MANTUA (Ital. Mantova), a fortified city of Lombardy, Italy, the capital of the province of Mantua, the see of a bishop, and the centre of a military district, 25 m. S.S.W. of Verona and 100 m. E.S.E. of Milan by rail. Pop. (1906), 31,783. It is situated 88 ft. above the level of the Adriatic on an almost insular site in the midst of the swampy lagoons of the Mincio. As the belt of marshy ground along the south side can be laid under water at pleasure, the site of the city proper, exclusive of the considerable suburbs of Borgo di Fortezza to the north and Borgo di San Giorgio to the east, may still be said to consist, as it formerly did more distinctly, of two islands separated by a narrow channel and united by a number of bridges. On the west side lies Lago Superiore, on the east side Lago Inferiore the boundary between the two being marked by the Argine del Mulino, a long mole stretching northward from the northwest angle of the city to the citadel.
On the highest ground in the city rises the cathedral, the interior of which was built after his death according to the plans of Giulio Romano; it has double aisles, a fine fretted ceiling, a dome-covered transept, a bad baroque facade, and a large unfinished Romanesque tower. Much more important architecturally is the church of St Andrea, built towards the close of the 15th century, after plans by Leon Battista Alberti, and consisting of a single, barrel-vaulted nave 350 ft. long by 62 ft. wide. It has a noble facade with a deeply recessed portico, and a brick campanile of 1414. The interior is decorated with 18th-century frescoes, to which period the dome also belongs. Mantegna is buried in one of the side chapels. S. Sebastiano is another work of Alberti's. The old ducal palace one of the largest buildings of its kind in Europe was begun in 1302 for Guido Bonaccolsi, and probably completed in 1328 for Ludovico Gonzaga; but many of the accessory apartments are of much later date, and the internal decorations are for the most part the work of Giulio Romano and his pupils. There are also some fine rooms of the early 19th century. Close by are the Piazza dell' Erbe and the Piazza Sordello, with Gothic palaces. The Castello di Corte here, the old castle of the Gonzagas (1395-1406), erected by Bartolino da Novara, the architect of the castle of Ferrara, now contains the archives, and has some fine frescoes by Mantegna with scenes from the life of Ludovico Gonzaga. Outside of the city, to the south of Porta Pusterla, stands the Palazzo del Te, Giulio's architectural masterpiece, erected for Frederick Gonzaga in 1523-1535; of the numerous fresco-covered chambers which it contains, perhaps the most celebrated is the Sala dei Giganti, where, by a combination of mechanical with artistic devices, the rout of the Titans still contending with artillery of uptorn rocks against the pursuit and thunderbolts of Jove appears to rush downwards on the spectator. The architecture of Giulio's own house in the town is also good.
Mantua has an academy of arts and sciences (Accademia Vergiliana), occupying a fine building erected by Piermarini, a public library founded in 1780 by Maria Theresa, a museum of antiquities dating from 1779, many of which have been brought from Sabbioneta, a small residence town of the Gonzagas in the late 16th century, a mineralogical museum, a good botanical garden, and an observatory. There are ironworks, tanneries, breweries, oil-mills and flour-mills in the town, which also has printing, furriery, doll-making and playing-card industries. As a fortress Mantua was long one of the most formidable in Europe, a force of thirty to forty thousand men finding accommodation within its walls; but it had two serious defects the marshy climate told heavily on the health of the garrison, and effective sorties were almost impossible. It lies on the main line of railway between Verona and Modena; and is also connected by rail with Cremona and with Monselice, on the line from Padua to Bologna, and by steam tramway with Brescia and other places.
S. Maria delle Grazie, standing some 5 m. outside the town, was consecrated in 1399 as an act of thanksgiving for the cessation of the plague, and has a curious collection of ex wto pictures (wax figures), and also the tombs of the Gonzaga family.
Mantua had still a strong Etruscan element in its population during the Roman period. It became a Roman municipium, with the rest of Gallia Transpadana; but Martial calls it little Mantua, and had it not been for Virgil's interest in his native place, and in the expulsion of a number of the Mantuans (and among them the poet himself) from their lands in favour of Octavian's soldiers, we should probably have heard almost nothing of its existence. In 568 the Lombards found Mantua a walled town of some strength; recovered from their grasp in 590 by the exarch of Ravenna, it was again captured by Agilulf in 601. The 9th century was the period of episcopal supremacy, and in the nth the city formed part of the vast possessions of Bonifacio, marquis of Canossa. From him it passed to Geoffrey, duke of Lorraine, and afterwards to the countess Matilda, whose support of the pope led to the conquest of Mantua by the emperor Henry IV. in 1090. Reduced to obedience by Matilda in 1113, the city obtained its liberty on her death, and instituted a communal government of its own, salva imperials justitia. It afterwards joined the Lombard League; and the unsuccessful attack made by Frederick II. in 1236 brought it a confirmation of its privileges. But after a period of internal discord Ludovico Gonzaga attained to power (1328), and was recognized as imperial vicar (1329); and from that time till the death of Ferdinando Carbo in 1708 the Gonzagas were masters of Mantua (see GONZAGA). Under Gian Francesco II., the first marquis, Ludovico III., Gian Francesco III. (whose wife was Isabella d'Este), and Federico II., the first duke of Mantua, the city rose rapidly into importance as a seat of industry and culture. It was stormed and sacked by the Austrians in 1630, and never quite recovered. Claimed in 1708 as a fief of the empire by Joseph I., it was governed for the greater part of the century by the Austrians. In June 1796 it was besieged by Napoleon; but in spite of terrific bombardments it held out till February 1797. A three -days' bombardment in 1799 again placed Mantua in the hands of the Austrians; and, though restored to the French by the peace of Luneville (1801), it became Austrian once more from 1814 till 1866. Between 1849 and 1859, when the whole of Lombardy except Mantua was, by the peace of Villafranca, ceded to Italy, the city was the scene of violent political persecution.
See Gaet. Susani, Nuovo prospetto delle pitture, etc., di Mantova (Mantua, 1830) ; Carlo d'Arco, Delle arli e degli artefici di Mantova (Mantua, 1857); and Storia di Mantova (Mantua, 1874).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)