Hello my dear readers,
Since Monday we have discovered the pumpkin, it is virtually impossible not to identify the pumpkin with Mantua or Mantova in Italy. The territory of the Lombard province is, in fact, one of the areas of greatest production of the colorful veggie of autumn which, at the end of October, becomes the undisputed protagonist not only of the kitchen but also of the Halloween party.
Maybe only a few know it, but Mantua is a city built around three lakes fed by the Mincio river. This makes it a true city of water in the middle of the Po Valley, with an extraordinary urban landscape, especially when viewed from the San Giorgio Bridge. Perhaps this is the best way to start the visit of the Lombard city, and then slowly approach the beauties of this jewel of Italian art and architecture.
To reach Mantua, in addition to trains, buses, or even boats that cross the Mincio river, you can also count on the various nearby airports, such as Verona, Brescia, Parma and Bergamo.
Palazzo Ducale or Ducal Palace is the main monument of the city as it was the official residence of the Gonzaga family, and by visiting it you will admire the splendid frescoes by Mantegna and Pisanello.
What for many is a Palace of equal dignity to those in Paris, Vienna or Caserta, Ducal Palace is the result of the sixteenth-century fusion of several buildings arranged between the Lower Lake and Piazza Sordello. The original core is the Palazzo del Capitano and the Magna Domus built by the Bonacolsi family. With the arrival of the Gonzagas these buildings were integrated with new buildings, until they formed the Old Court.
Later the Castle of San Giorgio is added to the Old Court, the Domus Nova has been built and the Ducal Palace takes on the definitive aspect it has today. Unfortunately, from the sumptuousness of the interior remains very little: with the end of family fortunes, the Gonzagas were forced to sell art works and furnishings.
Contrary to what some may think, the name of Palazzo Te does not derive from the famous drink but more probably from the name of an island, called Teieto, not far from the larger one and on which Mantua was built.
In the early 1500s Francesco Gonzaga had a small manor house and stables built to enjoy the tranquility of the island. It was only in 1524, when Federico II Gonzaga became enthusiastic about a project by Giulio Romano, which began the construction of the Palazzo Te as we see it today.
Romano had been Raphael’s best pupil and as Vasari wrote, he was an artist who designed “not homes for people, but houses for Gods”.
The Palace is obviously splendid: from the facades, to the infinite rooms that follow one another in an amazing sequence of symbols and references to the life of the Gonzagas and the politics of the time. The artistic peak is reached in the Chamber of the Giants, a pictorial cycle that for a long time has been unparalleled for technical skill and innovative ability. The fresco represent the moment when Jupiter punishes the giants for their attempt to replace the gods. Giulio Romano manages to catapult the observer into the center of the battle, thanks to a perspective technique obtained by painting the entire wall, from floor to ceiling. To not be missed.
In the Castle of San Giorgio you can see the most important work of art in Mantua: the camera picta or Camera degli Sposi painted by Mantegna from 1465 to 1474.
Thanks to a clever division of space and the exceptional use of perspective, Mantegna manages to transform the walls into a space where the characters of the Gonzaga family come into play.
According to tradition, in the Church of Sant ‘Andrea, is guarded the earth with the blood of Christ, that Longinus, the Roman centurion who pierced his side, gathered at the foot of the Cross.
It is the Holy Grail, therefore, that Longinus at his death (37 AD) buried to prevent it from being lost. For about 800 years the traces were lost and it was Sant’Andrea who indicated where to find the first urn. With this discovery, Mantua becomes a bishopric and a small church is built in honor of the Apostle Andrew. In 1048 the second finding of the relic and bones of St. Longinus takes place, to which a chapel is dedicated. The church was finally restored definitively starting from 1472, on a project by Leon Battista Alberti, even if the death of the artist and the subsequent upheavals have altered the Renaissance layout. The crypt preserves, with a sophisticated 12-key mechanism, the relics that are taken out only on Good Friday.
The largest and most important square in Mantua is dedicated to the poet Sordello but for centuries it has been called Piazza San Pietro. A small jewel of harmony, Piazza Sordello is the place where Mantova was founded and where the beauty of the Lombard city finds its best synthesis.
As it happens for many Venetian and Lombard cities, even in Mantua the name of Piazza delle Erbe indicates the centuries-old function of a commercial place of the city, in particular of the fruit and vegetable market.
Today there are the shops under the arcades, the tables of the bars and those of the restaurants to characterize the commercial and tourist heart of Mantua.
In 2008, UNESCO decided to declare Mantua a World Heritage Site.
The best time to visit Mantua is from March to September, excluding July and August because of the too hot and humid heat.
City of art but also economic center in the heart of the Po Valley, Mantua has a good accommodation capacity. Easier to find a place at a good price during winter and autumn, you need to book in advance if you want to visit the city in spring or summer.
Prices are average, starting from 70 euros a night for a good 3-star hotel in the historic center. For hotels situated a little more distant from the center you can also find rooms starting from 40 euros per night in a double, breakfast included.
Mantuan cuisine is characterized by earth ingredients and meat.
We are at the center of the Po Valley, whose fertility has been used by Mantuans mainly to cultivate pumpkins that we find in many dishes, from the famous tortelli to desserts. From Mantua to Veneto there are kilometers of rice paddies where the famous “Vialone Nano” is cultivated, which finds its highest expression in the “Risotto alla pilota“, a risotto seasoned with pork salami.
Among the first dishes to not be missed are also the bigoli, all the fresh pasta with egg, the agnolini (similar to tortellini). We are in the land of Lambrusco, Parmesan, Grana and mustards, which are always present at the table. Among the second dishes, braised meat, stewed beef, mixed boiled meat and cotechino reign. The dessert par excellence is sbrisolona, a delicate almond cake.
Mantua, a city of art, great architecture and delicious food as always.
Thank you all for reading!
Join me next time and I’ll share with you one of my favorite ways of eating pumpkin.
And if you enjoy traveling as much as I do, you may visit my other posts and discover our world one step at the time.
Photo credit: Google Images & Pixabay, edited by Popsicle Society