Published on: 25 May 2014 | Last updated: 31 March 2017
Surrounded on three sides by water, Mantova is very pretty, even by Italian standards. Itâs got more than its fair share of cultural riches (again, even by Italian standards), but itâs also just a really nice place to enjoy a meal or a drink and a ride around.
If youâre just heading into town to enjoy the atmosphere then head for the heart of the city around the Piazza dellâErbe. Look out for the unusual Casa del Mercante (Merchantâs House).
|Ostiglia - Mantova||41kms|
|Mantova - Sabbioneta||47kms|
|Sabbioneta - Casalmaggiore||7kms|
If youâre 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.
The other must-see in Mantova is the Palazzo del Te (opening hours and ticket prices. Although itâs 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 dukeâs favourite horses are depicted, life size, on the walls. As well as the Sala dei Cavalli donât 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 youâre wondering why there are only frescoes to see itâs because the rest of the Gonzagaâs 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 âtogether they form the world’s largest metric area of renaissance paintings outside Italyâ (so there you go). You can see them in Hampton Court Palace near London.
Thereâs a high-quality video slideshow of the Palazzo del Te on youtube (credit: Marialba Italia):
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 periodâcultured, 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 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 allâAntica by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi. Scamozzi was the pupil of, and assistant to, Andrea Palladio: overseeing the completion of some of Palladioâs greatest works.
Take a few minutes to visit Sabbionetaâs 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 Sabbionetaâs Jewish communityÂ from moked.it.
Sabbioneta, in fact, has a singular â but often little known â history: Â built in the 1500, according to theÂ Rinascimental principles of âcittÃ idealeâ (i.e. ideal city), it had been home to one of the most flourishing and best integrated Jewish communities. Â The Jews, in fact,Â were always allowed to live and work freely in the city, where there was no ghetto.
Places to stay
Campsites and hostels: thereâs a campsite near Mantova ( details ) and a hostel. The Sabbioneta tourist information website has a useful list of hotels and other accommodation.
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 versionÂ .
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
- eurovelo 8 in Italy: Overview
- eurovelo 8 in Italy: Part 1: Trieste to Venezia and the Po delta
- eurovelo 8 in Italy: Part 2: Along the Po
- eurovelo 8 in Italy: Part 3: Torino to Cuneo and the Col de Tende
- eurovelo 8 in Italy: detour to Mantova and Sabbioneta
- eurovelo 8 in Italy: Planning your route: books, maps and GPS tracks