Brescia is not only an industrial and industrious city active in many sectors (it is no coincidence that it is the third largest industrial area in Italy); it is much more: it offers historical monuments of rare beauty that not everyone knows, and in recent years it has begun to point out its artistic and cultural side, which fits perfectly with the modernity of its economic and technological character. Let’s discover this fantastic city together!
Brescia: three thousand years of history.
Founded over 3200 years ago, Brescia was the capital of the Cenomani Gauls and then became a splendid Roman colony with the name of Brixia. For 400 years it was part of the Republic of Venice – the typical Venetian architecture of Piazza della Loggia is a clear example – then it became Austrian from 1815 to 1859. And just under the domination of Austria Brescia was nicknamed “Lioness of Italy“, for the ten days of resistance to the Austrians during the Italian Risorgimento.
Brescia, therefore, is a city that has continued to develop for about three thousand years, with different architectural styles that have followed one another over the centuries. In this regard, Philippe Daverio, a well-known art critic, said that Brescia is home to “the most powerful historical stratification of Northern Italy”.
Brescia, World Heritage Site and the Roman Forum.
A few kilometers from Lake Garda, in addition to Mantua and Verona, we also have the beautiful Brescia that deserves to be discovered for its historical, cultural and artistic riches. In fact, on 25 June 2011, UNESCO declared Brescia a World Heritage Site.
This recognition is due to the monumental area of the Roman Forum and the monastic complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia, which became part of the “Lombards in Italy: places of power” site. The series includes seven locations on the Italian territory where architectural, pictorial and sculptural testimonies of Lombard art are preserved.
For the uninitiated, the Roman Forum of Brescia was the ancient main square of the city center of Brixia, starting from the first century BC. and later completed by Vespasiano. This monumental archaeological complex preserves the major public buildings of the Roman age of Northern Italy, such as the Capitolium, the Roman Theater and the Republican Sanctuary.
Much of the original square today is traced from Piazza del Foro, while the remains of most of the buildings have been brought to light outside or in the basement of the buildings that currently surround the square.
A treasure to discover: the Castle on Colle Cidneo.
Towards the historic center of the city rises Colle Cidneo, the place of the first settlement (Bronze Age). And right on its summit stands the “Falcone d’Italia” in all its power, the defensive fulcrum of the place as well as the scene, in 1849, of the famous ten days of Brescia (the period of revolt against Austrian oppression).
The sixteenth-century castle is one of the largest and best preserved fortresses in Northern Italy and to reach it just take a 15-minute walk, starting from the archaeological area (via dei Musei). It goes without saying that once you get to the top you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the city.
A lush green quadrilateral, covered with numerous trees, embraces the castle surrounded by defensive walls. Inside, the Mirabella Tower and the Keep, built by the Visconti of Milan in the first half of the 14th century, dominate.
In the complex there are also the Renaissance Museum and the Weapons Museum, with unique pieces of artillery from the 15th and 16th centuries. Do not miss a visit to the left wing of the castle, where there is a real steam locomotive.
Piazza della Loggia.
Without a doubt, the first place to visit is Piazza Della Loggia, one of the nerve centers of the city, to which one of the darkest pages of recent Italian history is also linked.
The loggia from which the square takes its name is the unmistakable white building with three arches and the hull-shaped dome, which dominates a large, richly carved white marble facade. Built in 1492, today it is the seat of the municipal council offices. Inside, a large Renaissance staircase leads to the first floor, the Vanvitelliano Hall, designed by Luigi Vanvitelli in 1773.
On the opposite side of the loggia is the Clock Tower, built in 1540 and famous for the Màcc de le Ure (the madmen of the hours), the two bronze statues that strike the bell every hour. On the tower stands a large mechanical clock from 1544 which also indicates the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon. To the left of the tower stands the building of the old Monte di Pietà, from 1484: on the facade there are a series of Roman inscriptions recovered during excavations in this area.
On Saturdays the square hosts the market, and all year round it is the perfect meeting place for a coffee at the tables and for a little shopping in the shops under the arcades. In addition to the commemorative plaque, a series of tiles in the road that leads from the square to the Castle recalls the fascist terrorist attack of May 28, 1974, in which a bomb killed 8 people and injured 102.
Piazza Paolo VI or of the two Duomi.
After visiting Brescia you can say that you have been in one of the few cities in the world that can boast not one, but two Duomi. Piazza dei Due Duomi, is a beautiful medieval square in the heart of the city. This square is overlooked by: the Summer Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, called the new cathedral (opened to the public in 1825 and unmistakable thanks to its baroque marble facade and the dome which, with its 80 meters, is the third largest in Italy. Italy), and the Winter Co-Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, called the old cathedral (built in the 11th century at the behest of a corporation of masons, today it is the largest architecturally Romanesque circular temple that can be visited by tourists today).
The square also houses the Palazzo del Broletto with its unmistakable crenellated stone tower: the oldest public building in the city, built starting from 1200.
Museum of Santa Giulia.
Still on the subject of places of great historical and artistic interest, you can visit the Museum of Santa Giulia (spread over an area of 14 square km). Unique in Italy because it stands in place of the female monastery of S. Giulia and contains a Lombard basilica, a 16th century church and the remains of the Roman domus.
