Napoleon and his army.
Built on orders from Guido Bonacolsi in the end of the 13th century, the oldest building in the Ducal Palace is the Palazzo del Capitano – the Captain’s Palace – facing Piazza Sordello. Originally, it had two floors and was separated from the Magna Domus by a narrow street.
Later, a floor was added and it was united with the Magna Domus through the majestic portico façade, which has remained fundamentally the same over the years. The added floor consists of a single enormous room – Salone dell’Armeria, also nick-named Salone della Dieta – the Council Room, because it hosted the famous Council of Mantua in 1459.
The Magna Domus and the Palazzo del Capitano formed what would eventually become the Corte Vecchia – the Old Palace.
Here in the mid-14th century, Pisanello went about creating a grandiose series of frescoes in some of the rooms, depicting the Arthurian legends set during the Tournament Battle of Louverzep. Naturally, the objective was to glorify the house of the customer – Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, who obviously appeared in the paintings himself. The discovery of these magnificent frescoes was due to the curator Giovanni Paccagnini, who also carried out the restoration of Pisanello’s works of art through the '60s and '70s. The Pisanello rooms now host fragments of the frescoes and the relevant preparatory drawings.
The Castello di San Giorgio (Castle of St. George), was built from 1395-1406 on behalf of Francesco I of Gonzaga and carried out by Bartolino da Novara. It is a foursquare construction with four corner towers, surrounded by a moat with three entrances and drawbridges, intended to defend the city.
In 1459, on orders from the Marquis Ludovico III of Gonzaga, architect Luca Fancelli completely restored the castle, which by then had lost its military and defensive purpose.
The absolute gem of this castle is by far the Camera degli Sposi – the Wedding Chamber – a beautiful room on the main floor of the north-east tower. The famous artist Andrea Mantegna worked on the chamber for a period of nine years, from 1465-1475, creating a three-dimensional illusion; a loggia with three openings facing picturesque landscapes, wide archways and curtains moving in the wind. Paying homage to his patrons, Mantegna depicted members of the Gonzaga family in two scenes; the Scena dell’Incontro and the Scena della Corte.
From 1480, a new edifice was added alongside the Corte Vecchia called the Domus Nova – New House in Latin. It was then modified under the reign of Duke Vincenzo I and the current appartamento ducale – the Ducal Apartment - was created. Not far from the Castello di San Giorgio, Federico II ordered the so-called Corte Nuova to be built, where one of the first units was the appartamento di Troia – the Apartment of Troy, which took its name from the frescoes represented there.
The Corte Vecchia became prestigious once again in 1519, when Isabella d’Este left her apartments in Castello di San Giorgio where she used to live with her husband, Francesco II of Gonzaga, when he was still alive.
In the Corte Vecchia she moved into the so-called appartamento vedovile (the Widow Apartment), on the first floor. Here we find some marvelous rooms frescoed by Lorenzo Leonbruno, among which the magnificent Camera Granda, also called Scalcheria, the Studiolo – a small office, the Grotto and the Giardino Segreto – the Secret Garden.Any suggestions?
Legend has it that right in the hamlet of Grazie, in the district of Curtatone, just some 9 kilometres from Mantua, a small altar dedicated to the Madonna and Child was erected back around the year 1200. Since then, pilgrimage to this location steadily increased, and a small chapel eventually took the place of the altar.
But it was the plague that haunted this area in 1399 that would give cause to the construction of the Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie as we know it today.
Francesco Gonzaga, Lord of Mantua, was at his wits end as what to do to get rid of the pestilence that tormented his lands and his people. He made a vow to the Virgin Mary: if the epidemic died down, he would build a large and sumptuous basilica to take the place of the small chapel. Miraculously, his prayers were answered and that same year construction began, supervised by architect Bartolino da Novara, the man behind the San Giorgio Castle in Mantua.
The Santuario was consecrated in 1406 and the stile is Italian Gothic. In front of the church a portico composed of thirteen semi-circular arches supported by fourteen pillars embellish the entrance - it was put there when Federico Gonzaga decided to move the annual fair from the neighbouring town of Porto to Grazie and used to shelter both merchants and pilgrims alike. The lunettes below the colonnade, frescoed in the 17th century, tell the story of this. The ground plan of the basilica is rectangular, with a single central nave but without a transept.
