Mantua, Italy travel guide: discovering the city of Gonzaga

Mantua. Guide

Practical information: if you plan to visit Mantua and Sabyonetta for at least a couple of days, it definitely makes sense to buy the “Maptovarad” museum card You can buy it online or in museums and info centers. We bought it at Sabionette, since it was the first one on the route. You can see a lot in Mantua in one day, but it’s better to spend two days in the city, because otherwise you get emotionally tired of everything you see “in one go”. And the city is worth it to be in it, to walk around, breathe it in and enjoy it. The subtlety of using “Mapovarcard” when visiting the “Camera del Sposi” is as follows: “Mapovarcard” gives a 50% discount, but through the site you can not book a visit in the presence of a discount. You can buy a discount ticket only at the ticket office. All visits are tied to a certain time. In the season, I think there may be difficulties – i.e. not to get in as soon as you come. On the website you can book in advance, but for 14 euros, and on the Mantua Card 5.50.

From the history of Mantua.

“Mantua (Italian: Mantova)-a city sung by many famous poets and writers. Virgil and Charles Baudelaire, Dante and Charles Dickens admired its romantic atmosphere, the ancient monuments, the calm waters of the Mincho river and the surrounding lakes, the sincerity and friendliness of the locals. According to ancient legend, the daughter of the soothsayer Tiresias, Manto, fled from the Greek Thebes after the death of her father, stopped on this land and founded the city. Historians, however, claim that Mantua is of Etruscan origin. Ancient Mantua was a small fortified center, which was probably located in the northeast of the modern city. Etruscan rule ended in 388 after the invasion of the Gauls; then in 220 they were expelled by the Romans, who divided the city into centurions. During the period of Roman domination, Mantua lived exclusively on agriculture. In the 4th and 5th centuries the territory was conquered by the Germans and then the Franks.

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In the Middle Ages the city for a time was part of the possessions of the Canossa family. An architectural landmark of the period is the charming 11th-century Romanesque church in the Piazza Erbe, the Rotonda San Lorenzo, built under the last of the Canossa family, Countess Matilde. After her death in 1115, the town gained its independence, which it held for a century and a half. At that time, the marshlands around Mincho were reclaimed and four artificial lakes were created to supply the city with water, fed by the Mincho River, which turned Mantua into an island city. (now there are only three lakes, the fourth has been drained). The Palace of Justice, the city walls, and other important structures of the city were also erected at that time.

In the second half of the thirteenth century, Mantua was ruled by Pinamonte Bonacolsi, a family that ruled the city from 1273-1328. – It was at the time of the events described by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. The Bonacolsi built many of the buildings that still give Mantua its distinctive medieval spirit. Speaking of Romeo and Juliet, Charles Dickens, traveling through Italy in 1844, wrote: “Yesterday I was perplexed to learn that Romeo had been exiled only 25 miles from his hometown. That is the distance between Mantua and Verona.” Indeed, Romeo’s exiled refuge was no more than forty miles from the walls of Verona (If you remember, after the murder of Juliet’s brother Tybalt, Romeo secretly left Verona, dressed as a foreign merchant, and surrounded by his faithful servants, headed for nearby Mantua.) True, Romeo’s house in Mantua, unlike in Verona, is not shown.

In 1323, with the death of Rinaldo (nicknamed Passerino), killed in a rebellion incited by the Gonzaga family, Bonacolci’s reign fell into decline. (This pivotal event in the city’s history can be seen in the painting which is in the Palazzo Ducale where we are to visit). Beginning in 1328, the powerful family of the Dukes of Gonzaga became entrenched in the city for almost four centuries.

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Gonzaga brought to the city artists, sculptors, architects (Donatello, Leon Battista Alberti, Luciano Lorana, Luca Fancelli, Andrea Mantegna, Rubens and many others) and Mantua became one of the greatest and most beautiful art centers in Italy. During this period the basilicas of St. Andrew the Apostle and St. Sebastian were built, the palazzo Broletto and the palazzo Ducale (Doge’s palace) were enlarged, the fortress walls were fortified and five city gates were built. Mantua did not stop adding new works of art and later, the splendid Palazzo Te appeared.

Mantua flourished until 1630, when the city was struck by plague and power passed into the hands of the Austrians (1707). The Austrians seized the city during the War of the Mantuan Succession, where France and the Empire stood behind the rival heirs, in 1630 the city was taken and looted by Austrian troops; this event went down in history as the sacco di Mantova; everything that could be stripped, removed, cut and otherwise taken was taken away by the Austrian plunderers.

“But the troubles began a few years earlier: the hapless Duke Vincenzo II, who ruled from 1626 to 1627, sold much of the art collected by his ancestors to Charles I of England (he was executed in 1649); after his execution, the Gonzaga collection was partly destroyed and partly sold off. These two events led to the fact that it is no longer possible to find valuable works of art in Mantua, but immovable ones remain: the “Marriage Room” in the castle of San Giorgio (“Camera degli Sposi”), painted by Mantegna, and Palazzo Te, the country residence of Gonzaga, built, decorated and painted by Giulio Romano, a student of Raphael.

