Weekend in Mantua
Mantua is surrounded by three entire man-made lakes (Lago Superior, Lago Inferiore and Lago di Mezzo), which are filled with the waters of the Mincho River. Montesquieu called it “the second Venice” because of the fantastically beautiful view of its center in the reflection of the lakes. Along with Sabbioneta, Mantua was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as “an exceptional example of Renaissance architecture and urban planning”.
Panorama of the city from the Bridge of San Giorgio
The bridge, which leads directly into the heart of the historic part of the city, was built in 1198. It offers the famous panorama of Mantua, especially spectacular at sunset, when the waters of the lakes are colored in shades of red-orange. In July and August, thousands of lotus flowers appear on the surface of Lake Superior, raising the degree of scenic beauty of this place to an almost unattainable level.
Silhouette of downtown Mantua / shutterstock.com
Palazzo Ducale and the Camera degli Supposi
The main residence of the Dukes of Gonzaga, Palazzo Ducale is a symbol of Mantua, one of the largest buildings in Europe (34,000 square meters). The Gonzaga dynasty ruled in Mantua from 1328 to 1707.
Palazzo Ducale in Mantua / (c) Roberto Merlo www.italia.it
Although the furnishings have not survived, you can admire the majestic frescoes on the walls and vaults and the stucco work. The most important attraction of Mantua is in the Castle of the Residence. The chamber of the degli Sposi (“Spouses’ chamber”) was painted by Andrea Mantegna with portraits of members of the Gonzaga family. The ceiling is surmounted by a round shade imitating the open sky, executed with incredible skill.
The “Window to the Sky” trickster in the Camera degli Sposi, Castello San Giorgio / Wikimedia commons
Palazzo Te is another landmark in the city that it would be unfortunate not to visit. The palace was built in the 16th century by the famous architect Giulio Romano. The residence is monumental and elegant from the outside, reminiscent of an ancient Roman villa, but its main treasure is the fresco paintings of the rooms: “The Equestrian Hall (horses were one of the duke’s passions), the Room of Cupid and Psyche, the Hall of Giants, where it seems that the columns are about to collapse right on you because of the masterful technique of painting not only the walls, but also the floors and ceilings.
Mantua, Palazzo Te / www.shutterstock.com
Basilica of Sant’Andrea
The Basilica of Sant’Andrea is the largest church in Mantua, designed by Leon Battista Alberti. Its façade is a masterpiece, but the interiors are also of great artistic value. Here the ashes of Andrea Mantegna are laid to rest and two offertory vessels containing the blood of Christ are kept.
The interior of the Basilica of Sant’Andrea / www.mantovameraviglia.com
Piazza Sordello is the founding site of Mantua, the largest square in the city, dedicated to the troubadour poet Sordello. However, it used to be called Piazza San Pietro, after the cathedral of the same name, where many members of the Gonzaga family are buried. Piazza Sordello connects to Piazza delle Erbe, where the town market is open on weekends.
Mantua, Piazza Sordello / shutterstock.com
Lungorio, Rio Canal promenade
The Rio Canal, dug in the Middle Ages, divides the historic center into two parts. It connects the lakes Inferiore and Superiore. The best views are from the San Francesco and Massari bridges and the fish market (“Peschiera di Giulio Romano”).
Lungorio (canal promenade) / www.virgilioguide.it
Mantua, a city of art and culture, is also considered one of the enogastronomic capitals of the world. The local pumpkin is widely used in cooking, not only as a filling for tortelli, but also for making desserts.
Tortelli with pumpkin
Tortelli with pumpkin are rectangular dumplings made of egg dough, about 60 x 35 mm, with a filling of boiled pumpkin, almond cookies, mostarda (spicy syrup), grana cheese and nutmeg. They were first mentioned in the 16th century and are considered a symbol of local cuisine.
The lower Padana Plain, where Mantua is located, produces the most rice in Europe. Not surprisingly, risotto is one of the main local dishes. Here are just the most famous recipes: “risotto alla pilota” with pork jerked sausages; risotto with frogs’ legs (and olive oil and onions); “risotto saltarea” with fried river prawns.
Capunzei Festival in Volta Mantovana (Mantua), 2014 / www.mondodelgusto.it
Kapunzei, or bread dumplings, are spindle-shaped. It is a typical folk dish and very nutritious, served with or without broth, with ghee or meat stew.
Stufato and brazato: stew with polenta
Brazato, meat stewed in red wine / www.flickr.com
In Mantua, stoves have long been used for both heating and cooking. A long, low-temperature stew (“stufato”) is a great way to cook the fatty pork that is very common in these parts. “Brazato” is a slightly different braising technique, where wine, broth and spices are added to the meat.
How to get there
Airport of Catullo in Villafranca (Verona), 20 km – www.aeroportoverona.it Airport of Gabriele d’Annunzio in Montichiari, 60 km – www.aeroportoverona.it/brescia Airport of Giuseppe Verdi in Parma, 60 km – www.aeroportoparma.it Airport of Marconi in Bologna, 100 km – www.bologna-airport.it Airport of Orio al Serio in Bergamo, 100 km – www.sacbo.it Airport of Marco Polo in Venice, 180 km – www.veniceairport.it
The following rail lines run through the city: Milan-Cremona-Mantua Mantua-Suzzara-Ferrara Mantua-Monselice-Padua Verona-Mantua-Modena For timetables and ticket prices see www.trenitalia.it and www.trenord.it
A22 Brennero-Modena, Mantova Nord, Mantova Sud, Pegognaga The A4 Milan-Venice freeway, exit Dezenzano, Sirmione, Peschiera and Verona Sud The A1 del Sole freeway, exit Parma Est and Reggio Emilia.
