Brescia is home to the largest archaeological area in northern Italy. It is a town in the north of Italy, located in the region of Lombardy between Milan and Verona. It’s a historic city with good public transport links which makes a good jumping-off point for Lakes Garda and Iseo.
The centre of Brescia, with its historic squares and lanes, is manageable on foot; a guidebook or map is useful for getting your bearings and establishing the chronology of this ancient city. Roman Brescia was called Brixia, a settlement that had already existed for hundreds of years, founded by Gauls. The departure point for an exploration of Roman Brescia is Piazza del Foro, the epicentre of the city: here the ancient Decumanus (the road which cut the city from East to West) met the Cardo (from North to South). The Forum was the civil, political, business and commercial hub, which today overlooks the remains of the Capitoline Temple (73 AD) and to one side, slightly hidden, the remains of the Theatre (first century AD), one of Italy’s largest theatres, which could hold up to 15,000 spectators. Opposite the Capitoline Temple we find the tiny Romanesque church of San Zeno and the low remains of the Forum’s portico, which give an idea of the level of the city in that far away age. The Capitoline Temple, built in 73 AD on orders from the Emperor Vespasian, was home to the worship of Jove, Juno and Minerva, the three Capitoline gods to whom the temple of the same name in Rome’s Campidoglio is dedicated. Monastero di Santa Giulia: its walls date back to 753 AD, when Desiderius (Duke and later Emperor of the Lombards) and his wife Ansa decided to establish a Benedictine convent here dedicated to San Salvatore. Over time, the monastery continued to develop and increase in wealth, acquiring land and possessions. This has allowed the archaeological excavations (still underway) to identify and expose to the public marvellous collections of mosaics, sacred objects and objects of daily use, sculptures and remains of homes with frescoed walls. Anyone who enters the museum complex today (12,000 m²) can travel through 3,000 years of history, an unforgettable voyage among remains from prehistoric and Roman times, homes dating from Imperial times, orchards and gardens. The most spectacular finds include the Lombard basilica of San Salvatore, the magnificent frescoes in the Romanesque oratory of Santa Maria in Solario, the Cross of Desiderius and the Nuns’ Choir. Most Italian towns, when they felt the need for a grand new cathedral, simply amended or replaced their existing duomo. In Brescia, however, the new church was built alongside the old one, so visitors can visit an unusual example of an earlier church. The Old Cathedral is a rare example of eleventh century Romanesque architecture. Its circular design is based on the plan of theChurch of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the atmosphere the visitor experiences inside is uplifting, allowing one to experience a dimension as close as possible to the experience of faith. The Old Cathedral (Duomo Vecchio) is decorated with paintings by old masters such as il Moretto and il Romanino. The New Cathedral (Duomo Nuovo) is located in the centre of the piazza and was built between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, with various breaks in construction and changes of architects which lead to the creation of a central apse in the sixteenth century style, a facade from the eighteenth century and a cupola dating from the middle of the nineteenth century. The majestic cupola is the third highest in Italy and here we find the statue of Pope Paul VI (Giovanbattista Montini), the pope from Brescia. The Venetians brought more to Brescia than just their splendid architectural style, they also brought their construction systems: Palazzo della Loggia was built over an area which was once swampy and, in order to resolve the problem of the resistance of the foundations, the architects implanted thousands of poles soaked in pitch into the land. In the same way, a similar problem was solved when they had to build in the swamps and canals of Venice. Very picturesque is the famous clock located on the opposite side of the piazza and which is home to, on the tower above, the most famous citizens of Brescia: the “Macc de le ure”, bronze statues which mark the passing hours. In this piazza of rectangular design, the eye is drawn to the architectural style of the Serenissima Republic of Venice which has left splendid traces of its long domination in Brescia. The Castle is one of the most important monuments in Brescia and a visit offers various surprises. The Castle was built over the remains of a large Roman temple, but over the centuries new fortifications were added to the original