Mantua, Italy is what Italians sometimes call La Bella Addormentata – a “sleeping beauty” of a city that hasn’t changed much since its construction in the middle ages.
Located in the Lombardy region, it is the perfect place to stop on an Italian river cruise, boasting a stunning skyline of ancient towers, turrets, and domes.
In this post you’ll discover some of the must visit sights in Mantua.
The Piazza Sordello used to be known as St. Peter’s Square, but now it has been dedicated to the poet and troubadour Sordello da Goito. You can find it pride of place in the centre of Mantua, a stunning square of the early 14th century.
There are medieval buildings on all four sides, and you could spend all day exploring them. On the north is the Cathedral of San Pietro, built from 1395-1401.
Its current facade was designed in the 18th century by Nicolò Baschiera. To the West, there is the Palazzo Bianchi, built in the 18th century.
It sits adjacent to the far older Ca’ Degli Uberti palace of the 14th century, a stunning juxtaposition.
The square’s East side has the Captain’s Palace and the Magna Domus, both of which were built during the Gonzaga family’s rise to power.
This political event of seismic proportions has defined much of Mantua’s history and architecture. Finally, on the south side of the square, there is the Palazzo Bonacolsi and the Palazzo Acerbi, both of which share an imposing Gothic style.
Such a high concentration of medieval buildings is a stunning sight to behold, but one characteristic of a city that has preserved its historic construction so well.
Watch the Sun Set over Mantua
This medieval cityscape holds a beautiful golden colour as the sun sets in the evening. The best place to watch it is across the river from Piazza Sordello.
You can find the viewpoint next to Rocca di Sparafucile, and you will be in awe as the shining buildings reflect off the river.
Any visitor to Mantua, Italy will immediately notice the legacy left by the Gonzaga family, who lived and ruled in Lombardy for nearly 400 years.
The grandest reminder of this tenure is the Ducal Palace.The Ducal Palace has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, and for good reason.
It is widely considered one of the most important monuments in Italy, acting as both a fortress built amongst the natural protection of a rocky hillside and a luxury home for the Gonzagas.
It has a long history of playing a crucial role in Italian politics, and only stopped holding this role in the 20th century when it became a museum and was opened up to visitors.
The inside of the Ducal Palace features works by various artists who operated in Italy during the Gonzaga’s reign totalling 12,000 paintings.
Most prominently, you can find Andrea Mantegna’s work, who lived from 1431 to 1506. He is known for paintings with statuesque anatomy, and you are unlikely to find the human form painted this way anywhere else.
Restoration work continues throughout the Ducal Palace, and new areas, including an extensive underground network, are frequently being opened to visitors.
Basilica di Sant’Andrea
Many holy buildings are preserved beautifully within the time capsule that is Mantua, but by far the most stunning is the Basilica di Sant’Andrea. Construction began in 1472 by Leon Battista Alberti on the site of a Benedictine monastery.
Built in the infamous Renaissance style, it was not completed until 1790, 300 years later.
This site is considered one of the holiest in Italy because it is said to contain a vial of holy blood that was verified 1,000 years ago.
The architecture certainly corroborates this reputation, and you can find enormous fluted Corinthian columns uniquely combined with taller, unfluted pilasters.
Palazzo del Te
Moving out of the historical centre of Mantua, you can still find beautiful buildings with an impressive provenance. The Palazzo del Te is one such example, built 500 years ago by Giulio Romano.
From the outside, you will be taken aback by the scale of its grand Venetian windows within a long stone building.
In front, are well-tended and pleasing gardens. However, the most impressive aspect of the Palazzo del Te is found inside.
The Fall of the Giants fresco was created by Giulio Romano himself between 1532 and 1534. The fresco was based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a poem written in 8 BC about Jupiter defeating fearsome giants with lightning.
Rotonda di San Lorenzo
The final crucial site to visit in Mantua that we are featuring is Rotonda di San Lorenzo, which is the oldest church in all of Mantua. The perfectly round construction sits on the site of a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Venus.
This site is steeped in the history of another time, built in the 11th century by the Canossa family. It was inspired by the Holy Sepulchre church in Jerusalem and dedicated as to St. Lawrence the martyr.
What makes this church so impressive is its age. It is so old that it has begun to sink below the ground level of the rest of Mantua, largely built 300 years later from the 14th to 18th century.
Visiting Mantua, Italy on La Bella Vita
Our La Bella Vita Italian River cruise captures Mantua during a dramatic approach along the River Mincio.
Capturing the city from a seldom seen angle reveals a new beauty to a city that has been the home of the poet Virgil and the artists Mantegna and Donatello. It also allows you to experience its captivating lakeside setting.
Every sight you have read about in this blog post captures why Mantua is the perfect Grand Finale for your luxury river cruise. Discover the full itinerary here.
The hotel barge La Bella Vita is a modern vessel that perfectly retains some classic Italian designs, and with plenty of space on board for up to 20 passengers, you’ll find plenty of places to enjoy a little down time after a day of sightseeing.
Featuring a top deck with jacuzzi, which is perfect for enjoying some fine Italian wine, or simply taking in the view, a restaurant where you’ll be served the freshest local produce by our expert chefs, and a piano bar to socialise with the other passengers.
All areas on the hotel barge are air conditioned, so you’ll be able to enjoy a restful nights sleep in one of our en-suite bedrooms.
Ready to explore Mantua?
Guests who cruise the Mantua region aboard luxury hotel barge La Bella Vita will have the opportunity to visit many of the sites listed above.