Mantova – The historic Center (Yellow path)

mantua cover small
Mantova Map

This itinerary starts from Piazza Sordello which, together with its surroundings, constituted the ancient town, founded upon what was the original island and is still today the heart of the city.

The piazza, dedicated to Mantuan poet Sordello da Goito, mentioned by Dante in the 6th canto of the Purgatorio, was created over the course of the 14th century; it was the center of the religious and political scene, where first the Bonacolsi and then the Gonzaga family built their imposing palaces.

It is rectangular in shape, with the Cathedral standing on the north side.

On the east side, to the right looking at the Cathedral, the square is dominated by the two porticoed buildings which make up the facade of the Ducal Palace complex: the Magna Domus and the Palazzo del Capitano.

San Giorgio Castle
San Giorgio Castle

Not far beyond stands the Castello di San Giorgio, built by Francesco Gonzaga, around the end of the 14th century in order to extend the palace and defend it with a strong bulwark. The building is an imposing fortress built in brickwork on a square plan, with four massive towers at the corners and a moat all around.
Returning to the piazza, opposite the Ducal Palace stands the Bishop’s Palace and several adjoining historic family mansions: the Uberti Palace, the Castiglioni Palace and the Acerbi Palace.

The Bishop’s Palace was built between 1776 and 1786 and belonged to the Marchesi Bianchi family who lived in it until 1823 when it was turned into the bishop’s seat. On the facade, two impressive telamons at the sides of the entrance support a marble balcony.

At the corner with vicolo Bonacolsi, stands the late gothic Uberti Palace, built by a Mantuan branch of the Florentine family from which it takes its name. Traces of the original 13th century structures are still visible, partly walled up during later reconstructions, especially the windows facing vicolo Bonacolsi.

Next is Castiglioni Palace, otherwise known as Bonacolsi Palace, as it was believed to be the home of the Bonacolsi family, built by Pinamonte in 1281; it was more likely built by Luigi Gonzaga after he took over the town, in around 1340. Since 1808 it has been property of the Castiglione family, descendants of the famous Baldassare, author of Il Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier). The vast facade in brickwork is crowned by Ghibelline merlons; on the upper floor are three-mullioned windows in terracotta and white marble. On the lower floor is a series of single lancet windows, nowadays almost all bricked-in. On the ground floor to the far left side, the original entrance, topped by a pointed arch, bears the Bonacolsi family coat of arms. The present entrance door and the balcony are 18th century additions. The tower facing vicolo Bonacolsi is also part of this complex.

Torre della Gabbia
Tower of the Cage

Next to the Castiglioni Palace, stands the Acerbi Palace, one of the Bonacolsi family mansions, with the adjoining Tower of the Cage, the tallest tower in town. It gained this name in 1576 when Guglielmo Gonzaga had an iron cage placed on it which was used to imprison criminals.

A few meters from the Cathedral, along via Cairoli, stands the Seminary. Its neo-classical facade was built in 1825 from designs by Giovan Battista Vergani.

Walking along via Cairoli, one reaches Piazza Virgiliana. The piazza was once an inlet of the Lago di Mezzo (Middle Lake), filled in between the mid 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. The square was created from a project by Paolo Pozzo and dedicated to Virgil. The Neo-classical look still remains in a few of the buildings around it although it was radically altered when it became a park during the Thirties. The Virgil monument was inaugurated in 1927: it was designed by architect Luca Beltrami, the bronze statue of Virgil is by Emilio Quadrelli, while the marble sculptures at the sides are by Giuseppe Mengozzi.

From via Cairoli, going left, is the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art “Francesco Gonzaga”, where precious works of art dating back to the time of the Gonzaga family are on display; not to be missed are the suits of armor, once housed at the Sanctuary of Santa Maria delle Grazie, made by the famous Missaglia armorists.

Mantova Porticos
Renaissance Porticos

The itinerary continues to Piazza Broletto, walking past the Voltone di San Pietro, the archway of the old town gate.

Once past it, the Renaissance porticos begin, supported by columns with capitals of different periods and coming from different places. At this point, one reaches Piazza Broletto, created at the end of the 12th century when the town was extended beyond the first set of walls.

The square is dominated by buildings dating back to the time of the Commune, such as the Palazzo del Podesta’. It was built in 1227, as an inscription on the facade explains, as seat of the town government, which was ruled by the Podesta’. The building was partially destroyed by several fires and was later rebuilt, with many alterations. The internal courtyard, reached by walking through the Sottoportico dei Lattonai has a charming late Gothic staircase that leads to the upper floor.

On the facade facing piazza Broletto the Edicola di Virgilio can be seen; according to tradition the statue set in the niche represents the poet Virgil seated on an academic’s chair and dressed as a medieval doctor with the typical cap.

To the left stands the vast round arch of the Arengario, built around 1300 to connect the Palazzo del Podesta’ to the Masseria, where once all financial transactions took place. Above the arch are two elegant three-mullioned windows and a loggetta. From there the rulings of the Commune magistrates were announced to the people. Under the vast arch, four iron rings are still visible which served to hang the ropes used for those condemned to receive “squassi di corda” (the torture of being shaken on ropes).

Palazzo della Ragione
Palazzo della Ragione
Continuing along the porticos one reaches Piazza Erbe, so-called because it is here that the vegetable and fruit market takes place. It is dominated by the Palazzo della Ragione and the adjoining Clock Tower. The tower was built in 1472 from a design by Luca Fancelli; in 1573 the astrological and astronomical clock created by Bartolomeo Manfredi was added to the tower; in the niche under the clock, there is a statue of the Immaculate Conception dated 1639.

Next to the tower rises the Rotonda di San Lorenzo, the oldest church in town.

Behind the Rotonda, is Piazza Concordia. To the left, in via Spagnoli, is the Chamber of Commerce, an interesting building in Liberty style designed by the Mantuan architect Aldo Andreani at the beginning of the 20th century.

Returning to Piazza Erbe, to the right on the south side, one can see the Casa di Boniforte (so-called House of the Merchant), as it was built in 1455 by a wealthy merchant – Giovanni Boniforte da Concorezzo; the building has an exceptional facade with an interesting mix of various ornamental motifs; the small portico is supported by Corinthian columns. Adjoining the house is the Torre del Salaro, built in the 13th century and later used as a deposit for salt.

Adjacent to Piazza Erbe is Piazza Mantegna, dominated by the solemn facade of the Basilica di Sant’Andrea. It is the largest church in town, worthy of a visit as it houses important works of art.

Where to stay in Mantua

There are hotels, apartments, B&Bs and guesthouses available, check it out and make a reservation here.