Once you cross the threshold and walk into the Santuario, an astonishing scenario unveils itself. A multitude of ex-voto statues stand to greet you from the recesses where they were put out of gratitude or devotion.
They resemble something out of a 16th century Baroque Cabinet of Wonder! The wooden framework is built like a double loggia and is the work of Friar Francesco da Acquanegra. He thought it necessary to organise the many votive offerings and donations made through the years: crutches and muskets from those who considered themselves saved by a miracle, wax reproductions of miraculously healed body parts (hands, eyes, breasts, buboes caused by the plaque) and finally the statues, made of wood, cloth and papier-mâché, representing famous pilgrims, devout believers imploring God’s good graces or survivors of a mortal danger.
There are 80 recesses but only 53 of them host a statue. Noblewomen, but also a female figure with a straw hat, nick-named la miseria delle Grazie – the wretched of the Graces - because of her humble appearance; there’s a cardinal and soldiers dressed in 16th century clothes, the one who was saved from drowning, another one saved from hanging, an executioner. Everything is adorned with garlands, Baroque oddities and wax decorations. The friars used to replace the fabrics on the statues when they were worn out, one of these friars – Serafino da Legnago - is represented as the ninth statue on the right of the aisle.
The most peculiar of all the ex-voto offerings is definitely the crocodile hanging in mid-air in the centre aisle. It is a real stuffed crocodile, not a model. It was offered to the santuario in the 15th or 16th century and has recently been restored.
Crocodiles, like dragons and serpents, were often associated with Evil and sometimes considered the incarnation of the Devil himself and thus animals capable of leading men to sin. Placing one in a church was therefore very symbolic: it meant to block out the evil it represented and at the same time served as a warning for future sinners.
Precious sepulchral monuments are also stored in the chapels of the santuario, such as the family chapel of Baldassarre Castiglioni – author of one of the most famous books of the time, Il Cortegiano – The Book of the Courtier. The monument is the work of mannerist Giulio Romano, a pupil of Raphael.
This Cabinet of Wonders is definitely worth a visit!Any suggestions?
The largest church in Mantua, the Basilica of Sant'Andrea is a very important Renaissance building commissioned in 1470 by Ludovico II Gonzaga. The church is the third built on this site intended to display the precious relic of the Holy Blood: earth believed to be soaked in the blood of Christ, supposedly brought to Mantua by Longinus in 36 AD.
Longinus was the Roman soldier who, according to the Gospels, pierced the side of the crucified Jesus and proclaimed him the Son of God.
St Andrew, to whom the church is dedicated, is believed to have appeared in the dreams of two different Mantua citizens in the 9th and 11th centuries, revealing the location of the Holy Blood.
Although it was built by Luca Fancelli between 1472 and 1494, then enlarged in 1530 under Giulio Romano, the church remains the most accomplished architectural masterwork by Leon Battista Alberti, who designed it shortly before his death. The classical façade has giant columns while the brick clock-tower is a surviving structure from a pre-existing 11th century monastery.
The huge interior has a barrel-vaulted nave with rectangular side chapels and gives visitors a sense of immense space and light, while the vault is decorated with magnificent trompe l'oeil paintings.
In the chapels are frescoes by Benedetto Pagni, Rinaldo Mantovano and Correggio while there are also important funerary monuments, including the exquisite and elaborate Pietro Strozzi monument, designed by Giulio Romano.
The Cappella del Mantegna contains the painter's tomb with a bronze bust of the artist. The panel of the Holy Family and the Family of St. john the Baptist is most probably by Mantegna himself while the other works in the chapel are by his son Francesco.
The dome, added by Filippo Juvarra in 1732, has late 18th century frescoes. Beneath the dome is the octagonal balustrade marking the 16th century crypt which contains the relic of the holy blood and which is only open on Good Fridays. With a very solemn ceremony, during which twelve different keys are used to reach the precious vases, the Bishop of Mantua brings the relic out of its underground crypt. The vases containing the earth are then brought in procession around the city and displayed in the church until they are brought back to their shrine in the evening.
Of all Mantua's treasures, the Basilica di Sant'Andrea may be the most rewarding so make sure it's included in your itinerary.Any suggestions?
Built between 1580 and 1588 in a simple rustic style as a summer villa for the Duke Vespasiano Gonzaga, Palazzo Giardino, the "Casino of Sabbioneta" is a modest palace with a carved oak cornice on the exterior. The interior was richly decorated by Bernardino Campi and his pupils and some of the original polychrome marble floors are still preserved.
