Yet another of Italy’s surprises await those willing to get off the beaten path and visit one of the country’s little-known treasures, the Palazzo Te. The city is only eighteen miles south of Verona, easily reached by way of the E45 Autostrada.
Mantua was established on the banks of the Mincio River, a tributary of the Po River. At that time, the town was surrounded by mosquito infested marsh and swamp.
During the 12th Century, the river was widened and the flow controlled so that four lakes were created. Three of those original lakes remain to this day.
The Gonzaga Family began their rise to political leadership of the city during the latter part of the 15th Century. Fortunes of the family improved as a result of visits by popes and the raising of a family member to the papacy. The family’s male leadership were famous condottieri – paid soldier/leaders. It was one of the desires of the first Grand Duke of Mantua, Duke Federigo II Gonzaga, to build a villa suburbana, on the scale of an ancient roman emperor’s, on a location just outside the city proper. He commissioned Giulio Romano to design and construct the Palazzo Te.
Romano, a student of Raphael, designed and supervised the construction of the Palazzo over the course of only eighteen months. It was between 1524 and 1534, after the shell of the structure was completed, that a veritable army of plasterers, frescoists, artists and designers began the ten year task of covering nearly every interior inch of the building in the highest quality flooring, furnishings and paintings.
The most famous of the fresco covered rooms in the Palazzo are the “Sala de Psychie”, a fresco covered room dedicated to the story of Psyche and Cupid and the “Sala dei Giganti”, the Room of the Giants. The frescoes are gorgeous, intricate. In the case of the Sala dei Giganti, the scale of the figures creates a strange and intended effect; you seem smaller once you stand in the chamber. In the vault, The Assembly of Gods cavort and frolic around the throne of Jupiter. Vasari, in one of his numerous writings, referred to this chamber as an ‘oven’ and, in summer, the word seems wholly appropriate.
This is a destination for visitors not to be missed. So, plan a visit off the typical ‘grand tour’ of Italy and discover the treasures of this splendid Palazzo in Manuta!
IF YOU GO:
The best time to visit the Palazzo is in the cooler months of November through March. Summer months are very warm in Mantua and on the Veneto plain, so comfortable clothing is a necessity if you go during those months.
Mantua is served by Trenitalia with easy connections from Bologna, Venice and – for a full day’s excursion – from Florence.
Refer to the Trenitalia web site below for routings, times and pricing:
Palazzo Te, Manuta
Entrance tickets: Euro 8.00 per person
Web: Palazzo Te