Brescia is very beautiful, but apparently few people know it. Certainly, it is an itinerary that does not escape the lovers of Italian art cities, while the average tourist tends to identify it as one of the many tidy, rich, but without anything, particularly interesting Lombard cities. On the other hand, Brescia, “lioness of Italy” as Carducci defined it for the courage shown during the 10 days of revolt with the Austrians (23 March-1 April 1849), has a lot to offer.
Let’s start from the squares: the Loggia, still sadly famous today for the attack but so beautiful with the building from which it takes its name and the arcades, ideal shelter for cold winter days; then Piazza dei Duomi, two of them, one old and one younger, competing for the attention of tourists; finally Piazza del Foro with the theatre and the Capitolium, testimonies of Roman Brescia. Then there are many churches, a splendid art gallery and, above all, the Castle that looks out over the city, the pre-Alps, and Franciacorta. By the way, in Brescia you can eat well and drink better because this is a land of wines and great cuisine. So it’s time to think again about this Lombard city and discover it as soon as possible because there is so much to see and do for those who love art, nature and good food. On this page, we recommend the 10 things to do and see absolutely in Brescia during a weekend or a holiday.
1. Piazza della Loggia
Piazza della Loggia, or Piazza Loggia as it is called by the people of Brescia, is one of the meeting places of the city and the most beautiful business card to admire the Venetian style of Brescia when it was dominated by the Serenissima. In fact, this square, built in the mid-15th century, stands in place of a medieval market and houses some of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the city.
The loggia from which the square takes its name is the unmistakable white building with three arches and the dome-shaped like a hull, which dominates a large facade of richly carved white marble. Built-in 1492, today it is the seat of the offices of the town council. Inside, a large Renaissance staircase leads to the first floor, the Salone Vanvitelliano, 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 of 1544 that also indicates the signs of the zodiac and the phases of the moon.
To the left of the tower stands the building of the Monte di Pietà vecchio, 1484: on the facade, there are a series of inscriptions from Roman times found 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 some shopping in the shops under the arcades.
In addition to the memorial plaque, a series of tiles in the street leading from the Piazza to the Castle commemorates the Fascist terrorist attack of 28 May 1974, in which a bomb killed 8 people and injured 102.
2. Piazza Paolo V ( Piazza Duomo)
Piazza dei Due Duomi, as is unofficially known Piazza Paolo VI, is a beautiful medieval square in the heart of Brescia. This square is overlooked by the two cathedrals of the city: the Summer Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the new cathedral, and the Winter Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the old cathedral. The square also houses the Palazzo del Broletto with its unmistakable crenelated stone tower: the oldest public building in the city, built from 1200.
Why are there two domes in Brescia? Actually, the new cathedral became the official church of services later, but today these two beautiful churches can be admired together, one next to the other.
The old cathedral is the round stone building: it was built in 1100 and today is the largest round Romanesque temple ever. The interior houses the beautiful mosaics of the early Christian Basilica that stood here, the remains of a Roman spa and the sarcophagus of Berardo Maggi, made of red marble from Verona in the early fourteenth century.
The new cathedral is today the most important church in the city. Built from 1604 onwards and completed in 1825, it is unmistakable thanks to its baroque marble façade and dome, which at 80 meters is the third-largest in Italy after St. Peter’s in Rome and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. And inside it houses works from 1400 to 1700 including a wooden Crucifix of the 15th century and the Ark of St. Apollonio, a funeral monument, carved in marble and richly decorated, made by Gasparo Cairano around 1510.
In addition to the two cathedrals, on the square stands the Palazzo del Broletto. Renovated and renovated several times, this palace was the center of the government of the Seignories and the City Hall and today occupies an entire block, with a large inner courtyard. The rooms of the palace house the police, the offices of the municipality, the provincial administration and the prefecture.
3. The Capitolium
Together with the theatre and the remains of the City Forum, the Capitoline Temple is part of the most important Roman public building ruins complex in northern Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011.
This temple is the heart of the Roman center of Brixia, one of the most important Roman cities in the north because it was located along the Gallic Way.
The Capitolium is dedicated to the three main Roman gods: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Today you can admire the remains of the temple with three cells, a series of Corinthian columns and inside the wonderful polychrome marble floors with geometric decorations of the first century AD.
On the front of the temple, an inscription in Latin dates it to 73 A.D., but research has confirmed that it was built on the ruins of an even older temple from the Republican era. At the time of its construction, it was elevated above the theatre and the forum.
Opening hours and ticket cost of the Capitoline Temple
Address: Brixia, Parco Archeologico di Brescia Romana – Via Musei 55, 25121 Brescia. The ticket office is at the C.U.P. of Via Musei 81/b.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday, Sunday, and holidays from 9 am to 6 pm.
Ticket price: 8€ full price, 4,50€ from 14 to 18 years old, students and over 65, 3€ from 6 to 13 years old.
The Brescia Musei Foundation also includes the Martinengo Art Gallery, the Castle and Santa Giulia. With the purchase of tickets for two museums the reduced price applies and discounted cumulative tickets for the four museums.
