My trip to the Lombardy region included a visit to Brescia, a small-to-medium sized city located in the north of Italy. Before I went it was a place that I knew absolutely nothing about (well except that one of my hero’s Roberto Baggio spent four years playing for their football team!) but after spending the day there I was seriously impressed. Nestled at the foot of the Alps, just a few kilometres from the Lake Garda and Lake Iseo and filled with an astonishing range of impressive monuments, it makes an ideal day trip from the lakes or a short, under-the-radar city break. Here’s what to see and do when you get there…
A city with two cathedrals
A trip to Brescia is not complete without stopping at Piazza Paolo VI, a square that was once known as Piazza del Duomo. This ancient place dates back to the Middle Ages boasts not one but two cathedrals or (Duomos/Duomi if you were to go with the local lingo)! The square is also home to a good number of restaurants, cafes and bars which are perfect for kicking back and people watching for a while.
Whilst the size of the New Cathedral is impressive, the Old Cathedral (locally known as Duomo Vecchio) is truly incredible. It was built during the eleventh century but during the nineteenth century there have been numerous additions to the Medieval building – and sadly the only original part that is still there is San Filastrio’s crypt. The construction of the ’New Cathedral’ started in 1604 and was completed an eye-watering 201 years later! The facade is a beautiful balance of baroque and neoclassical and significantly the interior dome is an incredible 91 metres making it one of Italy’s tallest domes. I would suggest going into the old cathedral first to soak up the history and then on to the new one to get a true sense of the size of the building.
Piazza della Loggia
Piazza della Loggia is one of the city’s most famous squares and is battling with Piazza del Duomo to have the label of number one best piazza in the small city! It’s a beautiful and elegant square surrounded with Venetian style buildings and is also blessed with having the Palazzo della Loggia, a Renaissance palace, as the main focal part of the square. Although unfortunately and surprisingly the square does have some sad history – back in 1974 a right-wing group bombed the square which sadly saw eight people die and over 100 people injured.
One of the most spectacular monuments in Brescia has to be the Tempio Capitolino which is still standing despite being built in 73 A.D by Emperor Vespasian. The legend states that it had three cells that were dedicated to the Gods Juno, Jupiter and Minerva. Incredibly (and rather surprisingly) you can still see six of the ancient columns still stand as you approach the site.
For those who want to find out more about this unique place, there are standard audio guides available but for something a little bit different then opt for the very cool Epson ‘Moverio smart glasses’ which are made with a patented Augmented Reality allowing you to see what this phenomenal ancient site originally looked liked – this is something that will keep tech adoring adults and children both interested and amused for quite a while!
Museo di Santa Giulia
Another must-see stop in Brescia is the UNESCO site Museo di Santa Giulia which is home to an impressive collection of over 11,000 exhibits. The stop-off can be visited on either a wet day or if it’s a hot, then it’s also a good place to escape the blazing sun for a while- either way, this museum should not be missed. One of the most famous pieces and one that the locals are incredibly proud of is the ‘Winged Victory’ which is a bronze statue that is understood to date back to 100AD.
As you wander around the museum you will be amazed at the intricate artwork inside the Monastero di Santa Guilia and the Basilica di San Salvatore with the wonderful paintings and medieval jewels battling to be the highlight of the museum. Personally the beautifully decorated walls in the Nun’s Choir were my favourite! Whenever you visit the museum you are likely to find a visiting exhibition on show – during our stay it was the remarkable Christo and Jeanne-Claude Water Projects.
After a day of site-seeing, next copy the locals and sit down to relax and enjoy some delicious food! Wander down one of the many winding back streets (just make sure to dodge the many cyclists going about their day!) and choose from one of the many excellent eateries on offer. After living in Italy for many years I know if you stay away from the major tourist cities you’ll struggle to find a bad meal. We went to Osteria Al Bianchi where we enjoyed a very tasty traditional Italian lunch.
We didn’t manage to get to the main city castle but we were told the Castello di Brescia (which was built by the Visconti family and can be found on top of a hill) was also another Brescia highlight. If you are staying in the evening then you will be in for a treat – especially in the summer months – as this is when the squares are filled with locals enjoying the fantastic array of restaurants and trattorias while drinking crisp white wine late into the night! A perfect, but little known Italian city break!