Mantua Tourist Information Office Piazza Mantegna, 6 – 46100 Mantova Tel. 0376 432432 Email: [email protected] Schedule: Monday-Friday 10.00-13.00; 14.00-16.00; Saturday-Sunday and holidays 10.00-13.00, 14.00-18.00
San Giorgio Maggiore – a guide to Venice’s most underrated island
The first thing a visitor to Venice sees when walking from Piazza San Marco past the Doge’s Palace to the lagoon is the white-stone facade of the church and the bell tower behind it on a small island lying in the lagoon’s waters directly opposite the Doge’s Palace and Piombi prison. From the promenade to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore one stop by vaporetto, 300 meters on the water.
It is usually not very crowded there. To the left of the church entrance one can see the lighthouse tower and a small marina, to the right there is a high brick wall, behind which there is clearly something monastic.
For many visitors of Venice this islet is not included in their sphere of interest, and in vain! On the other hand, this is good: in absence of crowds of gawkers, in silence and calmness, you can quietly enjoy the beauties of Venice and the lagoon.
The islet, an island of only 0,099 square kilometers, was used during Roman times. It was covered with orchards and vineyards. A lot of cypresses were growing here, that’s why it was called “Cypress Island”. In the X century on the island was founded Benedictine monastery. The monastery had been destroyed several times over the centuries (for example, in 1223 by an earthquake), but it was rebuilt.
The famous and later great architect Andrea Palladio, who had worked in Venice since 1558, was invited to the monastery to participate in the reconstruction of the refectory. Later he was asked to design a church on the island, which he did. By 1610 the church was built. In 1791 the campanile (bell tower) was built.
In 1800 a conclave was held in this church, which chose Pope Pius VII, who was crowned here.
From 1808, the fate of the monastery and the church changed abruptly: Napoleon closed the monastery and converted its premises into barracks, changing them beyond recognition.
In 1951 Count Vittorio Cini, politician and entrepreneur and founder of the Cini Foundation, bought and restored the monastery and housed the collections of his foundation.
What to do in San Giorgio
First of all, there is no hurry. San Giorgio is a sacred place, it doesn’t tolerate haste. You have to go to the island consciously. I will explain why later.
You should definitely go to the cathedral. This is a creation of Andrea Palladio, built in 1566-1610, today it is one of the architectural pearls of Venice (after the death of Palladio, his student Vincenzo Scamozzi managed the building and brought it to completion).
The three-aisled church, with a unique altar by Girolamo Campagna, contains Tintoretto’s masterpieces. If you manage to get to the festive service, you can hear the Gregorian chant .
The main thing to do is to climb the bell tower: the views from there are much better than those of the Campanile of San Marco.
How to climb the bell tower
In front of you will be the whole Slavic promenade and behind it the whole city, turning back you will see the lagoon that passes into the Adriatic Sea. On your right will lie the island of the Lido, on the left the Giudecca.
The church of San Giorgio Maggiore is open from 9:00 to 19:00 (from April to October) and from 8:30 to 18:00 (from November to March).
Naturally, during liturgies and holy masses, the entrance to the church just to see it is closed. Therefore, on Sunday it is better to go there before 10 am or after 2 pm.
Entrance to the church is free, but it costs 6 euros to climb the Campanile. You can get to the tower by walking through the church and coming to the door on the left of the altar. There sits an employee of the cathedral who sells tickets and shows the way to the elevator.
Chini Foundation Museum
If you exit the cathedral and turn right around the corner, you can walk past the marina and reach the Chini Foundation Museum . It is a colossally interesting collection of Venetian paintings and sculptures, ancient manuscripts, weapons, porcelain and furnishings.
Of particular interest is the Borges Labyrinth, located in the ancient cloister of the former monastery. This labyrinth of plants, various figures, objects and mirrors, which, when viewed from above, is shaped by the writer’s last name, was built on the 25th anniversary of his death; Borges had visited the place on several occasions.
The Chini Foundation Museums are open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (April through October) and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (November through March) .
Italian guided tours are at 10, 12, 14 and 16 o’clock, French and English guided tours are at 11, 13, 15 and 17 o’clock (no tour at 17 o’clock in winter).
On weekdays, the museums only accept group visits (group of up to 12 people) by advance reservation. The ticket costs 10 euros.
Website of the Chini Foundation: www.cini.it .
The peace and quiet of the place, the history, the unique collection of the Foundation, the Palladian church and the fantastic views from the bell tower will give you a few hours of completely unhurried life very close to the hustle and bustle of Venice. That’s why I wrote about the awareness of going to San Giorgio Maggiore .
Where to eat on San Giorgio
The same route as to the museums of the Cini Foundation will lead you to a small and cozy cafe . You can sit inside or outside in the courtyard, you will be offered a menu with everything from refreshments to hot dishes. The prices are affordable.
How to get to San Giorgio
From the vaporetto stop “San Zaccaria” route number 2 . Get off at the next stop “Isola San Giorgio” . The same route will take you back to the city. The only thing is that on your way back you will have to get off not at San Marco, but at the ferry promenade (Zattere).
Do you think San Giorgio Maggiore Island is worth a visit for first-time visitors to Venice? Or is it a place for already experienced lovers of the city on the water? Write in the comments…