Mantua, the Italian Capital of Culture 2016, surrounded by 3 lakes boasts one of the largest Royal palaces in Europe
Mantua (pic n°1) is located in the central area of "Pianura Padana" (Po Valley) in the region of Lombardy and just a short way from Garda Lake. As the city boasts many cultural, historical and artistic attractions it was declared by the Italian Government as the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016. Also, Mantua (with Bergamo, Brescia, and Cremona) will be the European Capital of Gastronomy in 2017. In 2008, the historic center of the city, (the old town) was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site. Mantua is the city of "waters": it is surrounded by tree artificial lakes (originally there were four) that were created in the 12th century by altering the course of River Mincio on the purpose to supply more natural protection to the city.
Mantua is considered one of the cradles of the Renaissance style. Also, it has an ancient history: a first settlement was established here in 2000 B.C., therefore, its name may come from an Etruscan god. Then, the Romans had ruled until 476 A.D. Since the second part of the 14th century, the domination of Gonzaga Family has marked permanently the history, culture and art of the city until 1707, when the Austrians took the power transforming Mantua into one of the cities of "Quadrilatero" (together with Peschiera, Legnago, and Verona) and one of the most fortified forts in Europe. Today Mantua is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Lombardy.
Let's start and visit Mantua. You can get to the historic center of the city by the pedestrian San Giorgio Bridge. When in the "old town", you will find first the majestic, 15th century St. George Castle (Castello di San Giorgio) (pic n°4) which is part of the complex of Palazzo Ducale. Inside St. George Castle is located the beautiful “Camera degli Sposi” (The Wedding Chamber) (pic n°5) frescoed by Mantegna.
Then reach "Piazza Sordello" where you can visit the late 13th century Palazzo Bonacolsi, an ancient dwelling of the namesake family which dominated Mantova from 1272 to 1328. In front of it, you will find the famous Palazzo Ducale, (Ducal Palace) (pic n°2) the most important historic complex of the city which was the main residence of the Gonzaga, Dukes of Mantua. It consists of many buildings, palaces linked by aisles, gardens, squares, courtyards, and galleries. During the Austrian rule, the complex was also called as the "Royal Palace". This large monumental complex with its 34,000 square meters and about 500 rooms is one of the largest palaces in Europe, and it stretches between the shore of Lake Lower and Piazza Sordello. "Palazzo Capitano" (Captain Palace) (pic n°2) is the oldest building of the Ducal Palace.
The Mannerist-style Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle is also located in Piazza Sordello. The Early Christian original cathedral, from which, nowadays, only the Romanesque style bell tower is preserved, was rebuilt in 1545 after it was destroyed by fire. Inside you will find the remains of Saint Anselm of Baggio, the saint patron of Mantua.
Then, we suggest getting to "Piazza delle Erbe" where you can visit the Renaissance-style Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio) built in the 15th century. From the tower, you can enter "Palazzo della Ragione", built during the Medieval Era, and which was the "palace of justice" and a place of meetings of that time. Since 1997 it has become the headquarters of the Civic Museums of Mantua, hosting many important art exhibitions. On the walls in the large hall, there are still visible the remains of remarkable frescos depicting war episodes of the late twelfth century and characters of sacred histories.
Also, do not miss Palazzo Te (pic n°6), located a bit further ahead, which is one of the most popular attractions of the city. It was entirely built, decorated, and painted by Giulio Romano, a painter, architect and valuable collaborator of Raphael, at the request of Federico II Gonzaga in 1534. Originally it was placed in the middle of an island, surrounded by plants and by the fourth artificial lake of Mantua which today is dried up. Nowadays Palazzo Te is home to the Civic Museum of Mantua. It is also an International Art Center with many temporary exhibitions of ancient or modern art, architecture and culture.
Then let's remember "Casa Mantegna", (Mantegna House) the dwelling of the famous Italian painter Andrea Mantegna, named court painter by Ludovico Gonzaga in 1457. Among Mantegna's famous masterpieces we just name here the beautiful frescos decorating the "Camera degli Sposi" (The Wedding Chamber) (pic n°5) located in St. George Castle (see above) and dedicated to Ludovico III Gonzaga and his wife Barbara of Brandenburg.
Mantua is also famous because the city was chosen by Giuseppe Verdi as the set for his renowned Opera "Rigoletto", first performed in Venice in 1851. Although the opera was based on fiction, the local people wanted to "find" the house of Rigoletto in the city. In fact, today you can visit in Mantua the house called "Home of Rigoletto", even with a bronze statue of the tragic clown located in the center of the house's small garden.
Finally, we have to mention Publius Vergilius Maro, the famous Roman poet who was born in the village of Andes (next to Mantua) in 70 B.C.
Some pictures of Mantua:
Mantua (pic n°1); Palazzo Capitano (Captain Palace) (pic n°2); Palazzo Ducale (pic n°3); St. George Castle (Castello di San Giorgio) (pic n°4); "Camera degli Sposi" (The Wedding Chamber) (pic n°5); Palazzo Te (pic n°6);