Of particular interest are the rooms on the upper floor, the piano nobile, with stuccoes and frescoes depicting ancient Roman and Greek subjects.
They include the Circus Maximus and the Circus of Flaminius in Rome (Camerino dei Cesari), myths from Ovid's Metamorphoses (Camera di Filemone e Bauci) and stories from Greek mythology (Camera dei Miti). Scenes from Virgil's Aeneid can be found in the Duke's study, a small, marvellously decorated square room, which also has beautiful pictures of exotic animals seen by Gonzaga during his travels in Africa.
Another beautiful room is the Sala degli Specchi, so called because it used to be decorated with Venetian mirrors: now it only has the large painted landscapes attributed to Flemish artist Jan Soens. From the windows of this elegant room visitors can see the remains of the walled garden with its three grottoes dedicated to the nymphs. Not much else is preserved of this once beautifully landscaped garden.
Beyond a small room with Grottesche (grotesques) is the entrance to the remarkable Galleria degli Antichi, known as the Grand Corridor. The 96 metres long gallery does not connect any buildings but was added to the palace between 1583 and 1584 to contain the duke's rich collection of classical busts and statues, most of which were transferred to the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua in 1774. The stone and brick gallery is decorated with frescoes and trompe l'oeil perspectives and has a nice open loggia below.
Although virtually empty the Galleria is a place of immense beauty and grandeur and is well worth a visit. Immersed in the silence of this spacious and beautiful "corridor" visitors will feel the inner quiet experienced by that visionary duke who loved classical culture and art so much and to whom Sabbioneta owns some of its most remarkable buildings.
Mantua cathedral stands on the site of an early Christian church erected during the Constantine era and dedicated to the saints Peter and Paul. Rebuilt in the 15th century under Francesco I Gonzaga, it was restructured after a fire in 1545 by famous architect Giulio Romano, who designed the interior imitating an early Christian basilica.
The present Carrara marble façade dates back to the 18th century and clashes with the Romanesque 7-bells tower and the late Gothic red brick South side, making the Duomo an interesting combination of styles and aesthetics from different periods.
The more harmonious, 15th century façade can still be seen in a Domenico Morone painting displayed at Palazzo Ducale, "La cacciata dei Bonacolsi".
The interior of the cathedral is divided into 5 main naves with Corinthian columns and two side naves with chapels – of these, the Cappella dell'Incoronata is particularly charming.
Some interesting paintings can be found throughout the church, for example the 1552 Saint Margaret by Domenico Brusasorci, the Glory of Saint Joseph (1616) by Niccolò Ricciolini or The Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John and Angels by Antonio Maria Viani while the baptistery has remains of earlier frescoes.
The cathedral is also the burial site of famous Mantua citizens such as Saint Anselm, patron saint of the city, whose remains are exposed every year on the 18th March for the patron saint celebrations, or Bonifacio di Canossa, father of Matilde di Canossa, Luigi Gonzaga, founder of the Gonzaga dynasty and other prominent historical and religious personalities.
In his "Pictures from Italy", traveling to Mantua in the footsteps of Romeo and Juliet, Dickens mentions this very Cathedral. Why not include this church among your own "pictures from Italy"?Any suggestions?
Named Revere Castle after the village where it stood, on he banks of the river Po, the Palazzo Ducale of Reverenwas built in 1125 by the Modena lords and later conquered by the Mantuans, who added seven towers to the original structure.
Having been flooded several times, the palace was finally given to the Gonzaga family in 1332. During the second half of the 15th century, under Lodovico Gonzaga, Leon Battista Alberti's disciple Luca Fancelli turned the building into a fortified Ducal Palace.
Today, the Palazzo still stands as a masterpiece of the Mantuan Renaissance, with a charming courtyard and an imposing portal. Nowadays the Palazzo Ducale houses public offices and the Museo del Po, a museum focusing on the history and culture of the river Po.
Created in 2007, the museum is divided into a series of rooms, all dedicated to different themes connected with the river: archaeology of the area, photographs and images of the river, documents and historical sources, anthropology and ethnography. A further room is centred on the past economic value of the river and the activities that revolved around it (fishing, boating, windmills, etc.).