In the seventeenth century, constant floods gradually turned the outskirts of Mantua into swamps. In order to restore the city, one of the lakes was drained, so Mantua remained surrounded by water on three sides only. Now these three lakes are: Lago Superiore (Upper), Lago di Mezzo (Middle – between the bridges) and Lago Inferiore (Lower). In the Upper Lake, lotus flowers, characteristic of the Orient, were planted; here they found a suitable habitat and quickly filled the lake. And the Middle and Lower Lakes are overgrown with water chestnuts, in the shade of which many tourists and locals still rest, observing the tranquility of the water surface.

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On 7 July 2008 Mantua was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an exceptional example of Renaissance architecture.


Mantua (Italy) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. The main sights of Mantua with descriptions, guides and maps.

City of Mantua (Italy)

Mantua is a city in northern Italy in the region of Lombardy. The place has changed little since the late Middle Ages and has a high concentration of ancient sacral monuments, towers and palaces. The historic center of Mantua is a magnificent example of the Renaissance, and the city itself has maintained a rich cultural heritage.

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Geography and climate

Mantua is located in southeastern Lombardy on the Mincho River. The city is on the border with Emilia-Romagna and Veneto not far from Verona. It is also less than an hour away from Brescia. Mantua has a subtropical climate with sultry summers and mild winters.



Information for tourists

  1. Population 49 thousand people.
  2. Area – 63 sq. km.
  3. Language: Italian.
  4. Currency – euros.
  5. Visa – Schengen.
  6. Time – Central European (UTC +1, in summer +2).


Mantua has an ancient history. It is believed that the first settlement was founded by the Umbra. Then the Etruscans and later the Celts settled here. In the 3rd century BC these lands were occupied by the Romans and founded their own city here. In the 11th century Mantua was for a time part of the margraves’ possessions of Tuscany. Although already in 1115 the city gained independence and in the second half of the 12th century joined the Lombard League.



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In 1269 the Ghibellines of Bonacolci seized power in Mantua and impressive buildings and monuments were built which have been preserved to this day. In 1328 the Gonzaga family seized power in the city. Representatives of this family actually ruled Mantua until the beginning of the 18th century. The Gonzaga period of power is considered the true heyday of the city. These dukes were patrons of culture and the arts, and their court was considered one of the most brilliant in Europe.

In the 18th century Mantua became part of the possessions of the Spanish Habsburgs, who turned the city into a powerful defensive outpost. In 1815 Mantua belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1866 the city became part of the united Italy.

How to get there

The nearest airport to Mantua is in Verona. Also relatively close are the airports of Bologna and Bergamo. By train or bus one can easily get to Mantua from Milan, Verona, Modena, Cremona, Parma, Venice, Brescia, Bolzano and other Italian cities.


The historic core of Mantua and the Sabbioneta is a splendid site of the Middle Ages and Renaissance and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale is a group of magnificent medieval buildings built in the 14th century. This palace complex was the residence of the Dukes of Gonzaga. Palazzo Ducale contains more than 950 rooms. The oldest building is Palazzo del Capitano – a palace of the 13th century, which was the residence of Bonacolsi.

Palazzo Te

Palazzo Te is a palace in the southern part of Mantua that is a fine example of Mannerist architecture. It was built as the country residence of the local dukes and is a cultural center.

St. Andrew Basilica

St. Andrew Basilica

The Basilica of St. Andrew is Mantua’s main sacred monument, known for its magnificent frescoes. The church was begun in 1472 and completed 328 years later. It houses a valuable Christian relic, the blood of Christ collected at the crucifixion.

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The Duomo is a cathedral built in the style of Mannerist architecture. Construction of the current church began in the 14th century and was completed four centuries later. The cathedral has a beautiful facade and an impressive interior, as well as a Romanesque bell tower.

The Duomo is located in Piazza Sordello, formerly called Piazza San Pietro. It is the largest and most important square in Mantua and one of the oldest places in the city.

Torre della Gabbia

Torre della Gabbia

Torre della Gabbia is Mantua’s tallest medieval tower, built in the 13th century. To its left is the bishop’s palace. Since 1576 it was a torture chamber for convicts. The tower is now privately owned, so it is closed to the public.

Rotunda San Lorenzo

Rotunda of San Lorenzo

The Rotonda San Lorenzo is an astonishing Romanesque building built at the end of the 11th century. It is the oldest religious structure in Mantua, inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The rotunda is said to have been built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Venus.

Piazza delle Erbe

Piazza delle Erbe

Piazza delle Erbe is a small historical square and former fruit market. It is a place with interesting Venetian architecture. The most notable structure here is the palazzo della Ragione with its 15th-century astronomical clock. The square is separated from Piazza Broletto by a 13th century medieval palace, Palazzo del Podesta.

Interesting tours

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