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Mantua

PLACES OF INTEREST IN MANTUA

Mantua is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy and capital of the province of the same name. Mantua's historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family, made it one of the main artistic, cultural and notably musical hubs of Northern Italy and the country as a whole. Mantua is noted for its significant role in the history of opera and the city is known for its several architectural treasures and artifacts, elegant palaces or palazzi, and its medieval and Renaissance cityscape. It is the town to which Romeo was banished in William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet. It is also the nearest town to the birthplace of the Roman writer, Virgil.

Mantua is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes created during the 12th century.These receive the waters of the river Mincio, which descends from Lake Garda. The three lakes are called Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore ("Upper", "Middle" and "Lower" Lakes).A fourth lake, Lake Pajolo, which once completed a defensive water ring of the city, dried up at the end of the 18th century.


 

St. Peter and Paul Cathedral

The cathedral is dedicated to Saint Peter, whose day is 29 June. Other celebration days are Saint Anselm – which is the city and diocese patron - on 18 March, and the first Sunday after 11 November, id est the day of Crowned Blessed Virgin Mary.
There was a church here already in very ancient times; on the left side there were also a little church dedicated to St. Paul and a small temple dedicated to St. Mary, which was decked with Giotto's school frescoes. During XV century they tore it down and built the present Chapel of Crowned Blessed Virgin Mary, between St. Paul and St. Peter churches.
Today the building has a Gothic right side and a neoclassical façade by Nicolò Baschiera (1755), while the interior was designed by Giulio Romano and is decked with sculptures and paintings by Andreasino, Teodoro Ghisi, Gerolamo Mazzola Bedoli, Domenico Fetti, Giambettino Cignaroli, Domenico Brusasorci, Giuseppe Bazzani and Felice Campi.

The Ducal Palace

It was the main residence of the Gonzaga family, lords, marquises and finally Dukes of the city. Under the Austrian domination with Maria Teresa of Austria it was called Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace)

The palace was built in different times starting from the 13th century, first by the Bonacolsi’s and then by the Gonzaga’s. Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga in the second half of the 16th century started to give a unity to the buildings up to then detached one from the other. The task was given to the Chief of the Buildings Giovan Battista Bertani who created an enormous imposing complex (34.000 square meters) spreading from Piazza Sordello to the inferior lake. After Bertani’s death the works were carried on by Bernardino Facciotto who completed the unification of gardens, squares, loggias, galleries, exedras and courtyards giving the palace its final structure.

The inside is now almost completely empty, the Gonzaga family being forced to sell their art collections to the king of England first, and the rest of their belongings being sacked in 1630 and finally taken away by Napoleon.

Sant'Andrea Basilica

The imposing basilica is the symbol of the city with its dome that can be seen from a distance. One of the most important churches in the Christian world for keeping the relic of the Precious Blood of Christ, its history started at the foot of the Cross where the roman soldier Longinus picked up a bit of soil soaked in the blood of Jesus, became a Christian and after roaming around for years finally came to Mantua in 37 A.D. with his Precious Treasure. The relic was hidden before Longinus was killed and was miraculously found in 804 when St. Andrew revealed to a beggar in a dream the very spot where the relic was. From then on Popes, Princes and Emperors came to worship the Precious Blood. In 1472 Ludovico Gonzaga commissioned a new imposing Basilica and the task was given to the famous architect Leon Battista Alberti who unfortunately died soon after the project, so the works started under the supervision of Luca Fancelli. St. Andrew’s Church is a superb example of Renaissance architecture, but it took almost three hundred years to complete it. The big dome was added at the end of the 18th century by Filippo Juvarra. The interior has got a long nave covered by a barrel vault with side chapels. The architecture is very solemn and well balanced among the various parts. Some proportions based upon the figures of the square, the circle and sphere include the concept of perfect harmony that can be perceived by the human eye. St. Andrew’s is one of the largest churches in Europe, over a hundred meters long. Today the relic is kept in the Crypt under the dome and can be seen just once a year, on Good Friday afternoon, when it is taken along the streets in Holy procession. The 18th century decoration of the basilica carried out by Giorgio Anselmi and Felice Campi has been recently cleaned up and the inside now looks much brighter. In the chapels (six on each side of the nave) many 16th century works for the most part by the school of Giulio Romano and a beautiful wooden altarpiece by Anton Maria Viani (end of 15th - beginning of 17th century). The body of the great painter Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) lies in the first chapel on the left. The chapel, dedicated to St. John the Baptist was probably projected by Mantegna himself but painted by pupils and Correggio who painted the vault. His son Francesco Mantegna was also involved in the paintings. The Holy Family that can be seen by the central wall was painted by Andrea and Francesco Mantegna together. On the left -hand side of the wall a bronze bust portraying the Painter is accompanied by a Latin inscription celebrating the man that had immortalized the splendor of the Gonzaga family. The façade, once polychrome, consists of three parts: in the center a large arch recalling the triumphal roman arch; on the outer parts the space is underlined by niches and windows while a pediment links the elements together. The vestibule recalls that of the roman temples and has a fine coffered-like ceiling. On the side of the façade the elegant bell tower built in 1413 in late gothic style. From the vestibule a narrow passage by the bell tower leads to a small square with the lateral entrance to the basilica and the rests of a Benedictine monastery, when the church was still managed by the monks.