4. The Castle of Brescia
The Castle of Brescia, a symbol of the city, stands on the Cidneo Hill, in the place where the first settlement of the city took place in the Bronze Age. Then the Celts and Romans passed through here: the steps of a temple that they built here can still be seen inside the keep. The castle is one of the largest in Italy and is perfectly preserved.A visit to this complex is an opportunity to learn about the history of Brescia and the people who dominated it, from the early Middle Ages to the domination of Venice in 1426, until the conquest of the French in 1509, the return of the Venetians and Austrian rule. In 1849, this space was the scene of the 10 days of Brescia and in 1945 some members of the Resistance were shot.
Today the visit to the castle includes alleys, narrow streets, and various itineraries that touch one of the oldest and most valuable vineyards in northern Italy, a double drawbridge, the walk around the keep, on which you can still see the Ghibelline battlements, a magnificent panorama, underground tours and two museums, the Luigi Marzoli Museum of Arms and the Museum of the Risorgimento.
The Museum of Weapons collects one of the most complete collections of European weapons and armour. You can admire, for example, luxury armor, personalized with embossed decorations, and a rich collection of guns and firearms.
The Museum of the Risorgimento, temporarily closed, was inaugurated in 2005 and recounts in detail, the 10 days of Brescia and all the events since the Second War of Independence onwards, with documents, memorabilia, paintings and everyday objects.
Opening hours and cost of the Castle ticket
Address: Via Castello, 9 25121 Brescia. The ticket office is at the C.U.P. of Via Musei 81/b.
Opening Hours: the castle is open every day from 7 to 22.30. The Arms Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m..
Ticket price: admission to the castle is free, the weapons museum ticket costs 5€ full price, 4€ from 14 to 18 years old, students and over 65, 3€ from 6 to 13 years old.
5. Santa Giulia Museum
Covering an area of 14 square kilometers, the Museum of Santa Giulia is 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 Roman domus.This museum bears witness to the daily, artistic and spiritual life of Brescia from prehistoric times to the present day, with 11,000 exhibits. The whole area was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. The visit can start from the ground floor, where the domus dell’Ortaglia are located, with perfectly preserved mosaic floors: they are houses of Roman times, from the first to the fourth century AD, and overlook a vegetable garden and a garden. It is a path where you can pass from one room to another and admire frescoes and mosaics, here there was a dense network of pipes on the floor and wall, which heated the rooms thanks to one of the city’s aqueducts.
The Longobard church of San Salvatore is one of the most important Longobard buildings ever and was built in 753 A.D. by King Desiderio as a symbol of his monarchy. It is worth a visit for its rich sculptures, including two marble slabs with peacocks.
You then visit the church of Santa Maria in Solario, the oratory of the nuns, who secretly attended the services from here. It dates back to the 12th century and on the lower floor there is a lipsanoteca, an ivory box from the 4th century A.D. used as a reliquary. Upstairs the room is all frescoed, from the vault of stars to the scenes on the walls. Here is the Cross of Desire, a 9th century A.D. cross with Lombard and Roman decorations and 212 gems.
Among the Roman finds that surround the Renaissance cloister is the Winged Victory of Brescia, a bronze figure made approximately in the first century AD, depicting a woman with angel wings, wrapped in a cloak. It was discovered in the Capitolium area in 1826, and is the only perfectly preserved bronze statue in northern Italy: because Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, all pagan symbols were destroyed. This Victory has come down to us because it was hidden in a cavity in the temple.
Opening hours and cost of the ticket to the Museum of Santa Giulia
Address: via Musei 81/b 25121 Brescia (ZTL).
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9am to 6pm.
Ticket price: 10€ full price, 5,50€ from 14 to 18 years old, students and over 65, 3€ from 6 to 13 years old.
The Brescia Musei Foundation also includes the Martinengo Art Gallery, the Archaeological Park and the Castle. With the purchase of tickets for two museums the reduced price applies and discounted cumulative tickets for the four museums.
6. Martinengo Art Gallery
Tosio Martinengo art 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 path runs along 21 exhibition halls and is perfectly integrated into the architectural structure of the building.
The heart of the collection is Brescian Renaissance painting, but among the works not to be missed are those by Raphael: The Angel of 1500, the Christ Blessing Redeemer of 1505 and the Madonna and Child of 1520. The collection also includes a series of decorative arts including medals, enamels, ivories and jewellery. The collection has been enriched over time, and today also houses Japanese and Chinese paintings.
Opening Hours and Ticket Cost of the Martinengo Picture Gallery
Address: Piazza Moretto 25121 Brescia. The ticket office is at the C.U.P. of Via Musei 81/b.
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 9am to 6pm.
Ticket cost: 8€ full price, 4,50€ from 14 to 18 years old, students and over 65, 3€ from 6 to 13 years old.
7. The churches of Brescia
In addition to the two cathedrals in Piazza Paolo VI and the suggestive churches of the Santa Giulia complex, Brescia has many churches, divided into 57 parishes. Among them there are some that deserve to be visited for their historical and architectural value.
The church of Sant’Agata, in Via S. Agata 31, has been built since 1300 and has a Renaissance portal with two baroque statues. Inside you can admire a perfect example of harmony between 15th and 16th century styles, with 17th century frescoes and stuccoes. This church has been remodeled several times, and today you can admire the overlapping of styles, harmoniously homogeneous.
