Brescia, a city in Northern Italy that’s not on the usual tourist itinerary, is a good stop on the rail line between Venice and Milan. Even though it’s not too touristy there are several good sights, including Roman remains and one of my favorite Italian museums, the Santa Giulia City Museum. The city is also the starting point to take the train north to Lake Iseo and on through the scenic Valcamonica known for its prehistoric petroglyphs.
Bresica Top Sights
- Piazza della Loggia is a Renaissance square dating from the 15th century. In this square is the town hall and the clock tower with an astronomical clock and figures of two bell ringers on top. Also on the square are two old money-lending houses with Roman tombstones on their facades. Piazza della Loggia is a good place to have a coffee or drink and enjoy local life.
- Piazza Paolo VI is the cathedral square with both the old and new cathedral. The 11th century Romanesque cathedral, called the Rotondo or Duomo Vecchio, has Roman remains and the 8th century apse inside. The Baroque cathedral, built between 1604 and 1825, is the Duomo Nuovo.
- Piazza della Vittoria is a good example of Art Deco architecture, built in the early 20th century to replace part of the medieval center. On one corner is what’s said to be Italy’s first skyscraper, the Torrione.
- Piazza del Foro is the site of the old Roman forum. Roman remains that can be seen in this area include a theater, a temple dating from 73 AD, and the Republican sanctuary dating from the 1st century BC that has remains of its mosaic floors and wall frescoes inside.
- Brescia’s castle was built atop a hill during the 13th through 16th centuries and from it there are great views of the city and beyond. Inside are the Arms Museum, the Risorgimento Museum, a model railroad exhibit, and the astronomical observatory.
- Mille Miglia Museum, in a former monastery, has classic cars and exhibits relating to the history of the 1,000-mile car race that goes from Brescia to Rome and back. First run in 1927, Brescia is still the starting point for the annual Mille Miglia car race in May.
Santa Giulia City Museum of Brescia
A highlight of a visit to Brescia is the large Santa Giulia City Museum, housed in an 8th century convent, that takes you on a journey from prehistory through a Roman excavations and historic churches. Inside the museum are more than 11,000 artifacts and art works and displays are labeled and well-described in English. Museum Highlights:
- Prehistory exhibits, with many artifacts found in archaeological excavations in the area dating as far back as 3000 BC and covering the development of farming and crafts, are the first displays in the underground part of the convent.
- The excavation of the Roman domus, houses used from the 1st through 4th centuries, discovered in the monastery’s vegetable garden. Remains of the houses, including mosaic floors and frescoes, are viewed from a walkway as you go through the museum. Roman artifacts found in the excavation are also on display.
- Basilica of San Salvatore, built in the 8th century, is an ancient Longobard church decorated with Byzantine art. Inside is a display of Gothic to Renaissance materials from city monuments.
- Church of Santa Maria in Solario, built as a chapel for the monastery in the 12th century, has an ancient Roman altar, frescoes, a 4th century ivory box called the Brescia casket, and the gold and silver Cross of Desiderius.
- The 15th – 16th century nun’s choir is richly decorated with frescoes and houses funerary monuments.
Where to Stay in Brescia
- Near Piazza della Vittoria, Piazza Paolo VI and the cathedral, Hotel Vittoria is Art Nouveau-style hotel with a rooftop terrace.
- Just off Piazza della Loggia, Albergo Orologio is a 3-star boutique hotel.
Lake Iseo and Valcamonica
From Brescia, a regional train travels north to Lake Iseo, one of Italy’s less-visited lakes, and the scenic Valcamonica, Italy’s first UNESCO World Heritage site inscribed for its more than 140,000 prehistoric petroglyphs. The best place to see the rock art is Naquane, in Capo di Ponte, on the rail line. Naquane or Lake Iseo can easily be visited as day trips from Brescia.
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