eurovelo 8 in Italy Detour to Mantova and Sabbioneta

Published on:  | Last updated: 31 March 2017

Aerial view of Mantova. Picture by EdoM from Wikimedia Commons

Surrounded on three sides by water, Mantova is very pretty, even by Italian standards. It’s got more than its fair share of cultural riches (again, even by Italian standards), but it’s also just a really nice place to enjoy a meal or a drink and a ride around.

If you’re just heading into town to enjoy the atmosphere then head for the heart of the city around the Piazza dell’Erbe. Look out for the unusual Casa del Mercante (Merchant’s House).

Map

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Distances
Ostiglia - Mantova 41kms
Mantova - Sabbioneta 47kms
Sabbioneta - Casalmaggiore 7kms

If you’re up for a bit of sight­seeing then the two must-see sights in the city are the Palazzo Ducale and the Palazzo del Te. Both were homes to the Gonzaga family. Highlight of the Palazzo ducale (opening hours) is the Camera degli Sposi (also known as the camera picta) with its frescoes by the artist Andrea Mantegna.

The ceiling is the most famous of the frescoes but the walls celeb­rating the Gonzaga dynasty and the election of Francesco Gonzaga as a cardinal (at the grand age of 17) are equally vivid and glorious.

Part of the ceiling of the Camera Picta (Camera degli Sposi) by Andrea Mantegna. Palazzo Ducale, Mantova. Picture from the Web Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons

The other must-see in Mantova is the Palazzo del Te (opening hours and ticket prices. Although it’s only just outside the city it was built as country home for the Duke Francesco II where he lived with his mistress Isabella Boschetti. The villa and its frescoes was the work of artist and architect Giulio Romano It was also the site of his stables and some of the duke’s favourite horses are depicted, life size, on the walls. As well as the Sala dei Cavalli don’t miss the techni­colour spectacle of the Camera dei Giganti and the Camera di Amore e Psyche with frescoes that celebrate his love for Isabella.

If you’re wondering why there are only frescoes to see it’s because the rest of the Gonzaga’s art collection was sold off to raise money and carried off agents of the British king Charles I. These included the Triumphs of Caesar a series of nine large painting by Andrea Mantegna. According to the wikipedia article ‘together they form the world’s largest metric area of renais­sance paintings outside Italy’ (so there you go). You can see them in Hampton Court Palace near London.

There’s a high-quality video slideshow of the Palazzo del Te on youtube (credit: Marialba Italia):

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Sabbioneta

Sabbioneta, 47kms down the road from Mantova, forms part of the same UNESCO listing. Sabbioneta was a new Renaissance city built by Vespasiano Gonzago. According to Aldous Huxley:

“ Vespasiano seems to have been the typical Italian tyrant of his period — cultured, intel­ligent and only just so much of an ungov­ernably ferocious ruffian as one would expect a man to be who has been brought up in the possession of absolute power. ”

He continues:

“ He poisoned his first wife on a suspicion, probably unfounded, of her infidelity, murdered her supposed lover and exiled his relations. His second wife left him myster­i­ously after three years of married life and died of pure misery in a convent, carrying with her into the grave nobody knew what frightful secret. His third wife, it is true, lived to a ripe old age; but then Vespasiano himself died after only a few years of marriage. His only son, whom he loved with the anxious passion of the ambitious parvenu who desires to found a dynasty, one day annoyed him by not taking off his cap when he met him in the street. Vespasiano rebuked him for this lack of respect. The boy answered back imper­tin­ently. Whereupon Vespasiano gave him such a frightful kick in the groin that the boy died. ”

Aldous Huxley: Along the Road (1925)

When I visited the Palazzo Ducale the guide said that Vespasiano had actually locked his first wife in a cell with the dead body of her alleged lover and offered her the altern­ative of remaining locked in with the decaying body or taking poison. After several days she drank the poison.

As well as the Palazzo Ducale, Sabbioneta is known for the Teatro all’Antica by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi. Scamozzi was the pupil of, and assistant to, Andrea Palladio: overseeing the completion of some of Palladio’s greatest works.

Sabbioneta Teatro all'Antica - view of the theatre from the stage

Sabbioneta Teatro all'Antica - view of the theatre from the stage. Picture by 'asbruff" Source Wikimedia Commons

Take a few minutes to visit Sabbioneta’s synagogue - a gem tucked away on the upper floor a building in the corner of the main square (virtual visit and more inform­ation). Download a pdf brochure about the synagogue and Sabbioneta’s Jewish community  from moked.it.

Sabbioneta, in fact, has a singular – but often little known – history:  built in the 1500, according to the Rinascimental principles of “città ideale” (i.e. ideal city), it had been home to one of the most flour­ishing and best integ­rated Jewish communities.  The Jews, in fact, were always allowed to live and work freely in the city, where there was no ghetto.

More information

Places to stay

Campsites and hostels: there’s a campsite near Mantova ( details ) and a hostel. The Sabbioneta tourist inform­ation website has a useful list of hotels and other accom­mod­ation.

Resources

Cycling-related websites and resources

There’s a very helpful website promoting a cycle route between the Lago di Garda and the Adriatic: Dal Garda all’Adriatico (it/​en/​de). There’s a very useful guide available from tourist inform­ation offices in the Ferrara and Mantova areas. It’s also available as a pdf - download link for the English-language version .

Schematic map showing cycleways along the Po in the Mantova and Ferrara area, along twitch the connection to the Lago di Garda

Schematic map from the Dal Garda al Adriatico guide showing cycleways along the Po in the Mantova and Ferrara area, along twitch the connection to the Lago di Garda

General tourist information

Mantova's associ­ation of tourist guides also have a good website: guideturistichemantova.it (it/​en/​de/​fr).

Websites for Mantova's Palazzo del Te and Palazzo Ducale

Articles in this series

Giulio Romano: The Assembly of the Gods around Jupiter's Throne - Palazzo del Te, Mantova

Giulio Romano: The Assembly of the Gods around Jupiter's Throne - Palazzo del Te, Mantova. Source World Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons

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