Short historical introduction

The local tradition ascribes the foundation of the town to the Etruscans back in the VI░ C. b.C. and its name descends from a divinity. For the Roman period there are various literary documents and the "Centuriazioni" documents about the land that was given to the Roman soldiers (like the land belonging to the family of Virgil that was given to Roman colonists in 41b.C.). Even if the town was not on a main imperial road (the Postumia was passing quite close) it was considered an important centre. In March 2007, during excavation works in  Sordello square has been found a Roman pavement in mosaics after that in her cellar of Accademia street . The discovery provides a new idea of the size of ancient Mantua, up to then delimited just by the Sordello square. There are not many traces of the history of the town up to the X. C. Mantua was conquered by Alaric the Visigoth King (401); possibly subjected to Attila (452), Theodore, the King of the Ostrogoths (489) and also conquered by Agilulfo, King of the Langobards (603). By the years of the 11th century, during the domination of Canossa the town was set in the present Sordello square. The hydraulic works of the architect Alberto Pitentino in 1198, modified the course of the river Mincius, creating four artificial lakes around the town. That allowed the enlarging of the town. In the communal period the town was enlarged even more and churches and new buildings were erected. Dating from this period are the Palazzo del PodestÓ (Town Hall - 1227) in Broletto square, the Palazzo della Ragione(1250) and the new church of Gradaro (1256). Breaking up the Communal government, the Family Bonacolsi (1272) gained power. They erected the Domus Magna and the Palace of the Capitani, some buildings with crenelations and a high tower, later named the Cage ( della Gabbia), on the left side of the Duomo. All these building frame now the Piazza Sordello; St. Francis church (1303- 4), (rebuilt after the heavy bombing in 1945). 
In August 1328 with the help of the Lord of Verona Cangrande della Scala, Luigi Gonzaga took over power from the Family Bonaccolsi.
This country family linked their story with the one of the town, becoming first "Capitani del Popolo" (Captain of the people), Marquises (1433) and finally named Dukes in 1530 by the Emperor Charles V . For three centuries (1328-1628), Mantua was raised to major importance as a European Court, rising artistically, culturally, of religious and military importance. At the Gonzagas Court artists like Pisanello, Mantegna, Perugino, Correggio, Leon Battista Alberti, Luca Fancelli, Giulio Romano, G.B.Bertani, Viani, Rubens, Fetti. Were working and a great number of Renaissance masterpieces came into in their collections. The town was embellished with new churches ( S. Andrea - S. Sebastiano - S. Barbara - S. Orsola - S. Maurizio), buildings ( The Castle of San Giorgio - Domus Nova - Clock tower), even the ducal palace was being enlarged because of the importance of the family Gonzaga, adding new buildings and new abodes outside the city (Palazzo Te -1525-35, Palazzina di Caccia 1592-95 and Villa della Favorita 1616-24). The noble families contributed to the development of the city by building new palaces or bringing up to date the old ones.
In the territory that included the actual province and the Casale Monferrato in Piemonte, castles, little villages and villas were erected according to the strategic position. 
The beginning of the decadence of the family started as the duke Vincenzo II░ , because of numerous debts, started the big sale of the famous painting collection, created by his predecessors. Therefore the "Triumphs of Caesar" by Mantegna, "The Deposition" by Titian and other masterpieces irremediably ended in other European Courts or were irremediably lost.
At his death, without any direct heirs, the dukedom passed to Carlo Rethel Gonzaga Nevers, a French prince, member of a cadet family. This investiture of a stranger, even French, as leader of a little State but strategically very important (Casale Monferrato), caused the envy and the anger of the Spanish. To put an end to the rivalry between France and Spain the German Emperor had to intervene. The imperial troops, the terrible mercenaries, described by Alessandro Manzoni, the Italian writer, after invading Milan and after a long siege, on the 18 July 1630 entered Mantua.
They sacked the ducal palace and the town, including the devastation of churches and convents. The imperial troops retired in 1631 with an enormous booty, leaving behind death and destruction, reckoning that with the plague and the killings approx. 130.000 inhabitants of the Dukedom died in that period, reducing the population to 43.000. 
In the following period, in contrast to the decline of the rulers, thanks to the increasing prestige of notable families, palaces were built like: Valenti (1640); Sordi (1660); Canossa (1669). The dispersal of the artistic estate was pursued by the last dukes until 1707, when the last duke, Ferdinando Carlo, fled from Mantua to Venice, taking with him the last family treasures. By the accusation of "traitor", which caused him to be deposed, the Dukedom came under Austrian domination. The new stability benefited, partly, the city.  
The dome of the Basilica of S.Andrea was completed by the architect Filippo Juvara (1733-1765), a new fašade was erected for the Cathedral (1775) replacing the gothic one. New buildings were erected: Palazzo Cavriani (1756), Palazzo degli Studi (1763), Palazzo Bianchi (1756-86) now the Bishops Palace, the theatre "Scientifico" (1767-69) , Palazzo dell'Accademia (1773-75), rebuilt and restyled the Palazzo D'arco (1783). 
The medieval denominations of the town districts were changed, creating the new toponymy. During the period of the Emperor Josef II░ (1770), with the intention of "purifying" the Church, convents and churches were confiscated. The same policy was followed by the French troops of Napoleon (1797) and by a new "sack" of the town numerous precious objects and paintings, like "the Madonna of the victory", by A. Mantegna, were taken to France. Most of the masterpieces, displayed in churches were sacked. During that period the marshy area around Mantua and the harbour of "Ancona" were covered with earth, creating the Virgiliana Square. In the year 1810 by Porta Giulia, a gate of the town at Borgo di Porto ( Cittadella), Andreas Hofer was shot; he led the insurrection of the Tyrol against Napoleon. The Austrian return (1815) brought a period of bloody repression, caused by the reunification ideals of the Italian "Risorgimento". During the independence Wars the town was fortified, becoming part of the "Quadrilateral" of Radetzki. The "Martiri of Belfiore" (local Italian supporters so named from the area where they were put to death), guilty of conspiracy against Austria were shot between 1851 to 1855. The unique building, worth mentioning of that period is the "Teatro Sociale" (1818-1822). Mantua was annexed to the Italian Kingdom in 1866 after the III░ War of independence.

Chronology of the Rulers of Mantua from 1272 to 1866 

To get a deeper knowledge of the Gonzaga family you can visit the web sides: 

I Gonzaga di Mantova       bibliografia

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