Italy has more than its share of World Heritage Sites. it’s easy to understand why, as this nation gave rise to the Roman Empire and the Renaissance Era. But within the country, some regions and cities have more of this heritage to offer than others.
Mantua is one of those places. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it contains so many buildings and sites of global cultural significance. Take your time here – there are enough palaces, museums, and galleries to last you a week – or longer.
There are many sights to see in Mantua, but we advise starting with Palazzo Ducale di Mantova. Starting in the 14th century, city nobles commissioned this impressive complex of Renaissance-era buildings. For over three centuries, they lived lavishly within their walls.
In its 34,000 square metres, this palace contains over 500 rooms, eight courtyards, and seven gardens. During your visit, do not miss the Camera del Sposi, as this stunning fresco will have you spellbound.
Next, make your way to Palazzo Te. Now, unlike Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo Te is not in the centre of Mantua. The Gonzaga family, desiring a palace of leisure, built this mannerist masterpiece out in the countryside. Today, this palace resides in the suburban sprawl of Mantua, but its glory remains.
Giulio Romano, famed architect and protege of Raphael, was the brilliant mind behind Palazzo Te. Throughout your visit, its soaring arches, impressive facade, and detailed frescoes will have you gasping in awe. Do note that this attraction’s curators charge an admission of 8 EUR. To make the most of your visit, be sure to pick up an audio guide at reception.
Travellers that enjoy visiting churches will not want to miss Basilica di Sant’Andrea di Mantova. Ground broke on this Renaissance cathedral/basilica in the 15th century, but it took more than three centuries to complete.
The wait was worth it, though, as its breathtaking dome and interior is a fitting tribute to architect Leon Battista Alberti. Before leaving, don’t miss its trademark relic – a vessel that reputedly contains the blood of Jesus Christ.
Lastly, tour or take in a show at Teatro Bibiena. During its life, this theatre has hosted greats like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. His father was agape at this building’s brilliance – we’re confident you’ll agree.
In the mood to take in some amazing art? Make time in your Mantua schedule to see the Palazzo D’Arco. The building takes its name from the family that owned it. Starting in the 12th century, it served as a residence for these nobles.
After its bombardment in WWII, it was refurbished. Decades later, the D’Arcos gave over the palace to the city for use as a museum. Today, visitors can take in scores of Italian paintings, frescoes, and priceless ceramics.
Note that you cannot roam freely – you must have the accompaniment of a guide. Bring a friend that knows Italian, as most house guides do not speak English.
If you are in the mood to see another church, drop by the Rotonda di San Lorenzo. This holy place is easily the oldest in Mantua, as its builders completed it in the 11th century. As such, this church is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Northern Italy.
Inside, you’ll find excellent frescoes decorating its walls and spectacular pillars. However, those hoping to take in a service here are out of luck – the church deconsecrated this place in the early 20th century.
Up for exploring something a little different? If so, pop by Il Museo Storico dei Vigili del Fuoco. Unlike the other museums, palaces, and galleries in town, this institution covers fire engines. Within its walls, you’ll find specimens from the 19th century to the present day. All in all, it’s a fun way to break up your sightseeing.
End your time in Mantua by spending time in Piazza Sordello. This square is Mantua’s central meeting place, a fact that’s confirmed by an abundance of restaurants and cafes. Take your seat outside, and watch as locals go about their lives.
What To Eat
At some point, you’ll work up an appetite while sightseeing in Mantua. Take a break by ordering some Schiacciatina with a few glasses of wine. This dish is a flatbread that used to be a snack for hard-working farmers. But in the present, modern-day Mantuans snack on this bread with cheese, cold cuts, and a refreshing glass of vino.
At dinner, find a restaurant that features Risotto Alla Pilota on its menu. Unlike most risottos, this dish is not a luxurious one. Rather, it has a dry, grainy texture, as this meal was prepared by the working classes. Thanks to its composition, its consumers could enjoy it for days afterwards. Often prepared with pork and sprinkled with Parmesan, it’s a dish that’ll grow on you.
End your way on a sweet note by having some Torta Sbrisolona. This cake is buttery but very messy. If you can, try to dip it in grappa before it falls apart on you – that’s what the locals do!