Mantua's famous and evocative hydrography is largely due to the work of engineer Alberto Pitentino from Bergamo: at the end of the 12th century, he was appointed by the city to design the arrangement of the Mincio River. It is however clear from historical sources that, even before this intervention, Mantua was completely surrounded by the river, which broadened out and split into two branches, thus forming a real island.
Tales about the foundation of the city are instead rooted in myth. According to Statius, whose version was adopted by Dante, Mantua was founded by Manto, daughter of the prophet Tiresias; Virgil identifies instead the founder with Ocnus, son of Manto and the Tiber.
Although based on epics, these legends meaningfully hint at the city's Etruscan origin, confirmed by archaeological findings especially around Palazzo Ducale.
The Roman city then developed in the north-eastern part of the island; Martial called it "parva", i.e. small-sized.
This small city was even further downsized during Late Antiquity, when its defensive walls were built. This, on the other hand, turned the city into an almost impregnable fortress, which could resist wars and incursions during the Barbarian Invasions, until Langobard king Agilulf conquered it with great effort. Although new pieces of the puzzle are found daily, detailed retracing of historic events and of the ancient city's evolution is a very hard task. The presence of extraordinary Medieval and Renaissance monuments unavoidably poses restrictions in this respect.
In this framework, archaeologists started searching the surrounding countryside, too, for new traces, and it was in such peripheral places that the first signs of human presence around Mantua's lakes were found: the Valdaro Neolithic burial sites are by now famous.
Itinerary: from the Periurban Park to the old town
A pleasant bike-pedestrian path runs along Mantua's whole external perimeter, bordering the shores of the lakes formed by the Mincio River. It is the Periurban Park, set up in 1998 thanks to an agreement between the Municipality of Mantua and Mincio Park: the shores were restored and improved through repair works and transplanting of numerous indigenous trees, thus increasing opportunities for citizens and tourists to enjoy an uninterrupted green belt around the city.
The Periurban Park extends both on the right shore (Lungolago Superiore from the Belfiore Gardens, Lungolago di Mezzo and Lungolago Inferiore until Porto Catena) and on the left shore (from Cittadella to Via Brennero, where the Vallazza Nature Reserve begins).
Moreover, stretches of Lungolago Superiore (in Porta Mulina) and of Lungolago di Mezzo (in viale Mincio) are enriched by installations of the "Science Park", which can be freely visited by adults and children, and which promotes a fun and constructive approach to some important scientific principles.
In the protected area it is possible to eat a packed lunch on tables and benches, or simply lying on the grass; otherwise, there are two bar-kiosks along the path.
The old town is rapidly reachable from the shores, where it is also possible to embark for boat trips.