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Mantua. Lombardy’s City of Water

By Wednesday, 30 November 2022 11:32

Mantua is a city of water in the Lombardy region, surrounded by the River Mincio on three sides, just two hours from Milan, one and a half from Venice and one from Parma, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.   

Ruled by the Gonzaga family for four centuries

The Gonzaga family ruled and dominated the city of Mantua for over four centuries (1328 to 1707) giving the city splendid palaces, castles and churches, which still bear witness to their power. The historic centre is very small, so it is possible to visit it in a single day and get a good overview of its major attractions.

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A magnificent Basilica

A visit to the historical centre of Mantua could start at the Basilica of Sant'Andrea. This is the largest basilica in the city, was designed by Leon Battista Alberti, and was built after his death by the Mantuan architect Luca Fancelli. Located 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 the greatest Italian artists.

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A clock tower with ringing bells

Not far away is the Clock Tower with a clock that measures the hours - marked by Roman numerals, zodiac signs, planetary hours, days of the moon and position 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.

The main square is Piazza Sordello

Piazza Sordello, the centre of the city's political and religious power, redesigned in 1350 by the Gonzaga family, is named after the Italian poet and troubadour Sordello da Goito. On it stand the Ducal Palace, the Bishop's Palace, the Palazzo del Capitano and the Palazzo Castiglioni and, on Thursday mornings, a traditional weekly market takes place here.

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The 2nd 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 the cycle, which is considered one of the world’s greatest Renaissance masterpieces.

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A magnificent suburban villa

Also not to be missed is Palazzo Te, a magnificent suburban villa designed by the great architect Giulio Romano. A little outside the historical centre, today it houses the Civic Museum. It was enlarged by Francesco Gonzaga, the son of Isabella D'Este, creating a place of leisure and refuge for himself and his guests far from the obligations of family life and the court. Francesco’s official mistress Isabella Boschetto also lived here and several rooms are dedicated to her.

River cruises to Ravenna and Venice

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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