This museum testifies to the daily, artistic and spiritual life of Brescia from prehistoric times to today, with 11,000 exhibits. The tour can start from the ground floor, where the domus dell’Ortaglia are located, with perfectly preserved mosaic floors and many frescoes on the walls: they are Roman houses, from the 1st to the 4th century AD, overlooking a vegetable garden and a garden.
The church of San Salvatore is one of the most important Lombard buildings ever and was built in 753 AD. by King Desiderio as a symbol of his monarchy. It is worth a visit for its rich sculptures, including two marble slabs with peacocks.
We then visit the church of Santa Maria in Solario, the oratory of the nuns, who secretly attended services from here. It dates back to the 12th century and on the lower floor it houses a Lipsanoteca, an ivory box from the 4th century AD. used as a reliquary. Upstairs the room is entirely frescoed, from the vaulted ceiling to the scenes on the walls. Here is the Cross of Desiderius, a cross from the 9th century AD. with Lombard and Roman decorations and as many as 212 gems.
Among the Roman finds surrounding the Renaissance cloister is the Victory Winged of Brescia, a bronze figure made approximately in the first century. A.D., which depicts a woman with angel wings, wrapped in a cloak. It was discovered in the Capitolium area in 1826, and is the only case of a perfectly preserved bronze statue in northern Italy; due to the fact that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, all pagan symbols were in fact destroyed. This Victory has come down to us because it was hidden in a cavity of the temple.
The Martinengo Art Gallery.
The Tosio Martinengo picture gallery houses a collection of 480 works by the most important authors from 1200 to 1800, including the protagonists of the Renaissance, from Raphael to Lotto, and the greatest exponents of the nineteenth century including Canova and Hayez. The itinerary winds along 21 exhibition halls; and among the works not to be missed are those of Raphael: The Angel of 1500, the Blessing Christ the Redeemer of 1505 and the Madonna and Child of 1520. The collection also includes a series of decorative arts including medals, enamels, ivories and goldsmiths. The collection has grown over time, and today it also houses Japanese and Chinese paintings. For info and tickets click here.
The Teatro Grande and its annual events.
The Grande Theater of Brescia, founded in 1640, is today the most important theater in the city and a National Monument. From the end of the 19th century onwards he staged the most famous operas of the Italian tradition and here was the Premiere of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”. Together with the city of Bergamo, it hosts the International Piano Festival and the Opera Festival every year.
The rooms of the theater can be visited by appointment and allow you to discover the history and splendor of these places. The statues hall contains 16 plaster statues of the most important Italian and Brescia artists, including Giuseppe Verdi. The foyer is a room with sumptuous 18th century decorations, a meeting place for smokers and players in the 19th century. The scenography hall is located on the first floor on the stage: here the backdrops scenes were built and designed. The great hall, the marvelous central hall of this theater, was built in 1810 in the shape of a horseshoe and includes five orders of arcades, including three boxes and two galleries. In the past it housed the bourgeoisie and the nobility and the top floor was intended for the people. The room is dominated by the garnet red of the tapestries and by a series of decorations in papier-mâché and wood carved in gold and ivory. The ceiling is decorated with frescoes and gilded stuccoes and at the back of the room there is the royal box, with a neoclassical interior decoration that is still the original one from 1810.
The charm of underground Brescia.
Underground Brescia can be discovered through the Brescia Underground association (for info and tours click here). Brescia Underground is a path to discover everything that is hidden below street level, with various paths that include rivers, canals, canals. The main route lasts about 2 hours, and starts right under Piazza Loggia, with guides explaining all the curiosities, and the history of this underground level of the city.
The Brescia Speleological Association also allows you to visit the basement of the castle of Brescia, discovering towers, galleries and bastions with guided tours of various levels that allow you to access most of the underground environments including the tower, the oil warehouse, the water tanks and powder kegs (for info and tours click here).
The other churches of Brescia.
The Church of Sant’Agata, in Via S. Agata 31, was built starting from 1300 and has a Renaissance portal with two Baroque statues. Inside you can admire a perfect example of harmony between fifteenth and sixteenth-century styles, with frescoes and stuccoes from the seventeenth century. This church has been remodeled several times, and today you can admire the superimposition of harmoniously homogeneous styles. A polychrome terracotta decoration and the three large cross vaults are the gothic elements of the church; the chapels in the nave, on the other hand, date back to the 1500s and the interiors are dominated by marvelous frescoes from 1683, one of the first examples of Baroque decoration in Brescia. On the main altar is the Martyrdom of St. Agata in Croce, made by Francesco Prata da Caravaggio.
The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a real treasure of Renaissance art and is located in the center, in Corso Martiri della Libertà. This church was built in 1488 to house the miraculous image of the Madonna and Child which was found in a fresco outside a house in these parts. The façade of the church, in Botticino marble, was decorated with great skill by Gian Gaspare Pedroni with sacred and profane motifs.
