Mantova

Palazzo Te

Palazzo Te

Another historical and cultural gem is the Lombard city of Mantova, former home of the Dukes of Gonzaga. This amazing family ruled Mantova for nearly 400 years, and contributed at least one Saint, a couple of Holy Roman Empresses, several French Dukes, and a Polish Queen Consort. During the Renaissance the Gonzaga were among the most important patrons of the arts in Italy, including opera and music in general.

The legacy of the Dukes of Mantova is most apparent today in the Palazzo Ducale, an architectural complex comprising several buildings connected by various corridors and galleries, and including internal gardens and courtyards. In the Palazzo Ducale one finds the famous Camera degli Sposi (Chamber of the Newlyweds), with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, dedicated to Ludovico Gonzaga and to his wife Barbara of Brandenburg. Another must-see in Mantova is Palazzo Te, designed by Giulio Romano in 1525 at the behest of Federico II Gonzaga. This palace, home to Federico’s “official” lover Isabella Boschetti, was built on a small wooded island in the midst of a lake since vanished. It contains the famous Sala dei Giganti, the Sala di Amore and Psyche, and the Sala dei Cavalli (the Gonzaga horse stables were famous all over Europe at that time.) Of course the city contains many more buildings of note, both secular and religious (more about Mantova) The immense Piazza Sordello, bounded on one side by the Palazzo Ducale, is the center of the old city, reached immediately by crossing one of the bridges spanning the Mincio. Palazzo Te is at the other end of the city, presumably to keep wife and official lover as far apart as possible.

Mantova’s physical location is interesting. Sitting on the Mincio, a tributary of the Po river, it was since pre-Gonzaga days surrounded by water. This was accomplished by creating four artificial lakes around the city, for defensive purposes. Since that time one of the lakes has been eliminated, but the other three are still there, with the result that Mantova occupies a little peninsula, much like San Francisco.

The most famous self-proclaimed Mantovano is of course Virgilio, the greatest of Roman poets, author of the Aeneid, and a contemporary of Caesar, Augustus, and that whole bunch. Mantova is very proud of her illustrious son, and often honors him with exhibits, conferences, and the like. In the Aeneid Virgil gives an interesting mythical account of the founding of Mantua, which we will leave for another post.

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