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Sabbioneta, the ideal city

Jewel of the Renaissance, an outstanding urban planning and artistic testimony to the Italian 500s

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Where is


46018 Sabbioneta MN, Italia (0m s.l.m.)


The star-shaped city

Sabbioneta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008, is the ambitious and somewhat crazy dream of Vespasiano Gonzaga Colonna, a valiant leader and skilled diplomat, but also a military architect and patron, who wanted to make it his buen retiro. It represents one of the few accomplished works founded entirely on the principles ofRenaissance town planning.

Why it is special: the ideal city

Conceived as a fortress-city, it has a star-shaped plan, is surrounded by defensive walls and imposing ramparts, and features a symmetrical and rational urban planning, with wide, straight streets intersecting to form a regular grid. In its creator's intentions, it was to be the perfect city, designed to embody the Renaissance ideals of beauty, order and harmony. Gonzaga had the architect Scamozzi, a pupil of Palladio, design the city, and he himself designed splendid palaces that he enriched with works of art and a marvelous theater.

Not to be missed: the Teatro all'antica and other wonders

There are many monuments that can be visited but the ones not to be missed are the Ducal Palace, with its splendid frescoed rooms and carved ceilings; the Gallery of the Ancients with its extraordinary perspective; the Garden Palace, Vespasian's villa of delight in which he rested from the affairs of state, with rooms decorated by the Greek myths so dear to him; and the Teatro all'antica, the prototype of all future theaters, with its fixed stage that is a masterpiece of perspective.

A bit of history: the dream of Vespasiano Gonzaga

Sabbioneta is of ancient origin but was a minor village even when it fell into the hands of the Gonzagas in 1429. When Vespasiano Gonzaga decided to make it his personal ideal city, Sabbioneta was refounded. The works ran from 1556 to 1591. From 1576 its territory became an autonomous Duchy and the city was its capital.

Fun fact: Shakespeare's Little Athens.

Vespasian was a cultured man and lover of the arts. Around him gravitated a circle of artists and men of letters so much so that Sabbioneta was called Little Athens. Of the Greek world there was the coterie of scholars, the love of collecting, Greek texts, myths, and theater. This is precisely why an American scholar, Richard Paul Roe, in his book The Shakespere Guide to Italy, claims that William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is set not in Athens, but in Sabbioneta, Little Athens.

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Recommended by
Patrizia Iome

Italian cities are the result of layers of history, Sabbioneta, a founding city, on the other hand, is as if suspended in a motionless time. The visit is a fascinating immersion in the Renaissance.


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