While in Mantua, travelers will get the chance to experience the unique culture and history of the city through its vast sightseeing, amazing culinary experiences, and beautiful nature. The tight-knit, casual community of people in Mantua offers a sense of approachability to the city that helps offset the extravagance of the area’s stunning palaces and elegant cuisine.
FESTIVAL & EVENTS IN MANTUA
One of Mantua’s most exciting and well-known events is Festivaletteratura, an international literary festival held annually in September. It features numerous events that include readings by successful authors, including winners of the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes, as well as workshops and other literature-focused experiences.
Mantua also holds a popular music festival, called Mantova Music Festival, which features countless musical events including a concert at the famed Teatro Bibiena.
Other festivals held throughout Mantua include an architectural festival in the spring and a film festival held in August.
One of the most important historical events is Convivium Voluptatis, which is held in the town of Volta Mantovana. Taking place over several days in June, this Renaissance festival features historic reenactments, banquets, concerts, and theatrical performances. Each year focuses on a different theme such as theater or nautical discoveries.
The Mantuan landscape, characterized by its valley location between the Mincio and Po Rivers, lends itself to providing ample natural expanses that travelers can explore via foot, bicycle, or motorbike. The province of Mantua contains the Mincio Natural Park, perfect for a cycling trip. Another place for visitors to enjoy nature is Giaridini di Belfiore, located on the bank of Mantua’s largest lake, Lago Superiore.
Travelers can also enjoy a bike ride along paths that extend through the verdant countryside that surrounds Mantua.
For an outdoor experience not based in sporting activities, visitors can explore and walk the city’s unique piazze. In Piazza Sordello, the oldest square in Mantua, travelers can people watch and gaze upon the square’s unique architectural features, some of which date back to the thirteenth century. In Piazza delle Erbe, there is a fifteenth century clock tower as well as Mantua’s oldest church, the Rotonda di San Lorenzo. The Rotonda in particular is quite striking due to its unique rounded shape. In the Piazza Broletto, travelers can see the Palazzo del Podestà, a stunning thirteenth century palace that served as the town’s hall for centuries, as well as see evidence of the medieval Mantuan punishments.
An absolute must-see in Mantua is Palazzo Ducale, one of Mantua’s most famous palaces. It was once home to the Gonzaga family, one of Italy’s most wealthy and well-known Renaissance families and the rulers of Mantua during its prime. The palace is massive, featuring 500 rooms and spanning 35,000 square feet. In addition to the numerous buildings, courtyards, and gardens which comprise it, it is home to a fifteenth century fresco by Andrea Mantegna and other impressive works of art.
Another palace worth visiting, Palazzo Te, also features beautiful artwork in the form of frescoes and spectacularly decorated rooms. Built in the early 1500s by Giulio Romano, the palace was a summer home and secret retreat for Federico II Gonzaga and his mistress. After exploring the beautiful interior, be sure to take some time to unwind in the verdant garden area that surrounds the palace.
Visitors can also visit the Palazzo d’Arco, featuring a museum and art gallery, or Palazzo Valenti, a palace indicative of classic Baroque architecture.
One of Mantua’s most unique indoor experiences is taking in a show at the iconic Teatro Bibiena (Bibiena Theater). Also known by the name Teatro Scientifico, this theater was constructed in the late 1700s by Antonio Bibiena. It features luxurious velvet seats, ornate interior design details, and was once the location of a concert played by Mozart when he was only 14 years old. If travelers cannot fit a show into their schedule, they can take a tour of the theater during the day.
For art lovers, visit the Museo Diocesano Francesco Gonzaga, a permanent collection of unique artworks, including pottery and paintings from centuries past to modern times. In addition, there are artifacts such as armor, coins, tapestries and more. Among the beautiful paintings exhibited here are works by Andrea Mantegna and Antonio da Correggio.
Of course, there are always a variety of bars and restaurants at which travelers can take a break and enjoy the local cuisine – a signature aspect of Mantuan culture. Local delis serve up traditional cured meats, bars offer aperitivi and snacks, and restaurants dish up stuffed pasta, stews, risotto, and locally caught seafood.
Art and history lovers may wish to stop by Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna’s former house. Constructed in 1476, as indicated by the cornerstone inscription still visible to this day, the house was eventually sold to Francesco Gonzaga in 1502. The structure is particularly interesting due to its shape, which features a square building surrounding a circular courtyard.
SHOPPING IN MANTUA
Throughout the city, travelers will find streets lined with shops, offering everything from handbags to clothes to jewelry. In the older parts of town specifically, visitors can find local, handmade products and souvenirs that are reflective of the local culture and history. Many food shops throughout the city offer local products such as cheese, olive oil, and wine. Mantua is also home to an outlet center called the Mantua Outlet Village. There one can find a wide selection of shops from famous brands.
FAMILIES & KIDS
As a city with a rich history, particularly during the medieval and Renaissance periods, Mantua offers plenty of interesting sights for families with children of all ages to discover.
Naturally, the historic castles of Mantua provide a perfect starting point. For centuries, the Mincio River served as one of Northern Italy’s most important borders, leading to the construction of numerous castles and defensive structures along the river. Among the most significant is the Castle of San Giorgio, which was once the home of Isabella d’Este. The square-shaped castle was completed at the beginning of the fifteenth century and features a tower at each corner plus a moat with three drawbridges. In its heyday, the castle welcomed many illustrious guests including Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Mantegna, and Federico Ariosto.
Just outside of Mantua, travelers can also visit the Fortress of Solferino. Dating back to the eleventh century, this remarkable fortress sits atop the highest point in the surrounding area and offers remarkable views of Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake.
Additionally, the aforementioned Museo Diocesano Francesco Gonzaga houses an impressive collection of original fifteenth century armor, once worn by brave knights, that is unlike any other in the world.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN MANTUA ITALY
A unique spiritual site to visit is the Basilica of Sant’Andrea, home to gold vessels that contain Earth said to have been soaked by the blood of Jesus Christ from his crucifixion. This beautiful Renaissance church also features the tomb of Andrea Mantegna, a painting by the artist, and frescoes by other artists such as Antonio da Correggio.
Another unique church located in Mantua is the Church of Santa Paola. This fifteenth-century Gothic style church is notable because it houses the tombs of six important members of the powerful Gonzaga family.
The famous Lovers of Valdaro were discovered near Mantua in 2007. Inside a Neolithic tomb, archeologists found a pair of prehistoric skeletons, one male and one female, that appear to have died facing each other while in an embrace. This incredibly rare find has captivated people all over the world and brings to mind a Neolithic version of Romeo and Juliet.
Mantua is also known for its beautiful lotus flowers, which have earned the city the nickname, “città dei fiori di loto” or “city of the lotus flowers.” After Japan, Mantua is considered to have the vastest extension of lotus flowers in the world. In fact, between July and August the waters of Lago Superiore come alive with countless lotus flowers in a variety of colors including yellow, pink, red, and white.
Mantua’s last claim to fame is that the local newspaper, La Gazzetta di Mantova, is the oldest newspaper in Italy. Curious travelers can visit the museum dedicated to the newspaper, which traces its 350-year history. The oldest surviving copy of La Gazzetta di Mantova is from November 27, 1665.
Mantua is among the most unique Italian cities outside of the typical traveler routes. Any vacation to Northern Italy will benefit from a stop in Mantua to learn about the influence of the Gonzaga family and admire the bountiful art and architecture created under their long reign.