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Mantua and Sabbioneta

Mantua and Sabbioneta are towns in the Po Valley that represent aspects of Renaissance town planning. Mantua shows the renewal and extension of an existing city, while Sabbioneta represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city.

Both towns acquired their wealth during the reign of various members of the Gonzaga family, between 1328 and 1707.

The most prominent remaining structures include:

- Mantua: Sant'Andrea Church, Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo di Tè, San Sebastiano Church

- Sabbioneta: Teatro all'antica, Palazzo Giardino

Map

Visit February 2012

Mantua was added late to the WH list, only in 2008. At that time, reading the particularly weak AB evaluation, I was wondering if it was worthy enough. The combination with Sabbioneta seemed difficult to explain, and there was no clear reason given why it would distinguish itself from other Italian Renaissance cities. Only recently I started to become more interested in Art History, even just finished a course on it as part of my General Cultural Sciences studies. Mantua popped up there quite prominently. It even got 2 entries among the 101 masterworks of European art and architecture. So I became very interested in visiting.

The town is a bit far from everywhere, and it took me 2 hours to get there on a local train from Ferrara. From the train station it is a walk of another 15 minutes or so to the heart of the city, through quite unimpressive streets. My first goal was the Sant’Andrea basilica, one of the 2 “masterpieces”. Its dome can be seen from afar, but finding the entrance is a lot more difficult. The façade of this 15th century church is dwarfed by the neighbouring tower and shopping arcades. Leon Battista Alberti designed this church using the triumphal arch motif in both the interior and the façade. Inside I was surprised by how big it is. Unfortunately the nave is currently totally hidden under scaffoldings. At the back though, restorations of the dome and transept have been finished, showing of the same triumphal arch motifs and very elaborate painted and sculpted decorations.

The small 12th century Rotonda San Lorenzo nearby is worth a quick look. Not far from it lies the Palazzo Ducale. It’s an enormous complex, I seemed to keep on walking and walking without seeing much. Most notable are the large black and red drawings on the walls called sinopia (pre-studies of frescoes) and the trompe l’oeil at the Camera degli Sposi.

After enjoying a good lunch in town including the region’s specialty of pasta stuffed with pumpkins, I walked south. Here, in the former outskirts and on the site of the horse stables, the Palazzo di Tè was built. The second “masterpiece” according to my art history books. It is one of the first prominent examples of mannerism in Italy. Mannerism means that not all should be perfect and straight, so the façade is covered with stucco decorations. Stucco is also repeated often in the interior too, where there are also rooms full of Flemish tapestries and paintings.

Including the transport from and to Ferrara, I spent a full day in Mantua. The stunning city view mentioned by the other reviewers is also visible from the train, though it passes quickly.

Community Reviews


Clyde - September 2012

I visited this WHS several times. Mantua is a special place in the Po valley with a truly unique panoramic view of the whole city just before approaching the main street. Both cities were ruled by the Gonzaga family and they played an important role in the dissemination of Renaissance culture.


Hubert Scharnagl - September 2011

Those who travel to Mantua by car, should definitely take the SS10 from the east. The first view of the city “skyline” is overwhelming. From this perspective, the buildings are perfectly arranged: the Palazzo Ducale, the Castello San Giogio and the church towers. The city is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes, which formerly served as a defence system and now contribute to the special flair of the city.

We enjoyed it a lot to stroll through the historic centre. The main sights are located on three contiguous squares. The main square, the Piazza Sordello, is dominated by the Palazzo Ducale, a huge complex, which consists of several buildings with courtyards, gardens and connecting corridors. It is virtually a small city in itself. Parts of the palace can be visited, the most impressive room is the Camera degli Sposi with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna. Another highlight was the Basilica Sant'Andrea. We were extremely impressed, although the interior was under renovation and the nave was partially hidden by scaffolding (our visit was in August 2011). In the transept and the apse the restoration was already completed, so we could see the effects of the restoration in comparison to the parts not yet renewed. It will look magnificient when everything is finished.

We spent two hot summer days and nights in Mantua. The restaurants and cafés were full with tourists and locals until late in the evening, it was very atmospheric. Exactly what you would expect from the summer in an Italian city. For dinner, we followed the recommendation of our hotel manager and went to the Osteria ai Ranari, a restaurant off the beaten track. Apart from us there were only locals, usually a good sign. We tasted local specialities: ragout of horsemeat and tortelli filled with pumpkin (tasted a bit sweet), both were delicious.

Mantua was founded by the Etruscans and reached its heyday during the reign of the Gonzaga family, who ruled the city from the 14th to the 17th Century. In contrast, Sabbioneta is a planned ideal city built by a member of the Gonzaga family in the 16th Century. The city is located about 30 km from Mantua at the road to Parma. Sabbioneta has a completely preserved city wall and in this respect is comparable with Neuf-Brisach (Vauban WHS) or Palmanova (Italian T-list). Sabbioneta is less striking than Mantua and Sabbioneta alone would probably not have been included in the list. With a combined ticket you can visit four buildings: the Palazzo Ducale, the Synagogue, the Teatro Olimpico and the Palazzo del Giardino with the Galleria degli antichi. The latter is certainly the highlight. From the outside, the palace looks insignificant, but the interior is decorated with beautiful paintings illustrating scenes from Greek Mythlogie, e.g. Dedalo and Icaro, Philemon and Baucis, or the Orpheus myth. The most impressive part is the 100 m long Galleria, where once the art collection of the duke was exhibited. Unfortunately we could not visit the churches in Sabbioneta. The local priest was on holidays and has closed the eight churches. He has refused to give the keys to the tourist office. Obviously he is not very enthusiastic about the interest of tourists in his town.


john booth - September 2011

I do not understand why these two towns are linked in one site; there do not appear to have any physical connection. Mantova is reached by train from Verona and Padova (in the Veneto) while Sabbioneta is reached by bus from Parma or Casalmaggiore.