The Herbes Square

Real heart of the city it takes its name for being the market place since the Middle Ages. Today it still hosts part of the weekly market on Thursdays. Here you can see the beautiful Palazzo della Ragione (the palace of justice)that was built soon after the Mayor’s Palace. The palace was later added a portico and a tower called Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower) with an interesting clock projected by Bartolomeo Manfredi, Francesco Gonzaga’s court astrologist and mathematician. Precious to the people of Mantua it was used for making horoscopes or just regulating the everyday life.

Beside it, the oldest church in town called La Rotonda. Dedicated to St. Lawrence and commissioned by Matilde of Canossa it was built in 1082. One of the very few circular churches surviving it has a long interesting history and is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. Below street level it was probably built upon the rests of a pagan temple. Inside, an enchanting atmosphere and decorations dating back to the Byzantine period.

Mantegna's House

The most famous among the houses lived in by Mantegna, it was built in 1476. The date October 18th 1476 is still visible in the corner marble slab on the left-hand side of the façade. Ludovico Gonzaga gave him the land, as that was the easiest way for him to pay for the Painter’s services. Mantegna himself projected his house but it took him twenty years to finish it and unfortunately soon after that, in 1502, he was forced to sell it to Francesco Gonzaga as part of a business exchange. The structure of the house is very peculiar: a cubic building with a cylindrical courtyard at the center. This may recall the structure of a Roman domus with the rooms opening onto the courtyard, but it also seems to recall the typology of the buildings suggested by Leon Battista Alberti, with the symbolic use of the square and the circle, besides already experimented by Mantegna in The Oculus of the Bridal Chamber in St. George’s Castle. In the rooms opening onto the round courtyard are still visible traces of decorations along with the emblem of Marquis Ludovico II. The courtyard was probably covered by a little dome, now lost.

St. Sebastian's Church

Built in 1460 on the project by Leon Battista Alberti, like St. Andrew’s,it is one of the most important Renaissance churches. Begun under the direction of Luca Fancelli it was closed only after 40 years and already after the death of Ludovico Gonzaga ( 1479) we lost traces of any documents. Unfortunately it was heavily renovated in 1925 and transformed in war memorial. We do not know how much of the original project is still there but one can see a lot of classical elements like arches, pediment, pilaster strips. Though, these elements are reduced to the essential, with almost no ornaments and an overall lack of articulation. A loggia on the right leads inside the church. The structure looks very well balanced and has a Greek cross plan. The Crypt is dedicated to the fallen.

Merchant's House

Boniforte da Concorrezzo, near Milan, was the merchant owning this superb house in the corner of the Herbs Square. Dated 1455 it was built in a Venetian style and was very colorful. The marble freeze under the portico still shows what was on sale in this little bazaar. Leaning against the back of the house a little tower known as Torre del Salaro, where the salt was stored.

St. George's Castle

Built by Francesco Gonzaga between 1395 and 1406 on the project by Bartolino da Novara, it is a square-plan building with four angular towers surrounded by a moat, three gates and their drawbridges. Originally meant for the defence of the city it was to become the residence of the family. In 1459 Marquis Ludovico II Gonzaga set the architect Luca Fancelli the task to renovate some parts of Corte Vecchia in view of the Council of Mantua called by Pope Pio II. After the renovation the castle lost its original defensive role and became one of the most important examples of the Italian Renaissance when Andrea Mantegna painted the very famous Camera degli Sposi (The Bridal Chamber).