building for defensive purposes. At the end of the nineteenth century, after every military function had been lost, it became a marvellous encyclopaedia of history, architecture, art. The imposing bastions were created in the middle of the sixteenth century; the entry portal dates to the same epoch, with the Lion of Saint Mark (emblem of the Republic of Venice which dominated the city for more than four centuries). The Mastio, built by the Visconti of Milan in the first half of the twelfth century, is located on the top of the hill. it is well worth visiting the Tosio Martinengo Art Gallery, where there are works by Raphael and Tintoretto on display as well as Brescian painting of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Just a few kilometres from the city, you will find the Pope Paul VI Contemporary Art Collection located next to the home where Pope Paul VI was born; the new art centre, recently inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI, displays more than 7,000 works including pieces by Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, Dalí, Magritte, Kokoschka, Fontana, Giò and Arnaldo Pomodoro. The Museum Mille Miglia, open to the public since 10th November 2004, has been conceived to meet the need for hearing living witness to the Mille Miglia, Brescia’s legendary car race. The museum of the legendary race “Mille Miglia” is situated inside the Monastery of Saint Eufemia, a beautiful building complex of immense archaeological, historical and architectural value. The good position and the important history of the building give to the Mille Miglia Museum further prestige. The Museum dedicated to the Mille Miglia competition was born to carry out an ambitious cultural and educational project: to help visitors to appreciate such an extraordinary sporting event while illustrating a cross section of Italian culture, history and social customs between 1927 to 1957, also through description and presentations of monuments and places, towns and regions, included edition after edition in the route of this epoch making event. Along the museum pathway are showed private collector cars that are periodically replaced by other in case of participation in event : in particular, the largest turnover usually take place on the occasion of Mille Miglia.
You can go shopping in the centre of town with boutiques, markets and antique dealers. From Corso Magenta into Corso Cavour, Corso Zanardelli, Piazza della Loggia and Corso Palestro, and finally to Corso Garibaldi. From the late afternoon to the early hours of the morning, Brecia’s “movida” animates the city. Especially in the summer, but also in winter, around the oval of the beautifully kept gardens in Piazzale Arnaldo you will find a circuit of bars, outdoor cafes, tables prepared for happy hour, enlivened by chattering and laughter which flow during the evening to the rhythm of the music being played. Brescians drink the local aperitif, known as Pirlo. Nearby Piazzetta Tito Speri (at the intersection of via Musei with via Beccaria and via Sant’Agostino) you will find a flowering of Medieval style bars and cafes, elegant pubs, trendy restaurants, bed & breakfasts, lounge bars, outdoor tables and chairs, where you can meet friends or take a walk to enjoy the refined local atmosphere. There is something for every palate to enjoy, in a context which is undoubtedly very glamorous and evokes the days of yore. Take a walk to Mount Maddalena, the Brescian mountain. Its 874 metre peak can be reached rapidly by car (12 km, approximately 15 minutes), but most locals enjoy the panorama walking along trails or (for the most fit and fearless) cycling. Via Panoramica starts at the beginning of via Turati (just around the corner from piazzale Arnaldo) and begins by ascending the Ronchi hills, much loved by the citizens of Brescia. The road heads upwards with many curves and hairpins, allowing views of pergolas, gardens, historic homes, the little church of San Fiorano and the unusual neo-Gothic tomb of the dog. Upon reaching the little hamlet of Medaglioni, via Panoramica becomes via San Gottardo and soon there are more forests and fewer trees, an atmosphere which serves as a prelude to the profound silence of the mountain scenery. If you are lucky, you will see Mount Guglielmo (1957 metres) to the north; the Bergamo pre-Alps and Mount Presolana to the west; further in the distance the Piedmontese Alps with Mount Rosa and to the south the plains stretching as far as the Apennines. To the east you can see the southern tip of Lake Garda, the Sirmione promontory and the gulf of Desenzano surrounded by hills. If you enjoy hiking, there are several excellent trails through the picturesque woodlands. Mount Maddalena is also an ideal location for hand gliding.