Mantua and Sabbioneta
Mantua and Sabbioneta, in the Po valley, in the north of Italy, represent two aspects of Renaissance town planning: Mantua shows the renewal and extension of an existing city, while 30 km away, Sabbioneta represents the implementation of the period’s theories about planning the ideal city. Typically, Mantua’s layout is irregular with regular parts showing different stages of its growth since the Roman period and includes many medieval edifices among them an 11th century rotunda and a Baroque theatre. Sabbioneta, created in the second half of the 16th century under the rule of one person, Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna, can be described as a single-period city and has a right angle grid layout. Both cities offer exceptional testimonies to the urban, architectural and artistic realizations of the Renaissance, linked through the visions and actions of the ruling Gonzaga family. The two towns are important for the value of their architecture and for their prominent role in the dissemination of Renaissance culture. The ideals of the Renaissance, fostered by the Gonzaga family, are present in the towns’ morphology and architecture.
Outstanding Universal Value
Mantua and Sabbioneta offer exceptional testimonies to the urban, architectural and artistic realizations of the Renaissance, linked through the visions and actions of the ruling Gonzaga family. Mantua, a town whose traces stem from the Roman period, was renovated in the 15th and 16th centuries - including hydrological engineering, urban and architectural works. The participation of renowned architects like Leon Battista Alberti and Giulio Romano, and painters like Andrea Mantegna, makes Mantua a prominent capital of the Renaissance. Sabbioneta represents the construction of an entirely new town according to the modern, functional vision of the Renaissance. The defensive walls, grid pattern of streets, role of public spaces and monuments all make Sabbioneta one of the best examples of ideal cities built in Europe, with an influence over urbanism and architecture in and outside the continent. The properties represent two significant stages of territorial planning and urban interventions undertaken by the Gonzagas in their domains.
Criterion (ii): Mantua and Sabbioneta are exceptional witnesses to the interchange of human values of the Renaissance culture. They illustrate the two main forms of Renaissance town planning: the newly founded town, based on the concept of ideal city planning, and the transformed existing town. Their importance relates also to architecture, technology and monu¬mental art. The properties have played a prominent role in the diffusion of the Renaissance culture in and outside Europe.
Criterion (iii): Mantua and Sabbioneta are exceptional testimonies to a particular civilization during a specific period of history, with reflections on urbanism, architecture and fine arts. The ideals of the Renaissance, fostered by the Gonzaga family, are present in their urban morphology and architecture, their functional systems and traditional productive activities, which have mostly been preserved over time.
Both properties meet the required conditions of integrity and authenticity, since their most significant urban and architectural components have been preserved over time, as has their relationship with their settings.
The legal protective structure and management system are adequate, as both properties exhibit a good state of conservation.
Mantua originated as an Etruscan settlement and developed in Roman times to a small fortified town. It was situated on the highest point of what was then an island in a marshy area along the river Mincio. Some traces of the walls and main streets can still be found in today's urban fabric. In 804 AD Mantua was made a bishopric. Thanks to a relic of Christ's blood the city had become an important religious centre. In the 10th century, new walls and a moat were built and, in 1115, Mantua became a free commune.
Through history water regulations have been very important to Mantua and distinguished hydraulic engineering was carried out on many occasions. In 1190, the system of lakes around the city was created with a dam and a bridge across the river, which raised the water level of the upper lake more than four meters. On the dam, twelve water-mills helped to regulate the water. To the south of the city, a canal (the Rio) was dug in the 13th century. It soon became the limit of the extended city - the second ring of growth. At the eastern end of the canal a protected harbour, Porto Catena, was constructed. In the 13th century several towers and palaces were built in the city and two squares, today's Broletto and Piazza delle Erbe. In 1272, the Bonacolsi family seized power and carried on the building activities.