An interesting outdoor addition to the visit is the perfectly functioning floating mill, rebuilt to the original scale and the only remaining of the over 300 floating mills which were once part of the area's daily life.
The last room of the exhibition is the Fontinalia Museum, a permanent collection of etchings, paintings and sculptures on the "myths and symbols of the water". Through the works of famous artists such as Max Klinger, Kolo Moser, Seymour Haden and many others, an itinerary comprising approximately 100 items will guide visitors along some of the most significant aspects of the tight relationship between water and humankind.
Water as a source of life, health and eternal youth, water as sacred element or water as mystery and legend are just some of the themes of this amazing collection, which should not be missed.
Tip: Revere can be reached by boat and is an interesting stop for river cruises on the way to Mantua or Venice!Any suggestions?
Sbrisolona, also called Sbrisolina or Sbrisulada (from "brisa", crumb in Mantua dialect) is a typical Mantuan cake and the name comes from the crumbs that are produced when trying to break the hard pie. Although widely popular across northern Italy, it is said to originate from Lombardy, and more specifically from the Mantua region.
This tasty corn and wheat flour dessert dates back to the 16th century and was prepared by peasants for special occasions such as engagements or christenings. Because of its hard consistency it was meant to last for long, thus providing the perfect treat to keep in one's pocket and eat as a snack.
The Gonzaga family added several ingredients to the original recipe, introducing sugar, spice and almonds, giving Sbrisolona a softer texture.
More modern recipes have reduced the amount of corn flour and substituted lard with butter.
In this case, the traditional name "cake of the three cups", where the three main ingredients corn flour, wheat flour and sugar were used in the same proportion, no longer applies.
The result is a more tender and absolutely delicious treat which you'll have to taste when visiting Mantua.
Order it as a dessert at the end of a meal or just enter any of the many "pasticcerie" which sell freshly baked original Sbrisolona or more modern versions with chocolate chips, berries or raisins: you won't regret it. Savour it the old way, by breaking it with a fist and eating the pieces with a sweet dessert wine like Vin Santo or warm custard. If you prefer stronger spirits try it with Grappa, like a real old peasant!
Tip: as it is a hard and relatively long lasting cake it makes the perfect gift for friends and family back home.Any suggestions?
Immersed in the woods of Bosco della Fontana, the Gonzaga hunting lodge in Marmirolo was built in 1590 by appointment of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga. Bosco Fontana is spread over an area of 233 hectares and the Palazzina di Caccia is situated within the woodlands, which is part of what remains of the ancient forests that once covered the entire Po Valley.
Next to the castle is a small fountain that dates back to the twelfth century and from which the forest gets its name.
The elegant villa consists of two identical square bodies connected by a double portico, while four round towers delimit the building, giving it the appearance of a small castle surrounded by a moat. When designing the villa architect Giuseppe Dattari, later followed by architect Antonio Maria Viani, was inspired by Palazzo Ducale in Mantua and used many elements that remind the visitor of the more famous Gonzaga palace.
Frescoes depicting hunting scenes and naturalistic floral subjects decorate the palace throughout, while a series of sculptures of the nine virtues can be found in the Sala delle Virtù. Other beautifully decorated rooms are dedicated to specific themes: the Hall of Music, the Hall of the Medallions, the Hall of the Trophies or the Hall of the Rocks. The latter has rocks painted on all walls, including in the vaults, giving the visitors the illusion of finding themselves at the centre of the Earth.
The Pergola Hall is decorated with graceful embroidery of wooden pillars supporting branches of ivy and is wonderful for its trope-l’oeil effect.
Today the lodge hosts the National Centre for the Study and Conservation of Forest Biodiversity “Bosco Fontana” of Verona, a public research institute for the study of forest dynamics and conservation and can therefore only be visited during "open day" events. The surrounding forest is a national reserve and is open to the public every day except Tuesdays and Fridays.Any suggestions?
Mostarda is a spicy preserve made with candied fruit (campanina apples, quinces or passacrassana pears), sugar and lemon, flavoured with mustard essential oil. Other ingredients include cloves and cinnamon.
The traditional recipe dates back to the middle ages and was originally a way to preserve fruit and vegetables during the winter. Similar products are found throughout Northern Italy but the Mantuan version has thinly cut slices of fruit (usually apples) rather than chunks.