The Bridal Chamber

Absolute masterpiece of the Renaissance the Camera Picta (Painted Room) is placed in the north-eastern part of the Castle. Painted by Andrea Mantegna within nine years from 1465 to 1474 (both starting and finishing dates are written on the walls) combines reality and fiction giving the room an ‘en plain air’ atmosphere and making it look like a loggia. The space of each wall has been divided by Mantegna into three openings showing, through wide arches, landscapes and curtains moving in the wind, in contrast with the confined architectural space. The frescos represent two scenes portraying the members of the Gonzaga family, the ‘meeting scene’ and the ‘court scene’. With these paintings Mantegna celebrated his Lords and the prestige of Mantua.

Broletto Square

One of the three main squares of the city was built just after 1190 when the waters surrounding Mantua were regulated by engineer Alberto Pitentino. Here the imposing Palazzo del Podestà (the Mayor’s palace) divides the very heart of the city into two parts with its façade overlooking this square and its back overlooking Piazza delle Erbe. The palace is a testimony of the Commune Age. Mantua had been part of the feudal holdings of the Canossa family, but after the death of the Countess Matilde of Canossa (1115) the people of Mantua declared the city to be a free municipality. The Palazzo del Podestà was built in 1224 and underwent a series of changes down through the centuries. A Beautiful arch called Arengario links the palace to the Masseria once the Commune book-keeper’s house. From this square you can also see the Tower of the Cage. The entrance to the Palazzo del Podestà takes you under a passage called dei Lattonai with the typical Middle Age staircase leading up to the palace. This passage is still a vital way to the Piazza delle Erbe ( The Herbs Square).

Te Palace

One of the most beautiful villas in Italy and a masterpiece of the Mannerism palazzo Te was built by Giulio Romano between 1525 and 1535, as a suburban residence for Federico II Gonzaga. “Te” seems to be a place-name and has no relation with the word “tea” (te in Italian means tea). Federico chose this place where the family used to keep their horses and Giulio Romano, enclosing the old stables, created an extraordinary palace: the square plan recalling that of a roman villa, with a central courtyard and a low profile rustic architecture naturally blending in the green landscape of the surroundings. The back of the palace opens onto a garden with two side pools called Peschiere. An exedra was later added to close the garden. In the left corner of it a small building known as Secret Garden, a very privateplace probably recalling Isabella d’Este garden in the Ducal Palace. At Palazzo Te Federico spent his time with his mistress Isabellla Boschetti, the real love of his life, but the private residence soon became a state palace for the court official receptions. In 1530 the Emperor Charles V came to Mantua and was received here with great ceremony. On that occasion Federico was given the title of Duke. The Emperor came a second time, two years later, and was able to admire the vault of the Giants’ room, at the time almost completed.

For the decoration project Giulio Romano playfully followed the natural inclinations of the Duke, with the first half of the palace celebrating private passions and the second one public virtues and political aspirations. Among the beautiful rooms the outstanding Horses salon, pride of the family and Federico’s craze. The best horses of the stables are portrayed life- size along the walls with an amusing perspective play. Just one step forward, the Room of Psyche is a triumph of sensuality: once the banquet room, it is maybe the most renowned room of the palace where Giulio and school expressed themselves at their best. Here is told the myth of Eros and Psyche and their tormented love (probably hinting at the real story of Federico and Isabella).The vault, divided into octagons and lunettes is striking for the conveying power of the figures painted, their volumes and light and shades, according to the canons of Raphael (Giulio Romano’s master). The explicit erotic scenes with the gods’ loves and a statue of Venus (once at the centre of the room) described by Vasari as ‘incredibly sensual’ made Psyche’s one of the most well known rooms of the 16th century. Passing under the beautiful David’s Loggia celebrating the military virtues of the Bible King, the decoration theme turns into a celebrative representation of the past and present empires leading to the most famous Giant’s Room. Here Giulio Romano with spectacular paintings covering the entire surface of the walls celebrated the victory of the Emperor Charles V. The room has still got an interesting acoustics due to its shape, made on purpose to enhance the sound in it. Here it is told the story of the fall of the Giants from Olympus after their rebellion against Jupiter. The tragic scene sees the giants completely swept away by a terrible landslide of rocks and struck by Jupiter’s lightning. The visual impact is so powerful that one feels as if everything is actually crashing down on them. With the almost grotesque faces of the giants, the classic proportions.

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