The great squares of the city centre
The Railway Station (underground carpark and tourist information office), Piazzale della Repubblica, corso Martiri della Libertà, via Moretto, contrada del Cavalletto, piazza del Mercato, piazza della Vittoria (underground carpark), piazza della Loggia, piazza Paolo VI (tourist information office), Via Mazzini, Corso Giuseppe Zanardelli, Corso Palestro.
The Railway Station, which was built between 1852 and 1854 and enlarged several times, has on the whole kept its original appearance. It looks like a small Neo-gothic castle and its facade, sporting cast iron columns to show its importance as a stop on the "Ferdinandea" line connecting the two capitals, Milan and Venice, of the Habsburg kingdom of Lombardo-Veneto, has never been changed.
The Viale della Stazione starts here, whose costruction was the reason for the first demolition in modern times of part of the city walls: the half-moon shaped section of wall which protected the munitions-store gate of San Nazaro. The store had been destroyed by an explosion caused by lightning in1769. Piazzale della Repubblica now stands where this curved section of wall used to be. A large round fountain with a circle of jets of water was installed in the middle of the square in 1957. Several quite interesting palaces look onto this square: Palazzo Togni, built in 1931 by the engineer E. Dabbeni, the present-day Camera del Lavoro, built 1928 -29 for the Fascist trade unions to a design by the architects, Ottorino Gorgonio and Gherardo Malaguti, and, on the south side, Palazzo Folonari, built in the 1950s.
A short way along Corso Martiri della Libertà, so named in memory of the Italian partisans, Via Moretto leads off to the right. It is the longest street in the town centre and its layout already existed before the city expanded in the XIII century. Further along is the Casa di Dio (old people's home), which Alessandro Luzzago had built in 1557. At number 12 you will find Palazzo Averoldi, built in 1544 and modified in the XVIII century (inside there are rooms frescoed by Romanino and Moretto). Number 14 is Palazzo Fenaroli, then comes the Convent of the Augustinian nuns, and next that of the Salesian order. Where the street crosses Contrada delle Sante Croci the hospital complex of Fatebene Fratelli can be seen, which is church property as most of the buildings in Via Moretto are.Number 27 is Palazzo Polini, built in the middle of the XVIII century to a design by Gaspare Turbino and later provided with a neoclassical facade designed by Giovanni Donegani. Then taking the second turning on the left - Contrada del Cavalletto - you pass by the buildings of the Sisters of Charity, grouped round the property of their founder, Crocefissa di Rosa. The church dedicated to this saint is at number 9 of the same road. Contrada del Cavalletto ends in a T-junction with Corso Palestro and crossing over this corso you come into Piazza del Mercato, one of the most important squares of the city, where you will find typical market stalls.
The road limiting the east side of the square leads into via Quattro Novembre on the right, and here you are on the south side of Piazza della Vittoria, an important example of urbanisation in the first half of the XX century.
Via della Posta runs along the right-hand side of the Post Office block, where the course of the wall on the west side of the road marks where the wall of a large building from Roman or late ancient times once stood. At first this was believed to have been a Roman horreus (grain store), but now it is thought to have been the palatium, headquarters of the Lombard curia ducis.
You cross over via Alessandro Volta,which in the past was called "vicolo delle prigioni" (Prison Lane) because of the prison existing here from the XV to the XIX century. It was in the XV century palace with a beautiful facade overlooking Piazza della Loggia, unfortunately the back of the building is very dilapidated. The small loggia between the Monti di Pietà (pawnbrokers) , with seven little arches supported on slender columns and closed above by a XVI century sculpted marble panel, so that it gives the impression of a doorway giving onto something smaller than a road or a square, leads you into Piazza della Loggia, a masterpiece of the Lombard-Veneto Renaissance, even if it is not the oldest square in the city, nor the best proportioned. It was the podestà Marco Foscari, who decided to have it built to reflect the dignity and magnificence of the Serenissima, for Brescia was an important frontier town of the Venetian controlled territories. The square contains buildings and mementos from the city's civic past and has been the centre for Brescia's public events. Nowadays it includes two memorials of importance for the history of Brescia; on the north side the one to commemorate the martyrs of the Dieci Giornate, called "Bella Italia", by Giovanni Battista Lombardi (1864), which replaced the tall column surmounted by the lion of San Marco, demolished by the Jacobins in 1797; while on the west side of the square there is the memorial stone designed by Carlo Scarpa in memory of the victims of the terrorist attack on May 28, 1974. The rectangular square is dominated by the palazzo della Loggia, today used as the town hall.The Monti di Pietà are on the south side and on the east side there are the Torre dell'Orologio and the Portici (the clocktower and arcade) where the people of Brescia like to stroll.
