The Palazzo Ducale di Mantova ('Ducal Palace') is a group of buildings in Mantua, built between the 14th and the 17th century mainly by the noble family of Gonzaga as their royal residence in the capital of their Duchy. The buildings are connected by corridors and galleries and are enriched by inner courts and wide gardens. The complex includes some 500 rooms and occupies an area of c. 34,000 m². Although most famous for Mantegna's frescos in the Camera degli Sposi (Wedding Room), they have many other very significant architectural and painted elements.
The Gonzaga family lived in the palace from 1328 to 1707, when the dynasty died out. The oldest structures, those located on Piazza Sordello square, were built between the 13th century and the 14th century by the Bonacorsi family, who dominated Mantua before being ruled out by the Gonzagas in 1328.
In the late 14th century, an imposing fortress, the Castle of Saint George, was built near the city’s lakefront. The castle was designed by military architect Bartolino da Novara as a defensive structure aimed at protecting the heart of the town, and subsequently converted into the main residence of the Gonzaga family.
In 1556, Guglielmo Gonzaga took the decision to merge those buildings into a single, grandiose architectural complex. Therefore, a number of late Renaissance-style courtyards, gardens, passages, porticoes, and new wings were built in the second half of the 16th century after designs by some of the most renowned architects and artists of the time, including Giulio Romano, Giovan Battista Bertani, and Antonio Maria Viani.
Subsequently, the buildings saw a sharp decline, which was halted in the 20th century with a continuing process of restoration and the designation of the area as museum. In 1998, a hidden room was discovered by Palace scholars. The room is thought to have been used for performances of Monteverdi's music in the late 16th century.
Sirmione castle was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. The castle was maintained and extended first as part of the Veronese protection against their rivals in Milan and later under the control of the Venetian inland empire. The massive fortress is totally surrounded by water and has an inner porch which houses a Roman and Medieval lapidary. From the drawbridge, a staircase leads to the walkways above the walls, providing a marvellous view of the harbour that once sheltered the Scaliger fleet. The doors were fitted with a variety of locking systems, including a drawbridge for horses, carriages and pedestrians, a metal grate and, more recently, double hinged doors. Venice conquered Sirmione in 1405, immediately adopting provisions to render the fortress even more secure, fortifying its outer walls and widening the harbour.
Thanks to its strategical geographical location as a border outpost, Sirmione became a crucial defence and control garrison for the ruling nobles, retaining this function until the 16th century, when its role was taken up by Peschiera del Garda.