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Mantua a water city, treasure trove of art, architecture and history

By Monday, 22 April 2024 10:33

Mantua is a city of water in the Lombardy region, just two hours from Milan, one and a half from Venice and one from Parma, and is famous for its art, architecture and history.  

Ruled by the Gonzaga family for four centuries

For over four centuries (1328 to 1707), the Gonzaga family ruled and dominated the city of Mantua - which is surrounded by the Mincio river on three sides - giving it splendid palaces, castles and churches, which still bear witness to the family’s power. The historic centre of this UNESCO World Heritage site is small, so it is possible to visit it in a single day and get a good overview of its major attractions. A visit should start at the Basilica of Sant'Andrea, in the heart of the city. With its cross-shaped ground plan and 80-metre-high dome by Filippo Juvarra, it houses works of art by many the greatest Italian artists.

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A clock tower with ringing bells

Not far away is the Clock Tower that measures the hours - marked by Roman numerals, zodiac signs, planetary hours, days of the moon and positions of the stars – thanks to a refined mechanism that rings the bells when the hour strikes. From its summit, some 32 metres high, one can see the entire city. On Piazza Sordello, the centre of Mantua’s political and religious power, stand the Ducal Palace, the Bishop's Palace, the Palazzo del Capitano and the Palazzo Castiglioni and, on Thursday mornings, a traditional weekly market with street stalls is held here.

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The second largest residence in Italy

The Ducal Palace, also known as the Gonzaga Palace, is one of the world's largest tourist sites and the second largest residence in Italy (after the Vatican) with its 600 rooms (only some are open to the public), seven gardens and eight courtyards. Today it is a vast museum complex, and a visit can take a few hours to admire wonderful relics of the past like the Bridal Chamber with the famous frescoes depicting episodes from the lives of the Gonzaga rulers. It took Andrea Mantegna nine years to complete this cycle, which is considered one of the world’s greatest Renaissance masterpieces.

The magnificent Palazzo Te, and river cruises to Ravenna and Venice

Also not to be missed, and just a ten minute’s drive away, is Palazzo Te, a magnificent suburban villa designed by the great architect Giulio Romano which today houses the Civic Museum. It was enlarged by Francesco Gonzaga, the son of Isabella D'Este. His official mistress Isabella Boschetto also lived here and several rooms are dedicated to her. Mantua is a city of water washed by lakes and the Mincio River, with canals connecting it to the Po River, its delta and the Adriatic Sea. Many companies offer river cruises to Ferrara, Ravenna and Venice, as well as around the Mincio Park, a protected water area which is popular with birdwatchers and photographers.  

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