Typical from the countryside, it is still produced following the same procedure, although different varieties with other fruits and vegetables are available. Since 2006 a group of producers founded the Comunità della Mostarda Mantovana, a slow food community created with the aim of protecting and promoting the production of non-industrial mostarda.
A favourite at the Gonzaga table, it is still an important part of traditional Sunday lunches or Christmas and festive meals, where it is served to accompany roasts, mature cheeses or cold cuts. It is also delicious with pumpkin ravioli.
Mostarda Mantovana is readily available anywhere in the area but, if you prefer to prepare your own, many recipes are available, including the traditional one as published by the Comunità della Mostarda Mantovana. You'll find a similar version below:
Peel the fruit, cut into slices and add sugar. Leave to rest for 24 hours. Add slices of lemon and spices to the resulting syrup and boil until thick. Thicken the syrup for a total of three times, pouring it over the fruit each time. Both fruit and syrup are finally boiled for another 15 minutes.
Allow to cool, add the mustard oil and pour into glass jars. Store in a cool, dark place.
The core structure of Palazzo della Ragione dates back to the 11th century and is part of the Palatium Novum complex, consisting of several buildings situated on Mantua's charming Piazza delle Erbe.
The two-floor palace served several purposes ranging from indoor market area to more noble functions such as housing the Registry Offices or, after 1413, during the Gonzaga era, the Tribunal.
During this time it became known as Palatium Juris, hence the present name Palazzo della Ragione ("reason" with the old connotation of "right"). Since 1997 the building has become part of the Mantua Town Museums and hosts important art exhibitions and cultural events. In the grand but relatively empty main hall are the remains of substantial 12th and 13th century frescos depicting scenes from important historical events and religious figures.
On the ground floor, instead, are several charming shops and restaurants where you can shop for souvenirs or stop for a caffè and take in the medieval atmosphere of the piazza.
Throughout the centuries the palace was modified, with important additions during the 14th and 15th centuries such as the portico and the clock-tower.
The 1473 clock-tower by Luca Fancelli features a gorgeous astrological clock created by Bartolomeo Manfredi. It was this clock that gave commoners vital information not only about the time but also on the position of the planets, the phases of the moon, zodiac signs or harvesting periods. In short, this was a major point of reference for all citizens who wanted to know "the useful things in this world". So it remained until the 18th century, when it became a normal clock.
Today the tower has its own special museum, the Museo del Tempo (Museum of Time), a fascinating voyage through the history of the clock where all the now removed mechanical parts are displayed, giving an idea of how complicated and well designed the original clock was.
The tower is well worth the visit also for the stunning, romantic view over the city and the surrounding countryside and lakes. Access to the tower is through the palace main entrance. Admission fees apply.
Anybody visiting an Italian city has had the chance to marvel at a "madonnaro" at work. Whether in front of a major church or in a small square these amazing street artists decorate the pavement with colourful religious chalk drawings. The most common subject is the Madonna (hence the name): nothing to do with a pop singer, Madonnas are representations of the Holy Mary and some of the madonnari's works are proper works of art - not destined to last though, as they will fade away or be washed away by rain.
Nonetheless, madonnari have had their yearly contest since August 1973, when the first "fiera dei madonnari" was held in Grazie di Curtatone as part of the ancient Fiera delle Grazie.
Since then, every year, artists coming from all over the world compete for the title of best madonnaro. After having their chalks blessed, they draw, mainly at night to avoid the August heat, in front of the Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin. All works have to be finished by the 15th of August, the day of the Holy Mary, when the jury gives its verdict.
The artists are divided into three categories: master madonnaro, qualified madonnaro and simple madonnaro.
The winner of each category can step up to the next level, while the winner of the master category will have his/her drawing depicted in the next year's fair programme. Some of the best works are photographed or copied and displayed in the local Museo dei Madonnari, a museum created by the Italian Madonnari Centre (CIM) in order to preserve the most notable examples of this ancient art.
Grazie di Curtatone is a picturesque village in itself and the fair offers more than just the contest: there are concerts, cultural events, historical re-enactments, food, a market with various crafts, a Luna-park and fireworks so make sure you visit during the fair!
One might not think that a coin or medal could adequately express the history of an area, but the Numismatic Museum of Mantua (Museo Numismatico Mantovano) does just that. Housed in the building of the Fondazione BAM (Banca Agricola Mantovana) the museum contains the area’s most comprehensive collection of coins and medals.
