Mantua is a unique city in the world: it is in fact surrounded by three artificial lakes (there were once four) built at the end of the 1100s by a hydraulic engineer for defensive purposes, the lakes receive water from the Mincio River. The result is that the city seems to be built on water. To get an idea of this spectacle, one should aim to enter the city from the bridge of San Giorgio.
Arriving by car, take the Mantova Nord exit and proceed to the Campo Canoa car park which provides free parking, a free shuttle is available to take you to the town centre. Or, you can proceed on foot or by bike.
The best photo opportunity for your Instagram account is at the area called Sparafucile(you've all heard of Rigoletto?): Mantua reflected in the lake!
First inhabited by the Etruscans, then by the Celts and the Romans - the great poet Virgil was born here! - Mantua had its maximum splendour during the Renaissance thanks to the Court of the Gonzagas, who gathered great artists in Mantua such as Leon Battista Alberti, Andrea Mantegna, Giulio Romano, Torquato Tasso and many others. Today it is a World Heritage Site and in 2016, it was the Italian Capital of Culture.
The city is very compact and can be visited comfortably in a day, walking through its beautiful squares, between its courtyards and under its arcades. If you have time, there are some monuments and palaces that absolutely deserve a visit, such as the Ducale Palace and the Castle of San Giorgio with the Camera degli Sposi(bridal chamber), the Basilica of Sant'Andrea and the Te Palace.
Start your visit from Piazza delle Erbe, which takes its name from the historic market that has always been held here. This pretty square is bordered by beautiful buildings, shops, bars, the astronomical clock tower and the Rotonda di San Lorenzo.
You can climb the clock tower to the top floor to admire the view of Mantua from above. Going up the 5 floors of wooden stairs that lead to the top, you can see the mechanisms of operation of the clock, its history and other interesting details.
The unusual round-shaped building that dominates in Piazza delle Erbe, is a church built in the year 1081 on a previous building of Roman origin (perhaps 4th century BC). Inside the rotunda is almost bare except for some frescoes, but it is worth visiting for the suggestive aura that emanates, as well as for the fact that it has free admission (donations are welcome). It will take you a few minutes, but it's worth it.
Adjacent to Piazza delle Erbe is the Basilica of Sant'Andrea designed by Leon Battista Alberti. Although it isn't the Duomo of the city, it is the most important church in Mantua. From its facade, you don't realise how impressive it is. Ceilings with incredible perspectives, splendid frescoes and an architecture that will excite you, making you look upwards. In the crypt, in addition to the tombs of some members of the Gonzaga family, two vases with the blood of Jesus Christ are kept as relics, they were collected from the Cross by the Roman centurion Longinus.
Moving on to Piazza Sordello, for centuries the centre of Mantua's political, social and religious life. This large square is bordered by some beautiful crenellated medieval palaces, the Duomo and the Ducale Palace, or the palace of the Gonzagas, whose grandeur cannot be imagined from the square.
The Ducale Palace which overlooks Piazza Sordello, was in fact the Gonzaga palace and it bears the traces of the Renaissance splendour of the period. It covers 35,000 sq. m. and it offers visitors a truly impressive tour: a total of 1,000 rooms, courtyards and gardens to cross and admire. A journey through history between the new court, the old court and the hanging garden.
The museum itinerary also includes access to the Castle of San Giorgio with the same ticket.
Do not miss the Camera degli Sposi (bridal chamber), decorated with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna (between 1465 and 1464). The ticket price alone is worth it.
About 20 minutes walk from Piazza delle Erbe you will find the Te Palace, a beautiful building designed by Giulio Romano for Prince Federico II Gonzaga. Inside, are some of the most famous frescoes in the world, such as the famous Sala dei Giganti. The gardens are also beautiful.
Interesting fact: did you know that the Jovanotti video "L'ombelico del mondo" was filmed here?
Pumpkin tortelli, seasoned with crumbled amaretti is certainly among the most famous typical dishes of Mantua. Among meat dishes, stewed donkey is a specialty. For those who prefer fish, you can try some pike-based dishes with fish from the lake. You can eat it with polenta or even in pasta dishes, such as bigoli.
Leave room for dessert: sbrisolona is a crunchy tart with almonds, perfect at the end of a meal or for a snack.
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