The Church of Saints Nazario and Celso is one of the largest churches in Brescia and is located in Via Matteotti. It is a classic example of a neoclassical structure, starting with the facade, supported by eight large Corinthian columns, and the main portal with the curved tympanum. Inside, this church consists of five chapels and houses very precious works of art such as the Madonna and Child with Saints Lorenzo and Agostino from the 15th century, and the Averoldi Polyptych, by Tiziano Vecellio, which dates back to 1522. the origin of this church is medieval, but over the centuries it has been enlarged and enriched, until it was completely rebuilt in 1753 in a neoclassical style.
The eno-gastronomic specialties of Brescia.
The cuisine of Brescia is tasty and flavoursome, based on meat, dairy products, and cereals, among which the famous polenta taragna stands out, in an area that reserves excellent wines, with many Docs.
You can start with the aperitif, the Pirlo, to be enjoyed in the restaurants in the center, with lemon zest, white wine, red bitter, seltzer, accompanied by bertagnì (fried cod).
The appetizers are a triumph of cold cuts and cheeses, and among the first are the Malfatti, gnocchi with bread, milk, butter, eggs, fresh spinach and nutmeg, boiled and seasoned with butter and sage. The Casonsèi from Brescia are delicious homemade ravioli, stuffed with meat or vegetables, flavored with butter and fresh sage and parmesan. The Gnoc de la cua, very tasty dumplings thanks to the perùch, which are spontaneous herbs to be harvested in the summer huts in early May, and the abundant Case di Viso cheese in the dough – are typical of Valcamonica. The Caicc de Brè, large ravioli with a very substantial filling, consisting of boiled and roasted meats of different types, cold cuts, beets, herbs, walnuts, raisins, garlic, parsley and amaretti. The Foiada, a turbot of egg pasta seasoned with butter and cheese, sprinkled with cheese and spices, is typical of Valsabbia.
Among the typical second courses of Brescia to taste the beef cooked in extra virgin olive oil, which requires a long cooking and has the consistency of a cream, and the donkey stew, cooked in wine and flavored with onions and tomato paste. Polenta taragna, rich in typical flours such as buckwheat, often accompanies main courses. Without forgetting the Brescia spit, a typical dish consisting of pieces of various types of meat such as pork, chicken and rabbit, birds and potatoes skewered on long skewers, locally called ranfie, and cooked over very low heat in special rotating ovens for several hours. , seasoning them with abundant melted butter, sage, pieces of lard, salt and other flavorings. The Bariloca, an original recipe from Barbariga, is a traditional single dish that combines local hen, mushrooms and risotto. The Rustignì, a generous and caloric omelette, made with butter, eggs, onion and not too seasoned cheese – tasty and versatile, it can be enriched as desired with salami, vegetables and everything that the pantry offers (it was born precisely to use leftovers). The Sisam was born on the shores of Lake Garda and was designed by fishermen to conserve fish. Queens of the dish are the small bleaks (better known as aole), dried on mats in the sun and then simmered with onions, vinegar and sugar. The result is a salty preserve which, after adequate rest in oil in terracotta jars, is served on slices of homemade bread or toasted polenta.
And the desserts? The most traditional are the bussolà, the persicata, the Brescia biscuit, the fritüra del lat, the patùna, perhaps to be tried at the Pasticceria Veneto, by the Brescia pastry chef Iginio Massari, nominated the Best Pastry Chef in the World at the World Pastry Stars in Milan. Bussolà, from the Venetian life jacket, is a round cake with a hole in the center made from butter, leavened and fragrant, while the persicata is a delicious jelly in pieces of peaches and caramel. The Brescia biscuit is simple and nutritious, and according to tradition it is not very sweet and perfect to soak.
It is also difficult to mention a single wine from Brescia, because the Franciacorta area offers wines for all tastes and of excellent quality. However, the autochthonous Bresciano wine is the white Invernenga, available in limited production. Among others, to taste the classic Garda, Botticino, Lugana. Obviously, Franciacorta docg is among the sparkling wines.
How to get to Brescia.
On the A4 Milan – Venice motorway, Brescia Est exit.
On the train:
Brescia station is the main station of the city, located on the Milan-Venice railway line, it is the trunk station of the lines for Lecco, Cremona, Parma, as well as of the line for Edolo di Ferrovienord.
Gabriele D’Annunzio Airport, Montichiari 20 km from Brescia – Verona Villafranca Airport 50 km from Brescia – Bergamo Airport 50 km from Brescia – Milan Linate Airport 100 km from Brescia – Milan Malpensa Airport 150 km from Brescia.
Hotels – Restaurants – Experiences on Lake Garda.
On Lake Garda there are many structures in which to stay, from small and well-kept B&B’s to resorts with wellness centers and beauty services, in the section dedicated to hotels find all the information you need to find the most suitable accommodation for you.
The same goes for restaurants, at this link you will find our selection of restaurants on Lake Garda. Remembering that Lake Garda offers several starred restaurants and the quality of the culinary offer is very high.
There are many activities and experiences you can do on Lake Garda, so we recommend you visit the section dedicated to experiences in our magazine by clicking here.
And then come on … who doesn’t like finding a surprise chocolate on the pillow in the evening before going to sleep?
See you next time dear Outdoors!
Silvia Turazza – Garda Outdoors editorial staff