In 1328, Luigi Gonzaga staged a coup and his family then stayed in power up to 1707. In 1433, they obtained the title of marquis and, in 1530, duke. The territory was expanded, the navigability of the waterways improved and fortifications built. At the same time, agricultural productivity and trade rose. By the middle of the 14th century, the Gonzagas had acquired sufficient properties for the gradual transformation of the present-day complex of the Ducal Palace. The end of the century saw the beginning of a third ring of growth to the south, with a wide moat, the Fossa Magistrale, marking the outer limit.
The rule of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga (1407-1444) prepared the way for the Renaissance and brought in new ideas through humanist studies, with Filippo Brunelleschi invited from Florence, contacts with Leon Battista Alberti and the works of Pisanello. This was also a period of urban renewal with the planning of urban spaces as a way of organizing the city and the building of palaces in the new area to the south.
The second part of the 15th century, the period of Ludovico II (1444-1478), gave Mantua a premier role in the development of the Renaissance. A series of architects, artists and artisans arrived in the city and a new artistic language was established. In 1459, Pope Pius II held a diet on the threat from the Turks, which brought many international delegates. In architecture, Leon Battista Alberti and Luca Fancelli were particularly important and, in painting, Andrea Mantegna played the main role.
In the 1460s and 70s a marked change took place. Many new palaces and other building were erected and alterations made to old ones. Streets and open spaces were paved. The two Alberti churches, San Sebastiano (1460) and Sant'Andrea (1472) were particularly significant architecturally and a central axis was created through the city. After the death of Ludovico II in 1478, the territory was divided into several small independent states, ruled by different branches of the Gonzaga family. In one of these Sabbioneta was built in the second part of the 16th century. The Mantua court remained as one of the foremost cultural centres of the Renaissance.
The development continued and consolidated the city, as in the previous century. In 1524, the architect and painter Giulio Romano came to Mantua from Rome and dominated the arts for the coming two decades. In 1525, work started on the suburban villa Palazzo Te outside the moat, marking the southern end of the central axis through the city. In both architecture and painting, this became one of the most influential Mannerist works. Romano was court artist as well as superintendent of works for the city and was responsible for many renewal schemes. City and cultural life flourished and, towards the end of the 16th century, the number of inhabitants exceeded 40.000, almost the same number as today.
In the 17th century the city declined. The direct line of the Gonzaga family came to an end and a war of succession broke out. In 1630, Mantua was besieged and affected by a plague. After a war, Mantua came under Austrian rule in 1707 and entered a relatively calm period as a fortress city. Some new public buildings were erected, among those the Palace of the Academy. The dome was added to the church of Sant'Andrea, the monumental park of the Piazza Virgilana was begun in 1797 and facades throughout the city were painted monochrome.
In 1866, Mantua was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy and gradually the economy began to develop again. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the fortifications were demolished and the moat was covered. There are now wide streets along the southern limits of the historic centre and the railway has been built along the west and south. Open spaces in the heart of the city have been restored and given back their historic character. In 1942 and 1950, plans for the historic centre were produced. In some places new buildings replaced old ones and the Rio has been partially covered.
Sabbioneta was the capital of one of the smallest states in Italy, created when Mantua was divided into several parts in 1478. These parts were still ruled by different branches of the Gonzaga family. It has been known since Roman times as a locality along the Vitelliana road but, even though it has a long history, it can be considered a new foundation. Sabbioneta is the creation of one man, the ruler of the little state Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna (1531-1591). He had studied the writings and theories of ideal city planning but his aim was to build an impregnable fortress and functioning capital of the state. It is believed that he himself designed the plan and the fortifications with the help of military expertise. The work began sometime between 1554 and 1556.
Between 1588 and 1590, Vincenzo Scamozzi was employed to construct the Teatro all'antica. This is the first properly functioning modern indoor theatre, with specific spaces designed to fulfil the requirements of the theatre. After the death of Vespasiano, Sabbioneta declined. In the 17th century it came under Spanish administration but returned to the Gonzagas of Mantua in 1703. Five years later, however, it was annexed to Guastella and, in 1743, taken over by the Habsburgs.Source: Advisory Body Evaluation