From Mantova station a bus CC circulates around the sites, first to Piazza Erbe for Piazzas Sordello and Broletto and the Ducal Palace, then to Porta Pusteria for Palazzo Te.

The pristine town of Sabbioneta is so small that it can easily be walked around.


Ian Cade - April 2011

There is a real wow factor when approaching Mantua from road over ponte San Girgio, especially at night. The Castle and Palace were magnificently lit up as we crossed the lake that surrounds the city on 3 sides. We would have missed this entry had it not been for a strike on the Italian train system that led us to meet some very accommodating Mantovani's who offered to drive us from Verona, and take us on a special detour to see this great entrance to the city. So Grazie mille Mauro, Claudia and Daniel you made our introduction much more memorable.

The next morning we had a walk around the centre which is very pleasant. There are several cobbled squares and large churches to view. The Basilica of Sant'Andrea was an undoubted highlight and well worth some exploration, the interior is very impressive.

The main reason we decided to vist was to explore the sprawling Palazzo Ducale which takes up a whole quarter of the historic centre. It is mostly juts a standard rambling fortified palace with a few nice rooms, however it does contain a magnificent Bridal chapel painted by Mantegna which was an undoubted highlight of this trip for me. It was in courts like this that the renaissance really started to grow and develop and this impressive room is a great testament to this period.

Mantua was a nice place to spend half a day in, and in many other countries would be an absolute highlight. It was certainly better than many other European cities inscribed on the list and our first view as we approached at night was magnificent. It is worth a trip if you have a half day spare in one of the most culturally rich parts of Europe.

[Site 5: Experience 5]


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Site Info

Full name: Mantua and Sabbioneta

Site History

  • 2008 - Inscribed

    Reasons for inscription
  •  
  • 2006 - Revision

    Mantua and Sabbioneta were originally separate nominations
  •  

Locations

The site has 2 locations.

  • Mantoue
  • Sabbioneta

Connections

The site has 34 connections.

Architecture

  • Brick architecture Most of its architecture (Sant'Andrea, Pallazo di Té) is made out of brick, sometimes covered with stucco, as there is no natural stone in this region
  • Designed by famous architects Mantua: Saint Andrew's Basilica and Saint Sebastian's Church by Leon Battista Alberti Ducal Palace, Te Palace and Cathedral by Giulio Romano Dome of Saint Andrew's Basilica by Filippo Juvarra Sabbioneta: Olympic Theatre by Vincenzo Scamozzi
  • Ideal City Sabbioneta
  • Mannerism Mantua Te Palace
  • Renaissance 
  • Star fort Sabbioneta

Constructions

  • Horse Stables Pallazo Té was built at the location of the horse stables of the Gonzaga family. Its main room depicts the favourite horses.
  • Sphinx Two, inside the Sant'Andrea Church
  • Theatres Sabbioneta: theatre designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi
  • Universities Mantua: Engineering and Architecture faculties located in historic buildings near or at Piazza d'Arco
  • Walled cities Sabbioneta

Damaged

History

  • Etruscans 
  • Sieges and Battles Mantua: during The War of the Mantuan Succession in 1630 by an Imperial army of 36,000 Landsknecht mercenaries

Human Activity

  • Early Printing Sabbioneta: Hebrew printing-press (1567)
  • Frescoes / murals by famous painters Mantua: Camera degli Sposi by Andrea Mantegna in the Ducal Palace, Frescoes in the Te Palace by Giulio Romano
  • Historical Graffiti At Pallazo Té, in the Sala dei Giganti, graffiti from visitors as early as the 17th century can be seen
  • Museum History Mantua: Palazzo Ducala, studiolo of Isabella d?Este, one of the first orientated outwards, to the visitor & symbol of the continuity of the d?Este dynasty

Individual People

Religion and Belief

  • Cathedrals Duomo di Mantova (Saint Peter's Cathedral)
  • Jewish religion and culture Sabbioneta - Jewish ghetto
  • Religious Relics Basilica di Sant'Andrea: relic, called Preziosissimo Sangue di Cristo ("Most Precious Blood of Christ"), is preserved in the Sacred Vessels, according to the tradition was brought to Mantua by the Roman centurion Longinus. It was highly venerated during the Renaissance. The shrines are displayed only on the Good Friday, to the faithful and then brought out along the streets of Mantua in a procession. (wiki)

Timeline

  • Built in the 15th century The second part of the 15th century, the period of Ludovico II (1444-1478), gave Mantua a premier role in the development of the Renaissance; In Mantua the programme for planning urban spaces as a way of organizing the city was initiated in the early 1430s (AB ev)

Trivia

World Heritage Process