Friday, May 9, 2014

Italy 2014: Day 8: Thursday: May 9: Mantova

Our lucky streak with weather continues....another sunny warm day.   

Having been to Mantova before, we will not be re-visiting all the major sites in town.  For example, we decide not to go to the Palazzo Ducale--the Gonzaga palace which dominates the northeast side of the town--because it is so vast and some of the most interesting rooms are still closed due to the earthquake in the area in 2012.  (We were in Modena during that earthquake.)


But we do want to revisit the Palazzo Te, the palace on the far side of town that served as a retreat for the Duke and a place for his trysts with his mistress.  The Palazzo Te was designed by the famous painter and architect, Giuliano Romano, and is known for its classical layout and the very distinctive decorations of the various rooms.

We walk through the palace trying to get ahead or behind the numerous groups of Italian schoolchildren on class trips in order to have the opportunity to appreciate the frescoes and other decorations.  We start out with the official audioguide but soon give up and use our smartphones to read the very well done tour laid out on the Palazzo Te web site.

I am posting photos from some of the most impressive rooms but the whole palace is a gem.


The single most amazing room is the Room of the Giants....covered from floor to ceilings with the most vivid and overpowering images of the gods, the giants and their power.


The frescoes in the Sala dei Gigante (Room of the Giants) are quite surreal and overpowering.....the palazzo is quite a unique experience.

We then walk up the street to the Tempio San Sebastiano, one of the earliest examples of Greek cross design attributed to Leon Battista Alberti, the noted architect of many 15th century buildings in Italy.  Now a deconsecrated church, it serves as a memorial to the war dead of the city.

The exterior has been tarted up over the years but the original design was quite revolutionary in its day as well as being austere (which we like) and refreshingly plain.

Inside the church, there are intricate models of a number of Alberti's works with amazing detail and workmanship.

And in the crypt, there is an additional memorial which includes the names of the war dead and the places where they died inscribed on the columns.​

On the way from the Palazzo Te to the Tempio, Diana stops to admire a rose bush.

I am still intent on seeing more of the Po so we get in the car and drive to Governolo, a small town about 15 minutes from Mantova, where the Mincio River flows into the Po.  Today we discover that the high levees on either side of the rivers--which we thought were mainly bicycle paths--are actually roads that stretch for long distances along the river.  From Governolo, we are able to drive past the system of locks that allow boats to move from Mincio to the Po and vice versa 

and then along road atop the levee next to the Po

where we also pass a large field of poppies in bloom.

The successful expedition completed, it is time for lunch.  We find a trattoria near the old lock (now a park) in Governolo

but it is closed so we head for the main road where we find a bar/pizzeria/restaurant called the Maison des Amis. In the back, there is a pleasant dining room with a pizza oven going full blast and a number of locals and truck drivers having lunch.  We have a "light" lunch--pasta with ragu for Diana and a plate of salami with polenta for me--which works out well.

Back in Mantova, we stop for a mid-day gelato and then I go for another walk around town, visiting the elegant old library rooms

and through the area of Mantova that used to be the ghetto.

We also revisit the the beautiful old theater--Teatro Bibbiena--that we had visited years ago. We had been treated to an unexpected concert as the Chamber Orchestra of Mantova walked in, sat on stage and began rehearsing.  This year no concert but the theater is still lovely. Mozart's concert there at age 13 in 1770 was its inaugural concert.

We ask the hotel owner for another dinner recommendation and he sends us to a lively trattoria down the street called Fragoletta.  Good food- steak for Diana and luccio in salsa (pike)with polenta and another plate of risotto alla pilota for me.  We have another bottle of lambrusco which is again very easy to drink.

A short walk back to the hotel on a pleasant evening....

Tomorrow we are off to Florence.

Jim and Diana