Mantua ( ; Emilian and Latin: Mantua) is a city and comune in Lombardy, Italy, and capital of the province of the same name. Mantua's historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family made it one of the main artistic, cultural, and especially musical hubs of Northern Italy and the country as a whole. Mantua is noted for its significant role in the history of opera, and the city is known for its architectural treasures and artifacts, elegant palaces, and medieval and Renaissance cityscape. It is the nearest town to the birthplace of the Roman poet Virgil. It is also the town to which Romeo was banished in William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.
Mantua is surrounded on three sides by artificial lakes created during the 12th century. These receive the waters of the river Mincio, a tributary of the Po which descends from Lake Garda. The three lakes are called Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore ("Upper", "Middle", and "Lower Lake"). A fourth lake, Lake Pajolo, which once completed a defensive water ring of the city, dried up at the end of the 18th century.
The area and its environs are not only important in naturalistic terms, but also anthropologically and historically; research has highlighted a number of human settlements scattered between Barche di Solferino and Bande di Cavriana Castellaro and Isolone del Mincio. These date, without interruption, from Neolithic times (5th-4th millennium BC) to the Bronze Age (2nd-1st millennium BC), the Gallic phases (2nd-1st centuries BC) and end with Roman residential settlements, which can be dated to the 3rd century AD.
A settlement existed as early as around 2000 BC on the banks of the Mincio, on a sort of island which provided natural protection. In the 6th century BC it was an Etruscan village which, in Etruscan tradition, was re-founded by Ocnus.
The name derives from the Etruscan god Arides.Mantus, of Hades. After being conquered by the Cenomani, a Gallic tribe, the city was conquered between the first and second Punic wars by the Romans, who attributed its name to Manto, a daughter of Tiresias. The new territory was populated by veteran soldiers of Augustus. Mantua's most famous ancient citizen is the poet Publius Vergilius Maro, Virgil (Mantua me genuit), who was born near the city in 70 BC at the village now known as Virgilio.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Mantua was invaded in turn by Byzantines, Longobards and Franks. In the 11th century it became a possession of Boniface of Canossa, marquis of Toscana. The last ruler of the family was the countess Matilda of Canossa (d. 1115), who, according to legend, ordered the construction of the precious Rotonda di San Lorenzo (1082).
After the death of Matilda of Canossa, Mantua became a free commune, and strenuously defended itself from the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1198 Alberto Pitentino altered the course of the Mincio, creating what Mantuans call "the four lakes" to reinforce the city's natural protection. Between 1215 and 1216 the city was under the podesteria of the Guelph Rambertino Buvalelli.
During the struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, Pinamonte Bonacolsi took advantage of the chaotic situation to seize power in 1273. His family ruled Mantua for the next century, making it more prosperous and artistically beautiful. On August 16, 1328, the last Bonacolsi, Rinaldo, was overthrown in a revolt backed by the House of Gonzaga, a family of officials. Luigi Gonzaga, who had been podestà of the city in 1318, was elected "People's Captain". The Gonzagas built new walls with five gates and renovated the architecture of the city in the 14th century, but the political situation in the city did not settle until the third Gonzaga, Ludovico Gonzaga, eliminated his relatives, seizing power for himself. During the Renaissance, the Gonzaga family softened their despotic rule and raised the level of culture and refinement in Mantua. Mantua was a significant center of Renaissance art and humanism. Marquis Gianfrancesco Gonzaga had brought Vittorino da Feltre to Mantua in 1423 to open his famous humanist school, the Casa Giocosa.
Through a payment of 120,000 golden florins in 1433, Gianfrancesco I was appointed marquis of Mantua by Emperor Sigismund, whose daughter Barbara of Brandenburg he married. In 1459 Pope Pius II held the Council of Mantua to proclaim a crusade against the Turks. Under Francesco II the famous Renaissance painter Andrea Mantegna worked in Mantua as court painter, producing some of his most outstanding works.
The first Duke of Mantua was Federico II Gonzaga, who acquired the title from Emperor Charles V in 1530. Federico commissioned Giulio Romano to build the famous Palazzo Te, on the periphery of the city, and profoundly improved the city. In the late 16th century Claudio Monteverdi came to Mantua from his native Cremona. He worked for the court of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, first as a singer and violist, then as music director, marrying the court singer Claudia Cattaneo in 1599.
In 1627, the direct line of the Gonzaga family came to an end with the vicious and weak Vincenzo II, and the town slowly declined under the new rulers, the Gonzaga-Nevers, a cadet French branch of the family. The War of the Mantuan Succession broke out, and in 1630 an Imperial army of 36,000 Landsknecht mercenaries besieged Mantua, bringing the plague with them. Mantua never recovered from this disaster. Ferdinand Carlo IV, an inept ruler whose only interest was in holding parties and theatrical shows, allied with France in the War of the Spanish Succession. After the latter's defeat, he took refuge in Venice, carrying with him a thousand pictures. At his death in 1708 he was declared deposed and his family lost Mantua forever in favour of the Habsburgs of Austria.
Under Austrian rule, Mantua enjoyed a revival and during this period the Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts, the Scientific Theatre, and numerous palaces were built.
On June 4, 1796, during the Napoleonic Wars, Mantua was besieged by Napoleon as a move against Austria, who joined the First Coalition. Austrian and Russian attempts to break the siege failed, but spread the French thin enough that the siege could be abandoned on 31 July so other battles could be fought. The siege resumed on August 24. In early February the city surrendered and the region came under French administration. Two years later, in 1799, the city was retaken by the Austrians.
Later, the city again passed into Napoleon's control. In the year 1810 by Porta Giulia, a gate of the town at Borgo di Porto (Cittadella), Andreas Hofer was shot; he had led the insurrection in the County of Tyrol against Napoleon.
After the brief period of French rule, Mantua returned to Austria in 1814, becoming one of the Quadrilatero fortress cities in northern Italy. Agitation against Austria culminated in a revolt which lasted from 1851 to 1855, and was finally suppressed by the Austrian army. One of the most famous episodes of the Italian Risorgimento took place in the valley of the Belfiore, when a group of rebels was hanged by the Austrians.