Welcome to my city, Mantua
The perfect destination for a romantic and cultural weekend
Mantova Mantova bella città / merda di qua merda di là / ogni cantuccio un petoluccio / ogni contrada una cagada / e nella Piazza principale / uno stronzo colossale!
I learnt this poem about my hometown Mantua by my friend Gilberto, founder of Arci-Gola association and member of Slow Food Lombardy. It speaks about bad smells and shit and it sounds quite vulgar in Italian language, so that when I recite it I always fear someone could be offended, or people could think I don’t appreciate my own city.
Wrong! I truly love Mantua, even if I moved when I was young, as soon as I had the opportunity. The real meaning of this quite rude poem doesn’t refer to Mantua as a dirty city, on the contrary Mantua looks clean and organized, with a city centre closed to the traffic where mostly everyone goes by bike. Recently completely restored, nowadays Mantua can be proudly considered as a little piece of Europe in Italy. The poem underlines the strong connection between Mantua and its farmers and landscape, the livestock and the manure, the rural side of Mantua, its full-blooded character.
Thursday morning is market day: not far in the past, mediators used to make deal just shaking their hands, economy depended on the current price of milk. This area gathers centuries of culture: both the new political and social structure of Medieval Communes and then the Gonzaga Lordship first arose here. If you want to catch the atmosphere of this little city, you can watch some good movies like “The Profession of Arms” (2001), “Centochiodi” (2007) and most of all “Novecento” (1976).
Mantua has just come out of a sort of self sufficiency hysteria, like a closure syndrome caused by a superiority/inferiority complex that made the inhabitants believe in a total independence of their city. This feeling of isolation has been encouraged by the everlasting thick fog!
By now, Mantua has really changed: fog is no more so thick and the city has blossomed, thanks to eight magnificent inhabitants who organized the literature festival Festivaletteratura for the first time. Every September the festival draws here writers from all over the world.
If I think about a romantic and cultural week end, nothing sounds me better than Mantua. The best periods to come are spring and autumn, in addition to the literature festival, in September lotus flowers blossom along the banks of Lake Superior. Nevertheless, during the winter the typical cuisine of Mantua best matches the season: pumpkin tortelli, stracotto, sbrisolona cake, agnolini, risotto with salamella or puntèl, salami, pike in sauce, grilled polenta…
In a street called Via Pescheria, along Rio Canal, there is a kiosk where people can taste the “cannoncino”, a wafer with whipped cream and pudding. There are also some great restaurants (like “Cavallini”) that offer an excellent “stracotto” (donkey stew) or the typical “bevrinvin”, agnolini (similar to tortellini) in soup with red wine.
Mantua is not popular only for the food! Maybe you’ve heard about Palazzo Te, a unique building which regularly shows many worldwide exhibitions. Famous Italian artists like Giulio Romano, Andrea Mantegna, Leon Battista Alberti built wonderful churches and buildings and painted amazing pictures here. The Bibiena Theatre and Palazzo Ducale are worth seeing, but I suggest you to simply going for a walk around the city: San Lorenzo Round just in front of the Palazzo della Ragione, and many significant squares called Leon Battista Albert, Sordello, Pallone and Virgiliana.
There are so many little treasures to be discovered, like Mantegna’s House, the Nuvolari Museum and the old Exchange liberty building. If it is still allowed, you should take an amazing rowboat excursion on the Lake Superior, leaving from Belfiore garden to the Santuario delle Grazie!
Have you got some time more? Going towards Cremona, not far from Mantua, you should visit the village of Sabbioneta, considered the Little Athens of Gonzaga Family. Pay attention: if you are on the motorway and you take the exit “Mantova North”, try to reach Mantua passing through Sparafucile and the San Giorgio Bridge, you will enjoy an amazing view of the lakes and Palazzo Ducale. If you get the wrong way, you will cross the depressing and smelly Petrochemical Centre, that in the recent past made Mantua be the (not proudly) tumours record holder…
Mantua landscapes (main pic) by Alessandra Elle (Flickr user)
Mantua Palazzo Te by Andrea Lodi (Flickr user Pelodia)