The ten unmissable sights

By Mantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

A city that blossomed from the banks of the lakes that once surrounded it completely and that still serve as its backdrop today. A city sung of by Virgil, who was born nearby: "I shall raise a temple of marble on that green plain". A city that preserves the oldest of Christian relics: the blood of Christ, that stained the lance of Longinus. A free medieval city that rose up in spite of the dominion of Matilda of Tuscany. A marvel of renaissance Italy with the Ducal Palace of the Gonzaga family and Andrea Mantegna's frescoed bridal chamber at its heart. A 16th and 17th century court that amassed countless works of art, while music and theatre took centre stage for unique moments of spectacle. Finally, a city that is home to treasures brought about by the expertise of different eras and manifold cultures. It is the Theresan Library, the National Archives and ultimately the rooms of the many museums open to the public that, together with the Literature Festival, stand as testament to the decision to designate Mantua as the Italian Capital of Culture 2016.

Ducale Palace (1328) by SconosciutiMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Ducal Palace

On account of its size, with more than 900 rooms in total, and for its masterpieces, the Ducal Palace of Mantua is a building like no other in Europe. It boasts untold artistic riches: the Camera degli sposi, featuring fresco paintings by Andrea Mantegna, Pisanello's frescoes of courtly life, Flemish tapestries from cartoons by Raphael, an altarpiece by Rubens, paintings by Domenico Fetti, a collection of 14th century artworks, as well as the beautiful wooden inlays and frescoes - ranging from the age of the Renaissance to the 18th century - that adorn the studiolo of Isabelle d'Este. Gardens, internal courtyards, decorative elements, the Temple of Santa Barbara, the view of the lakes. A complex that burst to fruition as soon as the Gonzaga family seized power and that was constantly developed, with renovations of the oldest buildings, until the age of the Empress Maria Theresa. It is worth visiting on your own and merits at least a day.

Sant'Andrea Cathedral (1472) by Leon Battista AlbertiMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Basilica of Sant'Andrea

The ultimate expression of the architectural and artistic genius of Leon Battista Alberti, the Basilica of Sant'Andrea boasts a truly unique facade, for which Alberti's design, started in 1472, brings together the styles of antiquity in a paean of human intelligence. Many centuries elapsed before the church was constructed. Gradually the imposing nave, the transept and the apse - all of which are now adorned with 18th and 19th centuries frescoes - were completed, while the centrepiece, Filippo Juvarra's immense cupola, was designed in 1733.The basilica includes a funerary chapel for Andrea Mantegna, housing some the artist's own paintings alongside work by a young Correggio. It is home to the Sacred Vessels that contain the relic of the blood of Christ. There are also some interesting paintings by Lorenzo Costa the Elder, Fermo Ghisoni and Giovanni Battista Caccioli, together with some carved tombs of note. Visiting the Basilica of Sant'Andrea means losing yourself in a myriad of art - a veritable labyrinth that encapsulates and showcases the genius of Alberti.

Te Palace (1524) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Te Palace

Once upon a time it was an island, suspended on the banks of Mantua's fourth lake. It was here that from 1524 onwards, Giulio Romano helped to achieve the dream of his patron and friend, Duke Federico Gonzaga: to build a villa away from the city that would serve as a place of meditation and play host to festivities, recreation and diplomatic meetings. This Palazzo is Romano's masterpiece, not just for its architectural design, but also for the frescoes - foremost examples of early Mannerism - that adorn many of the rooms.The favourite pupil of Raphael, Romano's vision was to embellish the walls with figures from classical mythology and roman history or, in a more modern twist, paintings showing the magnificent qualities of the Gonzaga family's horses. The infinite variation of the motifs that characterises both the architecture and the paintings produces unique artistic riches, ranging from elements of absolute harmony to apparent disorder, such as the banquet of Cupid and Psyche or the tumultuous fall of the Giants trying in vain to reach the heavens. 

