Sabbioneta is a town and comune in the province of Mantua. Sabbioneta was founded by Vespasiano I Gonzaga in the late 16th century along the ancient Roman Via Vitelliana, on a sandy bank of the Po; he was its first duke, using it as a personal fortress and residence.

In 2008, Sabbioneta was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as a recognition of its perfect example of practical application of Renaissance urban planning theories.

Buildings

The Ducal Palace (now the Town Hall) was the first significant building to be built by Vespasiano Gonzaga in his ideal city. The ground floor has a beautiful portico covered with marble. The noble floor is enhanced by the so-called golden rooms, with the vault of gilded and painted wood.

The Teatro all'antica ('Theater in the style of the ancients') was the first free-standing, purpose-built theater in the modern world. It was constructed in 1588 and 1590 by the celebrated Vicentine architect Vincenzo Scamozzi. The Teatro all'antica is the second-oldest surviving indoor theater in the world and is one of only three Renaissance theaters still in existence.

Galleria degli Antichi and Palazzo del Giardino are adjacent, contemporaneous, Renaissance-style buildings. Prior to 1797, the buildings were connected to the Rocca or Castle of Sabbioneta (razed by Napoleon's forces during the Siege of Mantua), and the gallery once housed the Gonzaga collection of antique Roman statuary and hunting trophies. While the architectural design of the gallery is striking, the richness of the interior decoration of the palazzo is also dazzling.

Chiesa della Beata Vergine Incoronata church was erected in 1586-1588 at the site were a prior church dedicated to San Niccolò was located. It was commissioned by Vespasiano Gonzaga. The church has an octagonal layout, similar to the Bramantesque church of Santa Maria Incoronata in Lodi. The church has eight surrounding chapels, one with Vespasiano's funereal monument, were decorated mainly in the 18th century. The frescoes in the church were painted with quadratura in 1768 by a team led by Antonio Galli Bibiena.

Sabbioneta is also known for its historic Jewish Ghetto and Synagogue, and in particular for its Hebrew printing-press. In 1551 Tobias Foa set up the press; he had, however, published certain 'anti-Christian books' and his career was 'forcibly ended'. His work and possibly his type were taken up by a Christian printer, Vicenzo Conte.

 

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Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.