2-3 November 2023
I travel my chosen route mainly for the views. I’ve not explored the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige. This is the area located north of Venice and bordering Switzerland and Austria. However, the more I research sites of interest, the more I realize this trip is a lot more than mountain peaks.
(Left: Victory, symbol of Brescia)
I arrive in rain. Yesterday, Milan experienced torrential rains and flooding. Climate Change is having its impact. My last three destinations, Mongolia, Turkey and Milan, I have experienced serious flooding. It is becoming harder and harder to plan wardrobe in an unpredictable climate. Today, rain and wind follow me to Brescia. Out comes my umbrella but I still get wet.
Brescia (Brèsa) is in the Lombardy region and boasts several stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the city itself. I purchased a Museum Pass for a reduced price of 14€, which covers entry for all my visits in the city.
I walked the historic Codeidoio UNESCO from the Sculpture Park to the Capitolium. It’s a wonderful, quiet stroll through Brescia’s 2500 years of history.
San Salvatore – Santa Giulia
The large San Salvatore – Santa Giulia monastery is a former Benedictine nunnery. Described as one of seven “Longobards in Italy, Places of Power,” it became a UNESCO site in 2011. The Longobards, or people of Lombard, held power from about 568 to 774 CE.
Most of the façade was restored during the 12th century in the Romanesque style. Further restoration occurred during the 15th century Renaissance. The monastery was neglected for many years, even being used as a French barracks. The final restoration was in 1966 with the addition of the Museum of Santa Giulia.
The church consists of three naves defined by columns and capitols. The crypt, the monastery’s most sacred site, was constructed at the request of Desiderius’ queen Ansa and used to hold the small bone fragments of St. Giulia/Julia. The Nuns’ Choir, dating to 1466, is crowned by a stunning cupola and decorated with elaborate frescoes.
The nunnery was established in 753 CE by Brescia’s homeboy Desiderius, the future King of the Lombards. It earned its reputation as an important educational center for female nobility. Desiderius’ daughter Anselperga became its first abbess. Another of Desiderius’ daughters married Charlemagne who repaid this generosity by conquering the kingdom and making his father-in-law Lombard’s last king. (Dante treated Desiderius equally poorly in his writings of Paradiso.)
Also, part of this large monastic complex is the church of Santa Maria in Solario and the Museum de Santa Giulia which include artefacts from the region’s history. There are artifacts from a Roman house, including mosaics, which were unearthed beneath the monastery. The Martinengo cenotaph and the gem encrusted Desiderius’ cross are beautiful.
A temporary museum exhibition is dedicated to Fabrizio Plessi, a modern artist and pioneer of video art. His exhibition featured large digital and video projections creating an immersive experience of Brescia’s heritage and archeology. The exhibition is an additional entry. Some of his works are about the museum and other venues about the city and may suffice.
Capitolium Tempio and Roman Archaeological Ruins
Not just Gauls and other barbarian invaders passed thru Brescia, but the Venetian doges had an interest in the region. However, perhaps the most noticeable impact came from the Romans.
Today, Brescia’s Archaeological Park is the largest and best preserved of its kind in northern Italy and is proof of the importance that Brescia had during its Roman era. It can be toured on a guided timed-entry. I wonder about all the requirements of entry, but the time is well-spent.
Also a World Heritage site, the Capitolium Tempio and Roman archaeological ruins include the temple, theater, forum and basilica. Vespasianus constructed the Capitolium Temple in 73 A.D. Between the 4th and the 5th centuries, the temple suffered near-destruction by a fire. Early excavations unearthed remarkable white marble Corinthian columns, and in 1823, a secret storage area for sculptures and bronze jewels was discovered. The Republican Sanctuary, built around 89BCE, displays well-preserved frescoes and mosaic floors.
Winged Victory and Boxer
My favorite piece was the “Winged Victory” statue, a 1st century bronze and symbol of the city of Brescia. It was unearthed in 1826 among the ruins of Capitolium Tempio, yet its origins remain unknown. The statue was cast in the “lost wax” method, where a mold is crafted around a wax model. After the mold is set, the wax is melted out to form a cavity into which the metal is poured. Using this method of casting captures fine details. Studies have revealed the statue was cast in many separate parts and later welded together by bronze-workers. Missing components are a helmet and a shield. Regardless, following its recent restoration, the Winged Victory is a spectacular symbol of Brescia.
