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Mantua: best things to do

Explore the legendary city of Mantua and its most notable cultural links!

By Anna Purpurpurpur

Mantua (or Mantova) is a beautiful city in Northern Italy well known for its rich cultural input into the world humanity heritage. With this blog I’m starting a series of short notes about the cities worth visiting but often neglected by tourists who choose to go to other places instead. My aim is to introduce a place for you and to give a glimpse of the treasures it hides. And you decided whether you’d like to visit or not!

About Mantua

Most probably you’ve heard about Mantua as a city where Romeo fled from Verona or as a city near which Virgil, one of the most well known Roman poets, was born (now a square Piazza Virgiliana is named after him). Or, you are an opera goer like me and love Rigoletto, an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, and you know that the plot is unwrapping at the Court of Duca di Mantova. It’s quite small – you can easily see it in one day – but still has been marked by UNESCO alongside with Sabbioneta because there are a few astonishing architectural gems dating back to the Renaissance. It’s even been named an Italian Capital City of Culture in 2016!

Mantua Mantova Italy

What to see in Mantua 

Piazza Sordello is a must visit location where you can just have a coffee and chill. As for every Italian city, visiting the cathedral is a must. In Mantova the main religious building is Cattedrale di San Pietro, dating back to the late 14th century (but religious buildings stood on this site since the early christian times). One of the recommendations of mine is to climb the Torre dell’Orologio (1472-1473), a famous tower with an astronomical clock that has been constructed after the order of Ludovico III Gonzaga and to visit the adjacent Museo Del Tempo on the Piazza delle Erbe. The Gonzaga family was the most influential at the time in the area so you’ll frequently see the influence of different family members into the Mantua history. 

A few important religious sites not to miss are located around the Piazza della Erbe too. Basilica of Sant’Andrea dating back to the 15th century, and it took about 3 centuries to complete. The 11th century Rotonda di San Lorenzo is the oldest church in Mantova that occupies the site of the antient temple of Venus. 

Mantua Mantova Italy

The Ducal Palace is one of the largest palaces in Europe and the residence of the Gonzaga dynasty from the 14th century till the early 18th century when the family died out. Probably the main part of Ducal Palace is Castello di San Georgio built in 1395-1406. It’s a very impressive castle where you can pop in to admire the frescoes by Giulio Romano and La Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi, or Bridal Chamber) dating to the 15th century) being the most famous hall of it with the artworks by Andrea Mantegna. Rigoletto house is located in the city centre too, and you can even spot his sculpture in one of the courtyards.

If you decide you may want to walk around the castle a bit and to have a peak at the lakes nearby: Sparafucile makes hid tragic assassination near the Lago di Mezzo, one of three lakes on Mantua. Can you imagine that the city was surrounded by artificial lakes called “Upper”, “Middle”, and “Lower” (Superiore, di Mezzo and Inferiore) that we used as a defence from three sides of the city since the 12th century?

If you have time, visit 5 century old Palazzo del Te, another gem of Mantova, not too far away from the historical centre. 

Friar Laurence:
Go hence; good night; and here stands all your state:
Either be gone before the watch be set,
Or by the break of day disguised from hence:
Sojourn in Mantua; I’ll find out your man,
And he shall signify from time to time
Every good hap to you that chances here:
Give me thy hand; ’tis late: farewell; good night.

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare (act III, scene III)

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