The pieces in the collection range from the 12th to 19th century and tell the history of Mantua and of the House of Gonzaga, the family that ruled the city from 1328 to 1708.
The museum began to take shape in 1986 when the Foundation purchased the coin collection of a well-known Milanese notary: the first acquisitions included many examples from the collection of Giulio Superti Furga di Canneto Sull’Oglio, a renowned industrialist and numismatic scholar.
The number of pieces continued to increase over time. The array became quite impressive and in 1993, the prestigious collection of Count Alessandro Magnaguti was purchased, adding other staple pieces to the already important collection. The count’s collection represented an extremely important group of coins and medals from the House of Gonzaga.
Over the years the museum’s collection would continue to grow as pieces made by well-known craftsmen such as Pisanello, Bartolo Talpa, Leone Leoni were purchased to increase the total number of coins and medals on display to an impressive 2,184 specimens.
The coins and medals available to the public eye are all in exquisite condition and the rarity of many of these pieces make them priceless symbols of Mantua’s cultural heritage as well the history of the people of Mantua.
There may only be two sides of a coin - unless that coin is in the Numismatic Museum of Mantua and in that case, there are five centuries of history minted into those coins!Any suggestions?
The Museo Storico Nazionale dei Vigili del Fuoco (Firefighters Museum) occupies an area of the wonderful Renaissance Palazzo Ducale in Mantua. It is a relatively new museum and the only one of its kind in Italy.
The purpose of the museum, apart from providing invaluable entertainment to children and adults alike, is to pay tribute to those unnamed heroes who, throughout history, have helped mankind fight the fury of fire and the natural elements.
Firefighters are not only vital in extinguishing fires: they help when disaster strikes. Be it landslides, flooding, earthquakes or even wars, they are always present. Their history goes back to the Roman times and the museum gives crucial information on the nature and history of firefighting, both worldwide and specifically in the area.
A section of the museum concentrates on the local firefighters unit, the 48th Brigade, and provides information on their work.
Photos and videos showing firemen at work constitute a touching part of the museum, with other areas displaying fascinating memorabilia such as uniforms, helmets, fire extinguishers, buckets, bells and equipment in general.
The most exciting section though is the one dedicated to vehicles. Ranging from wooden chariots to the most modern trucks, the vehicles displayed show the evolution in engineering and mechanics that has allowed firefighters to use more and more sophisticated tools. You can even find boats on display!
Firefighting's rich tradition and heritage live on in the Mantua museum and the best way to pay homage to those who risk their lives for our safety is to visit it.Any suggestions?
Founded in March 1780, the Royal and Imperial Library of Mantua was established following a period of reforms and secularization brought about by Empress Maria Theresa Habsburg in 1749. The name "Teresiana" is, in fact, a tribute to the Austrian empress.
In the same years other important libraries were opened in Milan, Lodi, Pavia and Cremona, all following the decree issued by the empress that removed the Jesuits from all educational institutions of the empire.
The library occupies part of Palazzo degli Studi (the Palace of the Studies), formerly a Jesuit school. Today a Liceo Classico, in other words a high school for classical studies, can be found in the same building: what better name, then, for a building housing a library and a school?
The two monumental halls housing the original library are on the first floor of the palace.
During the past two centuries the library was expanded and became public only after Mantua was annexed to the Italian Kingdom in 1866. Some important religious manuscripts were transferred to the library during the Napoleonic occupation, when monasteries were closed: the San Benedetto in Polirone Codex, coming from the Polirone Monastery, is the finest example of a manuscript acquired during this period.
Today the Teresiana holds a remarkable collection of precious ancient and modern books, manuscripts, maps and documents. It also contains a fine display of globes and a collection of 19th century portraits of important Mantua citizens. Of particular interest for classical scholars are some rare editions of Virgil's Aeneid and the Jewish Collection.
In 1930, many members of Mantua's substantial Jewish community decided to deposit their books and manuscripts in the Teresiana Library, thus giving origin to a formidable collection with rare pieces dating back to the 14th century.
Most of the inventory has now been digitalized, so that manuscripts and books can be accessed online.
If you wish to experience the fascinating atmosphere of this haven of culture do pay a visit to the old rooms of the library and enjoy a moment of peace surrounded by imposing wooden bookcases and balconies.Any suggestions?