Mantova‘s historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family made it one of the main artistic, cultural, and especially musical hubs of Northern Italy and the country as a whole. Mantua is noted for its significant role in the history of opera, and the city is known for its architectural treasures and artifacts, elegant palaces, and medieval and Renaissance cityscape. It is the nearest town to the birthplace of the Roman writer Virgil. It is also the town to which Romeo was banished in William Shakespeare’s Play Romeo and Juliet. Mantua is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes created during the 12th century. These receive the waters of the river Mincio, a tributary of the Po which descends from Lake Garda. The three lakes are called Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore (“Upper”, “Middle”, and “Lower Lake”). A fourth lake, Lake Pajolo, which once completed a defensive water ring of the city, dried up at the end of the 18th century.
HISTORY
A settlement existed as early as around 2000 BC on the banks of the Mincio, on a sort of island which provided natural protection. In the 6th century BC it was an Etruscan village which, in Etruscan tradition, was re-founded by Ocnus. The name derives from the Etruscan god Mantus, of Hades. After being conquered by the Cenomani, a Gallic tribe, the city was conquered between the first and second Punic wars by the Romans, who attributed its name to Manto, a daughter of Tiresias. The new territory was populated by veteran soldiers of Augustus. Mantua’s most famous ancient citizen is the poet Publius Vergilius Maro, Virgil (Mantua me genuit), who was born near the city in 70 B.C. at the village now known as Virgilio. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Mantua was invaded in turn by Byzantines, Longobards and Franks. In the 11th century it became a possession of Boniface of Canossa, marquis of Toscana. The last ruler of the family was the countessMatilda of Canossa (d. 1115), who, according to legend, ordered the construction of the precious Rotonda di San Lorenzo (1082). After the death of Matilda of Canossa, Mantua became a free commune, and strenuously defended itself from the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1198 Alberto Pitentino altered the course of the Mincio, creating what Mantuans call “the four lakes” to reinforce the city’s natural protection. Between 1215 and 1216 the city was under the podesteria of the Guelph Rambertino Buvalelli. During the struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Pinamonte Bonacolsi took advantage of the chaotic situation to seize power in 1273. His family ruled Mantua for the next century, making it more prosperous and artistically beautiful. On August 16, 1328, the last Bonacolsi, Rinaldo, was overthrown in a revolt backed by the House of Gonzaga, a family of officials. Luigi Gonzaga, who had been podestà of the city in 1318, was elected “People’s Captain”. The Gonzagas built new walls with five gates and renovated the architecture of the city in the 14th century, but the political situation in the city did not settle until the third Gonzaga, Ludovico Gonzaga, eliminated his relatives, seizing power for himself. During the Renaissance, the Gonzaga family softened their despotic rule and raised the level of culture and refinement in Mantua.[3] Mantua was a significant center of Renaissance art and humanism. Marquis Gianfrancesco Gonzaga had brought Vittorino da Feltre to Mantua in 1423 to open his famous humanist school, the Casa Giocosa. The War of the Mantuan Succession broke out, and in 1630 an Imperial army of 36,000 Landsknecht mercenaries besieged Mantua, bringing the plague with them. Mantua never recovered from this disaster. Ferdinand Carlo IV, an inept ruler whose only interest was in holding parties and theatrical shows, allied with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. After the latter’s defeat, he took refuge in Venice, carrying with him a thousand pictures. At his death in 1708 he was declared deposed and his family lost Mantua forever in favour of the Habsburgs of Austria. Later, the city again passed into Napoleon’s control. In the year 1810 by Porta Giulia, a gate of the town at Borgo di Porto (Cittadella), Andreas Hofer was shot; he had led the insurrection in theCounty of Tyrol against Napoleon. After the brief period of French rule, Mantua returned to Austria in 1814, becoming one of the Quadrilatero fortress cities in northern Italy. Agitation against Austria culminated in a revolt which lasted from 1851 to 1855, and was finally suppressed by the Austrian army. One of the most famous episodes of the Italian Risorgimento took place in the valley of the Belfiore, when a group of rebels was hanged by the Austrians. In 1866, Mantua was incorporated in the united Italy by the king of Sardinia.
SIGHTSEEING
The Gonzagas protected the arts and culture, and were hosts to several important artists such as Leone Battista Alberti, Andrea Mantegna, Giulio Romano, Donatello, Peter Paul Rubens, Pisanello, Domenico Fetti, Luca Fancelli and Nicolò Sebregondi. Though many of the masterworks have been dispersed, the cultural value of Mantua is nonetheless outstanding, with many of Mantua’s patrician and ecclesiastical buildings being uniquely important examples of Italian architecture.
Palazzo del Te or Palazzo Te is a fine example of the mannerist style of architecture, the acknowledged masterpiece of Giulio Romano. Palazzo del Te is a square building, constructed 1524-1534 for Federico II Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua. He decided in 1524 to build a pleasure palace, or Villa Suburbana. The site chosen was that of the family’s stables at Isola del Te on the fringe of the marshes just outside Mantua’s city walls. The architect commissioned was Giulio Romano, a pupil of Raphael. The shell of the palazzo was erected within 18 months. It is basically a square house built around a cloistered courtyard. A formal garden complemented the house. This was enclosed by colonnaded outbuildings terminated by a semi-circular colonnade known as the ‘Esedra’.
The Palazzo Ducale di Mantova (“Ducal Palace”) is a group of buildings in Mantua, Lombardy, northern Italy, built between the 14th and the 17th century mainly by the noble family of Gonzaga as their royal residence in the capital of their Duchy. The buildings are connected by corridors and galleries and are enriched by inner courts and wide gardens. The complex includes some 500 rooms and occupies an area of c. 34,000 m². Although most famous for Mantegna’s frescos in the Camera degli Sposi (Wedding Room), they have many other very significant architectural and painted elements.
The Basilica of Sant’Andrea is a Roman Catholic co-cathedral and minor basilica in Mantua, Lombardy (Italy). It is one of the major works of 15th century Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy. Commissioned by Ludovico II Gonzaga, the church was begun in 1462 according to designs by Leon Battista Alberti on a site occupied by a Benedictine monastery, of which the bell tower (1414) remains. The building, however, was finished only 328 years later. Though later changes and expansions altered Alberti’s design, the church is still considered to be one of Alberti’s most complete works.