Like Romeo, I left Verona, for Mantova. In a way I was continuing the operatic theme too, as Mantova is the setting for Verdi’s opera Rigoletto. It’s an easy 45 minute train journey from Verona, with more or less hourly services leaving on the half hour, although there is a gap in the morning between 09.30 and 12.30. For train times check www.trenitalia.com .
Mantova is often missed by tourists, but it has numerous attractions, notably the Palazzo Ducale with its spectacular rooms and artwork and Palazzo Te with its striking frescoes. Mantova is surrounded by three artificial lakes, Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo and Lago Inferiore and you can take boat trips of an hour or so, or day long excursions to Venice. Mantova is also a nice place just to walk around. If you go from the Palazzo Ducale south through Piazza Sordello to Piazza Broletto, you pass a whole row of restaurants, all reasonably priced, so you can read the menus and decide where to have dinner.
Palazzo Ducale, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, is Mantova’s main tourist attraction. It was home to the Gonzaga family, who were the dukes of Mantova from the thirteenth to the early eighteenth centuries. The palace contains hundreds of sumptuous rooms, with artwork collected by the Gonzagas. Its most famous room is the Sala dei Spechi (hall of mirrors), which was closed when I visited, due to damage from the 2012 earthquake. The Castello di San Giorgio, which contains frescoes of the Gonzaga family, was also closed. But even if these areas have not yet reopened, there is still plenty to see.
The other palace in Mantova is Palazzo Te, built in the sixteenth century for Frederico Gonzaga of the ruling family and his mistress. It’s open on a Monday afternoon, which can be useful as everything else is closed all day on Monday. The palace has some spectacular frescoes, especially in the Sala dei Giganti (Hall of the Giants) with its depiction of the destruction of the giants by the gods. The Sala di Amori e Psiche has graphic erotic images in keeping with the palace’s function as Frederico’s love nest.
The beautiful little Teatro Bibiena is also worth seeing. Mozart gave the first concert here in 1770, aged 13. Opera fans might like to take a look at the Rigoletto House, on the corner of Sordello Square, on your left if you’re walking towards the Palazzo Ducale from the direction of Piazza Broletto. Rigoletto is set in Mantova, and Verdi chose the house as the residence of his leading character. There’s not much to see- just a statue of Rigoletto in the garden- but worth a photo stop. Mantova has several interesting churches, ranging from the huge Sant’Andrea church on Piazza Mategna (most of the interior was closed for renovation when I was there) to the little Rotonda church on Piazza Erbe, whose round and squat design reminded me of Orthodox churches I’ve seen in Eastern Europe. St Peter’s Cathedral’s interior was designed by Giulio Romano in the fifteenth century. Romano also designed Palazzo Te.