Mantua or Mantova, known locally as la bella addormentata, the sleeping beauty, because it is generally free of tour buses. Tourists are generally not aware this ancient city, untouched by urban development, has changed very little since the middle ages. It is considered the Gem of the Renaissance.
The city is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes, the Upper, Middle and Lower lakes respectively. These lakes were created during the 12th century as the city’s defense system. Originally there was a fourth lake, but it dried up at the end of the 18th century.
Two Places of Interest
The Palazzo Ducale Mantova is not a mere palace but a city within a city, is the largest resident in Italy after the Vatican. 400 years ago it was the home of the Gonzaga family, the dukes of Mantua, who ruled until 1707. The palace covering 34,000 sq. meters holds 500 rooms, many courtyards, staircases, gardens, chapels and frescoes. The family made Mantua one of the main artistic, cultural and musical hubs of Northern Italy and the entire country itself.
Basilica of Sant’Andrea: The church was begun in 1462 and was finished 328 years later. It is one of the major works of the 15th centry Renaissance architecture. It was designed by Leon Battista Albert on a site that was occupied by a Benedictine monastery.
Romeo and Juliet
Mantua has been made famous by Shakespears’s play Romeo and 13 year old Juliet. The play takes place over the course of four short days, from Verona to Mantua back to Verona. Romeo was banished to Mantua under the penalty of death for killing a man but when he receives news of Juliet’s death, he buys poison and returns to Verona. Unaware that Juliet is in fact alive, but just asleep, Romeo takes the poison and dies. When Juliet awakes, she see that Romeo is dead, she stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger.
People of Mantua are proud of their cuisine, which is based on simple prepared with care. Some of the local specialties include bigoli con le sardelle, pasta with sardines, straccotto d’asino, a rich stew of donkey meat simmered for eight hours, tortelli di zucca, pumpkin ravioli and salame con l’aglio, garlic sausage. Their famous bread is made from a 90-year old starter.
On October 27th, 2015, the Italian Government named Mantua the Italian Capital of Culture for 2016.