A polychrome terracotta decoration and three large cross vaults are the gothic elements of the church; the chapels in the nave date back to the 16th century and the interiors are dominated by wonderful frescoes from 1683, one of the first examples of Baroque decoration in Brescia. On the high altar there is the Martyrdom Of St. Agatha In Croce, realized by Francesco Prata da Caravaggio.
The church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is a real treasure of Renaissance art and is located in the centre, in Corso Martiri della Libertà. This church was built in 1488 to preserve the miraculous image of the Madonna and Child in a fresco outside a house in these parts. The facade of the church, in Botticino marble, was deodorized 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. This church is a classic example of neoclassical structure, starting with the façade, supported by eight large Corinthian columns, and the main portal, with its curved tympanum. Inside, this church is made up of five chapels and houses some very precious works of art such as the Madonna with Child and Saints Lorenzo and Agostino from the 15th century, and the Averoldi Polittico 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 neoclassical style.
8. Teatro Grande
The Teatro Grande of Brescia was founded in 1640 and today is the most important theatre in the city and National Monument. From the end of the 19th century onwards it staged the most famous operas of the Italian tradition and here was the premiere of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”. In April and May it hosts the International Piano Festival and every year in June the Opera Festival, where the most famous operas of the opera tradition are performed free of charge for a whole day, from dawn until midnight.
The rooms of the theatre can be visited by appointment and allow you to discover the history and magnificence of these places. The statues room is named after the 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 set design room is located on the first floor on the stage: the scenes of the backdrops were built and designed here.
The great hall, the marvellous central hall of this theatre, was built in 1810 in the shape of a horseshoe and includes five orders of loggias, including three boxes and two galleries. In the past it housed the bourgeoisie and nobility and the top floor was intended for the people. The room is dominated by the red grenade of the tapestries, and by a series of decorations made of papier-mâché and wood carved in gold and ivory. The ceiling is decorated with frescoes and golden stuccoes and at the back of the room there is the royal stage, with the neoclassical interior decoration that is the original one of 1810.
Opening hours and ticket cost of the Museum of Palazzo Bellomo
Address: corso Zanardelli, 9/a – Brescia
For visits: [email protected]. Tel. 030-2979311
9. Brescia underground
Underground Brescia can be discovered through the Brescia Underground Association, while the Castle’s underground passages can be visited with the Brescia Speleological Association. Brescia Underground is a route to discover everything that is hidden below street level, with various routes that include rivers, canals, irrigation ditches. The main route takes about 2 hours, and starts right under Piazza Loggia, with guides who explain step by step all the curiosities, and the history of this underground level of the city.
For information: Cascina Aurora, Via Raffaello 165, 25127 S. Polo – Brescia. Tel. 349 0998697
The speleological association Bresciana also allows you to visit the basements of the castle of Brescia, discovering towers, tunnels and bastions with guided tours of various levels. Available both for individual groups and for groups of up to 15 people, these tours provide access to most of the Castle’s underground areas, including the tower, the oil storehouse, the water tanks and the powder rooms.
10. What to eat in Brescia
The cuisine of Brescia is tasty and tasty, based on meat and dairy products, and cereals, including the famous polenta taragna, in an area that reserves wines of excellence, with many DOC.
You can start from the aperitif, the Pirlo, to be tasted in the centre, with lemon peel, white wine, red bitter, seltzer, accompanied by bertagnì (fried cod).
The appetizers are a triumph of cured meats and cheeses, and among the first courses, you should try the malfatti, gnocchi with bread, milk, butter, eggs, fresh spinach and nutmeg, boiled and seasoned with butter and sage. The casonsèi bresciani are delicious homemade ravioli, stuffed with meat or vegetables, flavored with butter and fresh sage and parmesan cheese.
Among the second courses typical of Brescia, try the beef cooked in extra virgin olive oil, which requires a long cooking time and has the consistency of a cream, and the donkey stew, cooked in wine and flavored with onions and tomato paste. The polenta taragna, whose name presumably derives from the stick used to mix the polenta, is rich in typical flours such as buckwheat flour. Today the tradition of polenta lives again thanks to the stone-ground cornflour and accompanies all dishes.
And the desserts? The most traditional are bussolà, persicata and biscuit from Brescia, perhaps to try at Pasticceria Veneto, by the pastry chef from Brescia Iginio Massari, nominated the Best Pastry Chef in the World at the World Pastry Stars in Milan. The bussolà, from the Veneto region, is a round cake with a hole in the center made with butter, leavened and fragrant, while the persicata is a delicious jelly in peach and caramel chunks. The biscuit from Brescia is simple and nutritious, and according to tradition is not very sweet and perfect to soak.
It is difficult to mention just one wine from Brescia because the Franciacorta area offers wines for all tastes and of excellent quality. However, the native Brescia wine is the white Invernenga, available in limited production. Among the others, the classic Garda, Botticino, and Lugana are worth tasting. Obviously, among the sparkling wines, the Franciacorta DOCG.