This city-island, protagonist of the works of many great poets, painters and architects, finds its origins in the Etruscan age: the archaeological findings show the presence of a lagoon built-up area within the Mincio river course. According to the legend - also told by Virgil in his Aeneid - the city was founded by Bianore/Ocno, son of the fortuneteller Manto (which the latin name Mantua derives from) and of the god Tiber. According to another theory, Mantua was named after Manth, the Etruscan god of the dead.
During the Roman age Mantua had an orthogonal built-up area located around the present piazza Sordello, enriched with luxurious houses called "domus" - the precious mosaics of one of them have been recently discovered - and surrounded by walls. After the downfall of the Roman Empire Mantua was the scene of the Barbarian Invasion (Goths, Byzantines, Longobards and Franks).
In the year 1000 Mantua became part of the Canossas' properties.
Pope Boniface III made it a capital city: when he was murdered, his daughter - the countess Matilda, who was born in Mantua in 1046 - succeeded him and became a skillful mediator in the fight between the Empire and the Church. In 1115, when Matilda of Tuscany died, the city established itself as a free commune.
After a few years Alberto Pitentino, great hydraulic engineer, planned a huge regulation work of the Mincio river to be realized through dams and embankments, in order to permanently surround the city with four lakes (besides the present ones the Paiolo lake already existed). In 1273 the Bonacolsi family ruled the city until the Corradi di Gonzaga, known as the Gonzaga family, arrived. They started one of the most famous "Signorie" in the Italian Renaissance and often invited the most significant artists at that time (Mantegna, Giulio Romano, Alberti, etc). For a long time the Gonzaga family had a cultural and economic supremacy.
In 1627 the duchy was owned by the French Gonzaga-Nevers. Some years later Mantua was plundered by the Landsknecht who also spread the plague. After many years of improper government the duchy declined in 1707 after the death of Ferdinando Carlo, the last heir, and it passed to the house of Habsburg which annexed it to the Duchy of Milan in 1745.
In 1815 the Austrians took possession of Mantua, which became a stronghold of the famous rectangle (besides Peschiera, Verona and Legnago). This domination caused the birth of the liberal rising in the northern Italy, that later gave rise to the Italian unification. Since then the story of Mantua is connected to that of Italy.
The city witnesses this long story, and its monuments are the protagonists: the romanic Rotonda di S. Lorenzo tells about the Canossa family, while the palaces around piazza Sordello and Piazza delle Erbe are an example of the passing from the age of the communes to that of the Gonzaga domination: the ducal palace, a city-palace keeping the most famous masterpieces (the Chamber of the Newlyweds by Mantegna, within the S. Giorgio castle), the cathedral, Palace of the Region (13th century) and Podestà Palace (12th century), monumental symbols of the communal city. The S. Andrea church, the temple and the San Sebastiano Palace, the house of Mantegna up to the wonderful Te Palace, the recreational villa of the Gonzaga family.
The periurban park - green lung with cycling paths and nature itineraries - surrounds the city which looks like floating on the lakes, among the Mincio valleys and the nature reserve of the Vallazza, anchored with the land through the San Giorgio bridge: the travelers coming from this side of the city enjoy one of the most charming skylines in the world.
Mantua is a UNESCO World Heritage, together with the city of Sabbioneta.