Juxtaposed next to the Winged Victory is The Boxer. There is the attempt to explain the relationship of the two bronze statues but such an explanation only works in modern times. The Boxer is as brutal as Victory is beautiful. The Boxer bares the unmistakable signs of battle, his face marred by bruises and swelling, and his body covered in a patchwork of contusions. He has been through hell and back in the ring. The battered warrior looks up, not at Victory, but in expectation of a decision. Considering the proximity of Victory, surely the judges will rule in his favor.
Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo
What is not seen roaming the ruins can be viewed in the Palazzo Martinengo Museum which represents the painters of the 15th- and 16th-century Brescia school. The collection includes Raphael, Lotto and local artist Moretto. There is also a bronze barn owl sitting in the middle of a room, a rather confusing placement until I met Rivalta’s gorillas at the castle.
However, I choose to spend a part of my day roaming around the Brescia Castle atop Cidneo Hill. The castle has a drawbridge, ramparts and towers. Plus, the Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum exhibits a wonderful collection of ancient weapons and armor. Within castle rampartsa is the wonderful Museum del Risorgimento Lioness d’Italia. What more could I desire on this cloudy day?
Locals boast that Brescia Castle is the second largest fortification complex in Europe. It certainly is impressive, as are the views over the city and over the Alps and Apennines from the Mirabella Tower. Enter through the main portal and one enters a world when the Republic of Venice ruled the city.
Cidneo Hill has a long history dating as far back as the Iron Age. Evidence of Celtic and Roman settlements have been found. Beneath the Mirabella Tower artifacts of early Christians of the late Imperial Age have been unearthed. Then came sackings by the Visigoths, Huns, and Germanic peoples.
The Longobards were the first to use the hill for defensive purposes, building the first castle. This was followed by the ruling Visconti family’s expansion of fortifications, the Venetian powers who further modernized and fortified, and a short-lived French period and Napoleonic period. All left their marks that are still visible today.
Except for its use as a detention center for Austrian prisoners during WW One, the Castle has acted as a beloved public park since 1904.
The Luigi Marzoli Arms Museum displays a very fine collection of armor and weapons inside the 14thcentury fortress known as Mastio Visconteo. It is at the very top of the castle hill.
The wonderful Museum del Risorgimento Lioness d’Italia tells the story of the Risorgimento or the rebirth or “Rising Again” movement for Italian unification which resulted in the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The museum creates an immersive experience using historical documentation, paintings, and modern digital and visual arts. The museum’s goal is to illustrate “events and protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento in an innovative and participatory way.” The tour is in English and an excellent history lesson.
Davide Rivalta’s Animalier Sculptures
Except for its use as a detention center for Austrian prisoners during WW One, the Castle has acted as a beloved public park since 1904. Today, interspersed around the park, are sculptures of apes, large and small.
Davide Rivalta was born in Bologna in 1974 and has works in museums around the world. He sculpted these especially for Brescia Castle. He also created the barn owl sitting in the Martinengo Museum.
Rivalta’s exhibition attempts to bring together viewers and animals. He typically works in bronze. His work consists of three main elements: materials, animals and places. His sculptures represent bodies of real animals which Rivalta has encountered in captivity, thus not part of their natural environment. Rivalta has brought the families of apes to the castle fortress.
I was able to visit the 12th century Duomo Vecchio and 15th century Cathedral Santa Maria Assunta in the city’s Piazza Paolo VI. Possibly the best church was Saint Maria of Miracles. I noticed it because of its exquisitely carved facade. The 15th century Renaissance Roman Catholic Church features a prized Moretto painting, beautiful frescos, decorative carved pillars and domes.
A day without wine is like – Just kidding, I have no idea
What I thought would be a short day with a couple of churches and a castle proved that there was not enough time for Brescia. I had to pass on the Monumental Cemetery Vantiniano, always an interesting experience to see how the upper half dies. Nor was there time to go down a manhole to tour the city underground. But maybe with all the rain, that was a good thing to miss.
I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Trattoria Urbana Mangiafuoco. I can say I ate with the family. Not at the same table but we were the only diners in that early. My dinner was a green salad with delicious Novello Marfuga Olive Oil and Modena balsamic. My secondo piatto was ox cheeks in a Nebbiolo sauce with polenta. Italian wine is excellent and this Lombardy region is no stranger to fine reds. On suggestion of Papa, I enjoyed a glass of a local Franciacorta.
Dinner was excellent and a wonderful close to a fascinating day in Brescia.