Mantua, city, Lombardia (Lombardy) regione, northern Italy. The city is surrounded on three sides by lakes formed by the Mincio River, southwest of Verona. It originated in settlements of the Etruscans and later of the Gallic Cenomani. Roman colonization began about 220 bce, and the great Latin poet Virgil was born at nearby Andes in 70 bce. In the 11th century, Mantua became a fief of Boniface of Canossa, marquis of Tuscany. After the death of Matilda of Tuscany in 1115, the city secured a communal government, and during that period (1167) Mantua joined the Lombard League (an alliance of northern Italian towns) against the policies of the Holy Roman emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. The Bonacolsi family gained control of Mantua in 1276. In 1328 the Bonacolsi were driven out by the Gonzagas, under whom the city enjoyed a long period of political prestige and cultural splendour that endured until the 17th century. The Gonzagas’ rule of Mantua ended in 1707, when the city became a fief of the Austrian Habsburgs’ empire and was heavily fortified as the southwest corner of the imperial “Quadrilateral.” Napoleon took the city after a long siege in 1797, and Mantua was dominated by the French until it was returned to Austria in 1814. Mantua contributed to the cause of the Risorgimento (movement for national independence) and was joined to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
Fresco on the ceiling of the Camera degli Sposi, by Andrea Mantegna, completed 1474. It demonstrates the technique of sotto in su.
Palazzo del Te, near Mantua, Italy, designed by Giulio Romano.
At the centre of the city stands its cathedral, which was rebuilt in the 16th century after designs by Giulio Romano. The vast ducal palace, also called the Reggia of the Gonzagas, stands opposite the cathedral. Its apartments contain many valuable works of art. The Church of San Andrea (begun 1472), which shares the privileges of the cathedral, was designed by Leon Battista Alberti. Other notable churches include the restored Rotonda of San Lorenzo (1082) and the churches of San Sebastiano (1460–70) by Alberti and of San Francesco (1304). Secular landmarks include the Castello di San Giorgio (1395–1406) by Bartolino da Novara with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna; the immense ducal palace (begun c. 1290); the nearby Palace of Te (1525–35), designed by Romano; the 13th–15th-century Ragione Palace; and numerous other palaces and mansions. The city’s cultural institutions include the Accademia Virgiliana, containing a Scientific Theatre designed by Antonio Bibiena (1769); the valuable library, founded in 1780 by the Austrian empress Maria Theresa; and the State Archives. The houses of the artists Andrea Mantegna and Giulio Romano have been preserved. In 2008 Mantua was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mantua’s economy is primarily concerned with the processing and shipping of agricultural products. The city is a centre of road, rail, and water transportation; its industrialization increased after World War II, and the population grew rapidly. Pop. (2006 est.) mun., 47,671.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Chelsey Parrott-Sheffer.