Combining historical, artistic, architectural and natural beauties in a unique spot to experience.
Among my favourite cities in Italy there’s definitely also a small one, whose old town was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 2007 and whose name is often associated with Renaissance art and Humanism: it’s Mantua.
This small city (Mantua has a population of about 50,000 people) lies in southern Lombardy, on the border wih Emilia Romagna, and is highly recommended for many reasons, but especially for its artistic beauty.
Under the Gonzaga family’s reign Mantua had a remarkable influence and achieved a prominent position from an artistic and cultural point of view. The Gonzaga promoted arts and culture and hosted within their court important artists of that time like Andrea Mantegna, Leon Battista Alberti, Rubens and Donatello.
Due to its peculiar position – Mantua is surrounded on 3 sides by artificial lakes – it is a beautiful spot for a day trip. Excursions by boat are a must-do for everyone happening to be in Mantua. Spring, by the way, is the best time of the year for enjoying the city.
What to visit in Mantua
A visit to Mantua can’t help starting from its magnificent core: Piazza Sordello. This square has been the city’s political and business life, both secular and religious, for centuries. Here are the Cathedral of Saint Peter the Apostle, the main church of the city, and Palazzo Ducale (the Ducal Palace), the ancient residence of the Gonzaga family.
Palazzo Ducale is something you can’t miss in Mantua. Made up of a number of different buildings, gardens and courtyards built around the Palazzo del Capitano (the original and most ancient core of the building), the Castle of Saint George and Domus Nova, this huge residence (it covers an area of 34,000 m2) is really worth a visit. The royal residence is indeed a complex of buildings connected by corridors and galleries. The most famous (and most beautiful) room is Camera degli Sposi (the Wedding Room), that host frescoes by Andrea Mantegna.
Surprises in Mantua are not over yet.
Take a stroll outside of the historic center and move to Palazzo Te, another of the most remarkable landmarks in the city. Built during the Renaissance, in clear mannerist style by the master artist Giulio Giordano, it was the summer residence of Frederick II of Gonzaga. This wonderful villa is built around a cloistered courtyard, enclosed by colonnated outbuildings and plunged in a wonderful garden. Exclusive frescoes are hosted within its rooms, like Sala di Psiche (Psyche’s Room), Sala dei Cavalli (Horses’ Room) and Sala dei giganti (Giants’ Room). Part of the palace houses the Museo Civico, that contains a collection of Mesopotamian art.
Among the other buildings do not miss the Basilica of Saint Andrew, Bibiena Theatre, Rotonda di San Lorenzo, Palazzo della Ragione and Palazzo del Podestà.
Excursions by boat
Mantua is surrounded by lakes on three sides, therefore a trip by boat is a fantastic way to enjoy the view of the city from the water but also of its natural beauties. Seen from the lakes Mantua seems to be a city arising from the water.
Boats generally leave from Lungolago dei Gonzaga and offer cruises on the 3 lakes (Inferiore, Superiore and Mezzo) and along the Mincio river, up to the Mincio Park, house to an incredible flora and fauna (you can even find lotus flowers and many species of birds, frogs and fishes).
PS: Mantua is also a great place for food lovers. Do not leave the city without tasting gnocco fritto, tortelli di zucca or risotto specialties. Enjoy!