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Fortress Mantua: an itinerary between art and war

Mincio and war - Itinerary n. 3

On foot By bike         Great Interest: Hystory 
  • Departure: Piazza Porta Giulia, Mantova
  • Arrival: Piazza Porta Giulia, Mantova
  • Length: 21.4 km
  • Involved Municipalities: Mantova, Borgo Virgilio

At the beginning of the 18th century, the defence capabilities that Mantua had always possessed thanks to its peculiar geography assumed a completely new meaning. In 1708 the Imperial Diet annexed Mantua to the Habsburg Empire: the city suddenly and definitively ceased to be the capital of a duchy, and became a province, appointed as the main stronghold to defend imperial possessions in northern Italy. An extensive process of militarization thus began, which characterized the history of this territory for a long time, and which gradually transformed Mantua into a fortress city. Such process took place especially during the 19th century, when French and Habsburg military engineers designed and realized important works, bastions, fortresses, lunettes, terrepleins and trenches. The fortified system turned the city into an extremely efficient defence mechanism, whose performance was due not only to control over the territory, but to adequate water management, too.

Cittadella di Porto, entrance of the dock of the Canottieri Mincio sport club, already a military dock
Cittadella di Porto, entrance of the dock of the Canottieri Mincio sport club, already a military dock
(photo by: Claudia Bonora Previdi)

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Points of interest
This itinerary around Mantua leads to places and works remaining from the defence system, which characterized the area for a long time. Here, military and water architecture were tightly linked and complemented each other, therefore giving the city a fundamental role during succession wars in the first half of the 18th century, during Napoleonic campaigns, and during Italian Unification wars. In Piazzale di Porta Giulia the remains of 16th-century Cittadella di Porto can be visited. This fortified outpost defended the dam bridge (ponte-diga dei Mulini); on February 20, 1810, the Tyrolean patriot Andreas Hofer was executed at the citadel. The Periurban Park bike trail leads then to 19th-century Fossamana and Frassino lunettes, which strengthened the eastern side of the fortress, and to the stronghold known as Rocchetta di Sparafucile: the stronghold is what remains of the ancient fortifications of the village of San Giorgio, which once rose up at the eastern end of the bridge of the same name. Not far from Rocchetta di Sparafucile, nearly on the shore of Lago di Mezzo and in front of San Giorgio's castle, there is a memorial stone dedicated to Pietro Fortunato Calvi. San Giorgio's bridge leads to an area known as San Nicolò, characterized by the former military cemetery ground and by portions of the ancient city walls, which for centuries defined the image of the fortress city. The imposing Fortress of Pietole, surrounded by thick vegetation, overlooks the Mincio River. This building was part of a general plan aimed at strengthening the fortress of Mantua: the plan, designed by French general François de Chasseloup-Laubat, turned Mantua into a modern fortified city, defended by separate fortresses and placed in the middle of a wide and complex water system. The itinerary continues across the entrenched field and Paiolo valley, on the southern side of the fortress, until Belfiore, where a monument and a memorial stone are dedicated to the "Martyrs of Belfiore", the Italian Unification patriots who were executed here between 1851 and 1855. The dam-bridge (ponte-diga dei Mulini) leads back to Cittadella.

A large part of the itinerary unfolds within the Mincio Park. It follows bike trails (along the lake shores, near the city, along the lower Mincio River, through Vallazza Nature Reserve) and some ordinary roads.

Itinerary conditions
The itinerary is 21.4 km long and can be done by bike or on foot. It does not present any particular difficulty: it is completely level or with very low-gradient slopes. The trail is paved with some long stretches on dirt road, and little shadowed outside of town. Some crossings and urban stretches outside of cycling lanes require particular attention.

From piazza Porta Giulia take strada Montata, then the bike trail of Mantua Urban Park (ciclovia 1s.a), pass the Fossamana lunette and reach the Fortress of Sparafucile. Along Strada Cipata it is possible to deviate towards Frassino (deviation is at km 1.0); otherwise keep right and follow the bike trail towards Mantua (ciclovia 1d): you thus border San Giorgio bridge and Lago di Mezzo (middle lake) until a pedestrian crossing in Piazza Arche. Go along Piazza Arche, Via Pomponazzo and Via Trieste until the pedestrian crossing by Via Cardone. Take Via Cardone, go up the embankment and turn right. Turn left on the dirt road after the parking lot, and follow Vicolo Maestro until the intersection with Via diga Masetti; cross Via diga Masetti and make a very short stretch on Via Ariosto. Take the dirt path that leads to the Baden Powell Public Gardens. Cross the gardens and take the subway under Via Brennero. After the subway, turn immediately left on a narrow dirt path, which borders Via Brennero for a stretch, and then winds across the vegetation near Vallazza. Shortly before the descent that leads to the kennels, take the second path on the left. Go past the descent that leads to Bosco Virgiliano, then the water purification plant, and reach the intersection with Via Guerra. There, keep left and reach the end of the dirt road on the embankment (ciclovia 1d). Turn left again on the descending path that crosses a wetland. Keep right after the wood and continue along the dirt road until joining Strada del Corriere. Turn right at the intersection and take the cycling lane bordering Via Cisa and then Via Parma (State Route - SS 62) towards Mantua. Keep left after the subway and take Via Donati until the intersection with Via de Mori: turn left at the intersection. Continue until the intersection with Strada Trincerone; keep right and turn right on Via Visi before the subway. At the roundabout take the pedestrian subway under the railway. Turn left after the subway, then turn right and follow Viale Te towards Viale Isonzo for a stretch. Cross Via Isonzo and Viale Risorgimento, keep left on the cycling lane until the intersection with Via Dugoni; turn right and continue on the cycling lane until the intersection with Via Fancelli; turn left and reach the intersection with Viale Piave; turn right and reach the entrance of the Porta Pradella Gardens. Cross the gardens going towards Largo Pradella, then follow the directions to the railway station. Go along Viale Pitentino: by the roundabout at Porta Mulina take the urban bike trail (ciclovia 1d). From there you can deviate to the gardens of Belfiore (deviation is at km 1.9) and, coming back, go towards Cittadella until the dock of the Mincio Rowing Club. Border the dock until the end of Via Santa Maria Nuova. Then turn right on Via San Giovanni Bono, cross the railway and turn right again on Via San Michele. The subway at the end of via San Michele leads back to piazza Porta Giulia.

It is advisable to check the state of your bicycle and to have suitable equipment for this type of itinerary. On the dirt path between the subway of Via Brennero and the intersection with via Guerra, some stretches require to get off the bike and push by the handlebars.
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Architectural features
Architectural features
Architectural features
Architectural features
Architectural features
Points of Interest
Architectural features
Architectural features
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