San Sebastiano's Temple and Museum (1460) by Leon Battista AlbertiMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Church of San Sebastiano

Set on the Cammino del Principe, the "Pathway of the Prince", the Church of San Sebastiano is yet another work that, although never completed, stands as testament to the genius of Leon Battista Alberti. Begun in 1460 and partially completed by Luca Fancelli, the church boasts a classical façade with a brick interior in the shape of a Greek cross that dazzles for its perfect size. Despite numerous restorations, some of which were ill-fated, the church retains great charm, which in unimpeded by the fact that it became a memorial chapel, or Famedio, for Italy's fallen soldiers.Just a short walk away, the old Palace of San Sebastiano, built between 1506-1508 at the behest of Francesco I, the nephew of Ludovico Gonzaga, is now home to the City Museum of Mantua. The museum includes works that describe the history of Mantua, some interesting renaissance paintings and a prestigious sculpture collection. Visitors will be amazed by some of the Greek and Roman finds, but above all by the genius of some great artists. A dazzling journey into the past.

Cathedral (1545) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso


The roots of Mantua Cathedral date can be traced back to many centuries ago, when the early Christian churches of St. Paul and St. Peter stood in the heart of the old city - then the highest area of Mantua - not far from where Piazza Sordello is situated today. The Church of St. Peter underwent numerous changes over the centuries. It was first a Romanesque church, then a Gothic church, and later rebuilt by Giulio Romano. During the twilight years of his life, Romano transformed the interior, designing a majestic nave and aisles that bear considerable architectural resemblance to Roman basilicas and to the original St. Peter's in Rome. This captivating building was completed with a façade in the 18th century, thereby concealing the late Gothic exterior built by the Venetian brothers Jacobello and Pierpaolo dalle Masegne. The interior houses numerous works of art: a sarcophagus from the 4th century A.D., frescoes and paintings by Antonio Maria Viani, decorative elements by Ippolito Andreasi, paintings by Brusasorci and Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli, tombstones and ancient statues, two magnificent chapels and pictorial fragments from the Gothic and Renaissance periods.

San Lorenzo's Rotonda (1000)Mantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Rotonda of San Lorenzo

An outstanding medieval religious building and believed to be connected with the stations of the pilgrimage for the Blood of Christ, the Rotonda of San Lorenzo was unearthed once more during the era of Canossa rule. In 1048, the mother of Matilda of Canossa, Beatrice di Lorena, decided to follow the advice of a blind mendicant, who showed her the spot where she should bring the precious relic to life once more. Although the exact date of construction is still a matter of some debate, it is safe to assume that the Rotonda was build in the 11th century. It fell into disuse during the time of Guglielmo Gonzaga and was gradually covered up by other buildings before it was rediscovered again in the 20th century. Despite numerous restorations, this splendid edifice stands slightly beneath the surrounding streets and piazzas. In addition to some interesting 12th century frescoes, the interior features a women's gallery and a semi-circular apse. With its purpose as a place of worship and building of historical interest restored, it is open to the public and looked after by the Association for Dominican Monuments.

Diocesano Museum (1795) by Paolo PozzoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Diocesan Museum

Situated in Piazza Virgiliana, the Diocesan Museum was opened in 1983 and partly comprises the old Augustinian monastery of St. Agnes. It is dedicated to the Bishop Francesco Gonzaga. Its fine neo-classical façade, completed in 1795, is the work of the brilliant Veronese architect Paolo Pozzo. It houses some magnificent collections, primarily sacred art. The most illustrious of these include: a substantial number of 18th century paintings by Giuseppe Bazzani, a collection of splendid objects from the treasures of the Cathedral and Basilica of St. Barbara, including the famous missal of Barbara of Brandenburg (illuminated from 1442) and lavish Reliquary of the True Cross (produced in Lombardy in the 16th century). There is also a unique and complete display of 15th century armour carried from the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie, three Flemish tapestries and other tapestries woven in Paris in the late 16th century, a collection of works by prestigious artists including Andrea Mantegna, Correggio, Domenico Fetti and Benedetto Pagni, a set of Renaissance ceramics from Mantua and some ivory and enamel artefacts from Limoges. A visit to these rooms, which are dotted around the monastery's large cloister, is highly recommended.

