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Gonzaga family treasures

Journey to Mantua, where every piazza recounts a tale of centuries of art.

Gonzaga family treasures

One single family made the entire province of Mantua famous: the Gonzaga. From the 13th century onwards, this dynasty reigned supreme over the city of Mantua and much of the surrounding territory. The position of Mantua is itself worthy of note, on a small peninsula on the banks of the Mincio river.

Our journey starts in Piazza Sordello, seat of the city's principal religious and civic institutions. This is where to find Mantua cathedral, the origins of which date all the way back to 313. Over the centuries, the edifice has been the victim of more than one fire and rebuilt and restructured on various occasions in Romanesque, gothic, and baroque style'''.

The opposite side of the Piazza is dominated by Palazzo Ducale which, with it's 34 thousand square meters and 500 rooms, is one of the largest palaces in the whole of Europe and an ostentatious symbol of the Gonzaga's power. Piazza delle Erbe takes its name from the traditional fruit and vegetable market held here. Piazza delle Erbe is also home to the Torre dell'Orologio and the Romanesque Church, known as the Rotonda di San Lorenzo, for its distinctive circular form. The magnificent Basilica di Sant'Andrea, built between 1472 and 1494, is the work of the architect Leon Battista Alberti. Another artist to whom Mantua owes a great deal is Mantegna, whose house can still be visited today.

Just outside the city, there is another of the Gonzaga's sumptuous residences: the magnificent Palazzo Tè. Here, once again, the Sovereigns of Mantua's budget knew no limits, financing an enormous complex complete with immense gardens and courtyards. The interior decoration is, needless to say, wonderfully ornate.

Another trip not to be missed is that to the Nature Reserve of the Mincio Valley and the tiny town of Grazie di Curtatone, the ancient fishing village which provided the set for Bernardo Bertolucci's "1900" film.

Just 33kms from Mantua there is another ex principality of the Gonzaga, founded by Vespasiano Gonzaga. The town of Sabbioneta, a six pointed star within a high perimeter wall, was designed according to Vespasiano's idea of the perfect city. Once more it is the Palazzo Ducale to provide the imposing symbol of the Gonzaga's power. Today the Palazzo and its Galleria degli Antenati is a major tourist attraction, as is the Teatro Olimpico, built by Vincenzo Scamozzi between 1588 and 1590. A marvellous covered amphitheatre complete with colonnade bearing statues of various pagan gods, this was Gonzaga's personal playhouse. Just outside Sabbioneta lies Palazzo Giardino, the Vespasiano's summer residence, embellished with frescoes illustrating the eclectic interests of the Sovereign Lord of Sabbioneta.

Another town close to Mantua where the Gonzaga family has more than left their mark is that of Castiglione delle Stiviere. Although it was Ferrante Gonzaga who made Castiglione an important principality, it was his son, Luigi, also known as Saint Aloysius, who made the town famous on a worldwide scale. The Basilica of Castiglione is dedicated to the San Luigi. Those wishing to learn more of the life of the saint and his noble origins should pay a visit to Castiglione delle Stiviere's Aloysius Museum.

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