With unmatched Renaissance artistic heritage in such abundance in Italian cities like Florence, it is easy to overlook other unsung jewels of the Renaissance in Italy, like the towns in Lombardy’s vast, fertile alluvial plain – the Po Valley or Pianura Padana. One of these is Mantova (Mantua), the city made famous by Virgil and Shakespeare, and where two unofficial specialties are great architecture and omelettes with onions. Or frogs.
That’s right, Mantova is going to surprise you. Culturally as well as gastronomically. This is the place where tortelli di zucca and agnoli alla Gonzaga were born. The region is a cornucopia of pumpkin, Parmigiano Reggiano, onions and yes, even frogs. But let’s not forget torta Mantovana sbrisolona, a crumbly cake of cornmeal, sugar and almonds.
What to See in Mantova
Today as over 2000 years ago, Mantova goes on generating life and passion. Much of its grace, beauty and suggestion is mirrored in water: it’s surrounded on all sides but one by lakes that were man made in the 12th century and are fed by water that flows from Lake Garda. Inter locking piazzas of subtly majestic proportions form a concrete dream scape that invites reflection and sensory indulgence in any season. Here, you are in the living legacy of the Gonzagas, the powerful family dynasty that ruled Mantova from the Middle Ages to the early 18th century. The held court in the daunting and elegant Palazzo Ducale… which echoes the Doges’ Palace in Venice.
No wonder that along with nearby Sabbioneta (on a warm day you get there by bicycle), Mantova was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site a few years ago.
Piazza Sordello was once the political, religious and artistic vortex of the city, as evidenced by San Pietro’s Cathedral, Palazzo Castiglioni and Palazzo Guerrieri. The Torre dell’orologio (clock tower) in Piazza delle Erbe has been urging travelers to slow down and have another cappuccino for centuries. The Castle of San Giorgio was built in the 14th century to guard the lakes. But Renaissance art in Mantova finds its apotheosis in the landmark Palazzo del Te’, home of the Museo Civico and the ideal place from which to branch out and explore othericonic Mantuan locales: the church of San Barbara, Palazzo del Podestà, and Rotonda of San Lorenzo. In the countryside, visit the Palace of Federico Gonzaga with its famous Sala dei Giganti, Sale della Psiche and the Secret Garden with its painted cave.
Mantova Travel Tips
Fashionistas take note, there is some fantastic outlet shopping right outside Mantova. Check out the 110 boutiques at the “Fashion District,” located in Bagnolo San Vito.
Have you ever visited Mantova? Let us know in the comment box.