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Sharing more in common with Ferrara in Romagna than its Lombard cohorts, Mantua (Mantova) is a city protected by lakes, anchored by Unesco-listed Renaissance architecture and coloured by a history that resounds to the daring, sometimes despotic deeds of one family: the House of Gonzaga. Reigning for 400 years from the early 14th to 18th centuries, the Gonzaga made Mantua a centre of the Renaissance, commissioned several massive palaces, and cemented power by intermarrying with the powerful d’Este clan of Ferrara. Much of the city today was built in their image.

Despite their domineering presence, the Gonzagas weren’t Mantua’s only innovators. The Latin poet Virgil was born just outside the modern town in 70 BC, Shakespeare's Romeo heard of Juliet's death here and Verdi set his tragic, 19th-century opera, Rigoletto, in its melancholy fog-bound streets.

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