Mantova (Mantua) and Sabbioneta are two of the most beautiful Renaissance cities in northern Italy. Mantova and Sabbioneta are located in the Lombardy region. Specifically, about 150km southeast of Milan, and 45km south of Verona. Also, you can reach Mantova by train from Verona in the North or Modena in the south.
Mantova is formed by the river Mincio and is surrounded by three artificial lakes. Also, the lakes (as they appear today) were completed in 1190 to defend the city from invasions. Specifically, the view of the town from the lake is quite stunning.
Notably, you can reach Venice Italy by boat from the Lower Lake and the Mincio River. Also, there’s a river cruise that makes the voyage in the summertime. For example, the journey takes a full day from 8 am to 6 pm.
The modern city of Mantova was built on top of the old Roman city. Prominently, upon arrival in the city center, you can see the marvelous Piazza Sordello with the Castle and the Duke Palace on the left.
Mantova was the capital of the Dutchy of Mantova until 1708. The house of Gonzaga, one of the noblest families of Italy was the ruling family. Later, in 1708, the last duke died, and the city became part of the Austrian Empire.
The Gonzaga Family is responsible for many of the stunning monuments the city has to offer.
Mantova: The Ducal Palace
The Ducal Palace in Mantova is probably one of the greatest palaces in northern Italy. For example, the palace is massive, and a visit takes between two and three hours. Here, the most famous room is the Wedding Room (Camera degli Sposi) with the fresco painted by Andrea Mantegna.
Moreover, the wedding room was painted between 1465 and 1475, and celebrates members of the Gonzaga Family. Prominently, you will find the angels looking at the family from the Heavens.
The Palace in Mantova is open from Tuesday to Saturday, between 8:15 am and 7:15 pm. Also, it is open on Sunday from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm. (Tickets and Information are available here)
Mantova: Piazza Delle Erbe
Next, you can walk southbound from the Piazza Sordello, through the “Voltone di San Pietro” to Piazza Delle Erbe.
In this Piazza, you can see the city hall and the famous “Rotonda di San Lorenzo.” Interestingly, this ancient round church is one of the unique buildings of the Lombard Romanesque style. The church was built between 1050 and 1151. Unfortunately, in 1579, Duke Guglielmo I ordered the church closed, and it remained neglected for centuries.
Additionally, the external walls were surrounded by private buildings making the church hidden. Then, in 1907, the municipality bought the surrounding shops and buildings to tear them down. It was then, during the demolition, they re-discovered the entire church. Finally restored, you can now visit it!
Proceeding southbound, in Via Roma, you’ll reach the Loggia of Giulio Romano on the Rio Canal. Distinctly, this building was the old fish market of the city.
Mantova: Palazzo Te
Also, you’ll find Palazzo Te just outside the city center.
Palazzo Te was built by the famous Architect and Painter Giulio Romano, a student of Raphael. The Palace was built for Duke Federico II Gonzaga as a place to impress his guests. One of the most extraordinary rooms is the Room of Psiche. Here, you will find its frescos of the Gods having a banquet on the Mount Olympus.
Lastly, the most impressive room is The Room of the Giants. Here, the artist paints the falling of the giant while Zeus and the Gods are watching. (For time and tickets click here.)
Next, in Mantova center, I recommend visiting the famous Bibiena Theatre. In particular, this gorgeous theatre was built in the Baroque style. Also, it’s flawlessly preserved and still in use for concerts today!
Mantova: It’s Local Food
When in Mantova, you must try some of it’s delicious, local food. For example, the most famous dish is “Risotto alla Pilota,” a mix of local rice with pork sausage. Also, there is Pumpin Ravioli (Tortelli di Zucca). It is served in brown butter and sage.
Specialty Mantova cured meats include a variety of garlicky salami. Also, if you feel adventurous, you can also try the deep-fried frogs!
The typical wine in Mantova is Lambrusco: sparkling red wine with a mildly sweet note.
Last, the famous dessert is the “Torta Sbrisolona,” a crumbly shortbread with almonds.
Mantova has plenty of typical restaurants. Our favorite one is “Osteria ai Ranari.” Ranari is a typical restaurant in the area, with a tremendous homey feeling. Naturally, they serve all the specialties of the area.
You can drive from Mantova to Sabbioneta in about 40 mins. Sabbioneta is close to the bank of the Po river. Interestingly, this charming town was built for Vespasiano Gonzaga as an ideal city. It was the capital of its state, and a Duke ruled it.
Sabbioneta is enclosed within its large city walls with massive bastions and two gates.
Sabbioneta: The Galleria
The “Galleria” is the most famous monument to visit Inside the city walls. Duke Vespasiano built this 97-meter long building to display his collection of ancient artifacts. In the short walls, two frescos reveal an optical illusion of perspective.
The Galleria is attached to the “Palazzo Giardino.” This palace was the Duke’s summer residence and garden.
Also, you can visit the Synagogue of Sabbioneta – just a few steps from the Galleria. This small old Synagogue is still in use and hosts a collection of early Jewish artifacts.
Sabbioneta: The Ducal Palace
You can find the Ducal Palace in the main piazza of Sabbioneta. Notably, this was the residence of the Duke and its political headquarters. Once inside the palace, you can see the famous wooden cavalcade display The cavalcade are a series of equestrian wooden statues that date back to 1586.
Santa Maria Incoronata
In the nearby church of “Santa Maria Incoronata,” you can admire the Duke’s Mausoleum. Here, the bronze statue is a masterpiece by Leone Leoni. Interestingly, the statue was found by a restoring team in the ’80s, underneath the monument the Duke skeleton. In addition, the skeleton was wearing his “Order of the Golden Fleece” given by the King of Spain.
Sadly, the famous Theatre of Sabbioneta is closed for restoration until the fall of 2019. Naturally, check back at a later time for an updated review.
I hope you enjoyed my notes about Mantova and Sabbioneta.
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