Mantova, or Mantua, is a beautiful Renaissance city south of Lake Garda in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Lakes on three sides keep the city center compact and make it a pleasant place for walking or biking. Mantova was the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016 and is one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, inscribed for its Renaissance architecture and city planning.
Things to Do and See in Mantova
- Piazza delle Erbe, Piazza Brolleto, and Piazza Sordello are three pretty squares in a line that form the heart of Mantua’s historic center. Grab a table at a cafe in one of the lively squares and soak up the atmosphere.
- Palazzo Ducale, with more than 500 rooms, was like a small city itself when it was home to the wealthy Gonzaga family from 1328 through 1707. Although you can’t visit all the rooms, what you can see is magnificent. Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to wander through the huge complex of palaces, apartments, and churches and see the courtyards and gardens. Highlights include the Zodiac Room, Hall of Mirrors and Camera degli Sposi with its stunning frescoes.
It’s highly recommended to buy Palazzo Ducale tickets in advance – reserved time slots are available from 8:30AM – 6:30PM except on Mondays, December 25, January 1 and May 1. The Palazzo is on Piazza Sordello.
- Also on Piazza Sordello is Mantua’s Cathedral, il duomo di San Pietro. Built on the site of an early Christian church, the current cathedral dates from the late 14th century. The exterior has Gothic and Baroque elements added later and several 16th – 17th century art works are inside. Its bell tower has 7 bells.
- On Piazza delle Erbe are the clock tower and the 11th century Rotonda of San Lorenzo, built on the site that is believed to have been a temple to Venus in Roman days. Several shops line the square including the medieval Casa del Mercante, one of the oldest buildings in Mantova, and there are several good restaurants on the piazza.
- Next to Piazza delle Erbe is the small Piazza Andrea Mantegna where you’ll find the Basilica of Sant’Andrea that houses the tomb of Andrea Mantegna, a 15th century painter who spent many years in Mantua employed as a court artist. His most famous work is probably the Camera degli Sposi, or Wedding Chamber, frescoes in the Palazzo Ducale. A co-cathedral, the Basilica houses Sacred Vessels said to contain Christ’s blood. The relic is kept in the crypt and brought up in a vial on Ascension Day.
- Rent a bike and ride on the lake shore bike path that circles the city center, visit the center by bike, or take a ride into the countryside. Ask at the tourist information office in Piazza Mantegna.
- Outside the historic center is another Gonzaga palace, Palazzo Te, set in a big park. Built as a pleasure palace in 1524, it also has stunning frescoes, including a room of erotic frescoes, and a beautiful courtyard. Part of the palace is an art museum.
See the location of the above sights on this Mantova Map.
In the town of Grazie, a 10-minute bus ride from Mantova, the Santuario della Beata Vergine Maria delle Grazie is one of the most unusual churches I’ve ever seen. In addition to a stuffed crocodile hanging from the ceiling, there are amazing life-sized mannequins depicting events that were aided by divine intervention. During summer, boat excursions leave from the dock in Grazie’s park.
Transportation and Places to Stay
Mantova can be reached by regional train on the rail line that runs between Verona and Modena. The station is in Piazzale Don Leoni, a short walk from the city center, and the bus station is nearby in Piazzale A Mondadori.
Right across from the station is the 3-star Albergo Bianchi Stazione, Mantova where you can rent bikes and access the bike path that starts next to the hotel. Quieter rooms overlook the inner courtyard.
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