Palazzo D'Arco Museum (1784) by Antonio ColonnaMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Museum of Palazzo D'Arco

The noble D'Arco family of Trento settled in Mantua in 1740. With the help of the architect Antonio Colonna, in 1784 Count Giovanni Battista Gherardo decided to renovate the palace that he acquired on Piazza D'Arco in a neo-classical style. The family later went on to expand their property, acquiring the garden behind the palace and a 16th century building featuring a room with frescoes by Giovanni Maria Falconetto. In many of these paintings, the signs of the zodiac are combined with ancient mythology and works of man. It was the last member of the family line, Giovanna, who set up the foundation that manages the palace and its collections. There is a lavish art gallery, including paintings by Lorenzo Costa the Elder and Younger, Giuseppe Bazzani, Boccaccino, Magnasco, Lotto, Tintoretto, Van Dyck and many others. Furthermore, the extensive library houses collections of books on natural history and musical instruments. Everything is housed in rooms from the 18th and 19th century, while the magnificent old kitchen boasts an impressive array of copper pots.

Bibiena Theatre (1775) by Antonio Galli da BibienaMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

Bibiena Theatre

Opened by a young Mozart on 16 January 1770, the Theatre, designed in a late baroque style by Antonio Galli da Bibiena, was a complete overhaul of a 16th century palace which at the time was home to a number of Academies. Indeed, the magnificent bell-shaped hall, consisting of several rows of boxes and adorned with paintings and statues, was initially designed as the Great Hall of the Accademia dei Timida, but musical performances took place there immediately instead. The neoclassical façade was built later, following a design by the Veronese architect Paolo Pozzo. The building was then completed in 1775. The extraordinary soundbox still dazzles today for the variety of its forms, which, together with the numerous melodic chamber music performances, captivate the audience.

Rio and Pescherie (1536) by Giulio RomanoMantova Museo Urbano Diffuso

River and Fish Markets

The Rio Mantovano is an artificial canal constructed in the Middle Ages to balance out the uneven water levels of the lakes. Today it is partially covered, but its free-flowing waters remain an intrinsic part of the image of the city - a city surrounded by water - and of the lives of its inhabitants. One of the most striking points on the river is the site of the fish markets, designed by Giulio Romano. While they have been restyled many times over the years, they still bear the hallmarks of his mannerist style. The same area of the city features an imposing Gothic bell tower - the sole remaining part of the church and monastery of San Domenico. In 2016, the local authorities decided to renovate the area, restoring the Butcher's shops below and refitting the lighting systems.This area is more suited than ever to visits by locals and tourists alike, who can discover yet more treasures of Virgil's city. There is Mantegna's House, the Tazio Nuvolari Museum, the Firefighters Museum, the Archaeological Museum, the Astronomical Clock and so many other countless riches, all of which combine to make Mantua the city of museums around every corner.

Credits: Story

Ideato e promosso da / Founded and Promoted by:
Mattia Palazzi (Sindaco del Comune di Mantova)
con Lorenza Baroncelli (Assessore alla rigenerazione urbana e del territorio, marketing urbano, progetti e relazioni internazionali del Comune di Mantova)

Coordinamento Scientifico / Scientific Coordinator:
Sebastiano Sali

Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images:
Giovanni Pasetti

Foto di / Photo by:
Nathàlia Bariani
Gian Maria Pontiroli
Alessia Lodi Rizzini

Redazione / Editors:
Erica Beccalossi
Sara Crimella
Carlotta Depalmas
Veronica Zirelli

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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Mantua Italian Capital of Culture 2016
A showcase of Mantua's finest cultural treasures. From ancient monuments to contemporary art, be inspired by the wonders of this incredible City.
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