The Many Faces of Mantua
25 April 2016
Mantua is an ancient town: it has Etruscan origins, although it flourished in the feudal age and, above all, during the long Gonzaga reign (1328-1707). The city saw important families leaving a heritage of important buildings, such as Palazzo Bonacolsi, Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo della Ragione, and churches such as San Lorenzo rotunda and Santa Maria del Gradaro.
Palazzo Ducale – the Ducal Palace – is the main sign left of the Gonzaga rule: it’s one of the largest Italian palaces, counting about 500 rooms and several internal squares, courtyards and gardens.
Here you can admire incredible architecture, such as the San Giorgio castle, Domus Nova – by Luca Fancelli – and Santa Barbara palatine basilica – by G. B. Bertani -; but also magnificent frescoes series, such as in the Camera degli Sposi – which is the masterpiece of Andrea Mantegna -, in the Old Court – by Pisanello – and in the Appartamento di Troia – by Giulio Romano. Don’t miss the famous tapestries, whose designs were made by Raphael.
The other magnificent building left by the Gonzaga family in Mantua is Palazzo Te, which was built and frescoed by Giulio Romano (1525 to 1535): admire the Sala dei Giganti, Amore e Psiche and Cavalli – the rooms illustrating the Fall of the Giants, the Tale of Love and Psyche and Gonzaga’s horses. Some steer clear of traditional art while on vacation, but we can assure you… these are absolute musts.
Before getting to Palazzo Te, you can also visit the house of Andrea Mantegna, a fascinating example of the local architecture- once in the courtyard, take a look up to uncover a squared structure within a round external wall (makes for a great photo op!) Along the way, you can also stop at Palazzo di San Sebastiano, which was recently restored and today hosts the City Museum.
If you’re on the hunt for more architectural gems, check out one of the many churches – in the late XV century Leon Battista Alberti designed the impressive Sant’Andrea Basilica and San Sebastiano – which is today a monument to the dead.
Under the rule of Empress Maria Theresa new buildings enriched Mantua: the Episcopal Palace, Palazzo d’Arco and, above all, the Academy Theatre by Bibiena.
If you like modern architecture, you can appreciate the profile of the Burgo paper factory – designed by P. L. Nervi from the lakeshores just outside the city center.