On the right of the Loggia there is the old staircase leading to the upper floor - the palazzo notarile is connected to it by an arch with statues by Jacopo Medici dating from 1565. The Infopoint Tourist Office is on the ground floor.
In the north-east corner the Torre di Porta Bruciata can be seen. It was built in the XII century, (although the top with its corbels and Ghibelline crenellation dates from the XIV century) and is about 30 metres high. It was constructed where the old Milan gate used to be in the Roman wall and was later incorporated in the Visconti Citadel. The name "bruciata" (burnt) comes from the fire which flared up in 1184 and destroyed the straw and wood hovels in this area.
Via Cesare Beccaria (formerly called Strada nuova), which starts from the tower, was commissioned by the town council in the mid XVI century; their architect, Ludovico Beretta, was authorised to carry out the demolition necessary to build a road linking the two centres of power: the municipality in piazza della Loggia (close to completion), and the Venetian authority in the Broletto, which, like the cathedrals, was still enclosed by the walls of the Visconti citadel. The road right opposite the palace of the Loggia is also a vantage point for viewing the palace , besides being an important shopping street, lined with shops with flats above, like the ones in Venice.
Nowadays it joins piazza della Loggia to Piazza Paolo VI, previously called Piazza del Duomo, but then named after the Brescian pope Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978). Erected on the fringes of Roman Brescia, it is one of the oldest squares in the city, even if it acquired its present appearance in the mid XV century: it is the centre of the old city, the hub of religious life and, until the XV century, of political life too, and the scene of important events, not only of a religious nature such as processions and ceremonies, but also celebrations enlivened by magnificent Baroque displays of fireworks, and football matches.
On the east side is the block of buildings comprising the noteworthy Palazzo comunale del Broletto (nowadays seat of the Provincial Council, the Prefecture and the local Registrar's office; open to visitors during office hours). The Rotonda or Duomo Vecchio (old cathedral) and the Duomo Nuovo (new cathedral) are also on the east side. In the north part of the square there is a fountain with a copy of the neoclassical statue of Minerva called "Brescia armata" (Brescia armed); the original is by Antonio Callegari - 1722 - and is in the local museum, the fountain in the square is the work of Giambattista Cignaroli (1818) and was transferred here in 1921.
There are other fine pieces of architecture in the square: the south side is bounded by the facade of the headquarters of a bank, Credito Agrario Bresciano, UBI Banco di Brescia, a building of the XX century in neo-Renaissance style, designed by Camillo Arcangeli and Antonio Tagliaferri, which has incorporated the XVI century palazzo Negroboni; the decorations executed by Gaetano Cresseri and Antonio Castelli between 1907 and 1908 represent allegories of trade and industry. On the mezzanine floor remains of the mosaic flooring of the Roman baths can be seen, and also a stretch of the main Roman road going from north to south. The west side, which is a continuation of the north side, has the remains of a low squat portico (NB the lower level of the road in those days as shown by the pillars, which go down below the present street level), while on the upper floor of Palazzo dei Camerlenghi there is an elegant three-mullioned Gothic window, which is all that remains of a series of windows across the whole facade. In the past this palace was the residence of the superintendent of munitions, who was responsible for the canon foundry in the square. The wall of the building opposite the Duomo Nuovo bears a little clipeus of the head of Saint John the Baptist, this is the only part left of the Baptistry (founded in 615 and destroyed in 1625) that once stood here.
Coming out of the west door of the Broletto into Piazza Martiri di Belfiore you can see a stretch of wall in the outer wall of the palace made of local limestone, this was part of the wall of the Citadella Nuova, built in the XIV century by the Viscontis.
If you turn left in Piazza Belfiore towards the Tito Speri tunnel under Cidneo hill you can either A) make a small detour to the left towards Piazzetta Tito Speri; or B) link up with Tour no. 1 by turning right and taking Via Musei towards east.
A) Piazzetta Tito Speri is the place where Brescian patriots succeeded in holding back the Austrians during the X Giornate (10 days struggle) of 1849. Via delle Barricate starts from here and leads up to the top of Cidneo hill. The layout of this road shows how the Brescian resurgents blocked the oppressors' raids on the city from their castle stronghold.The Monument to Tito Speri, hero of the Risorgimento executed on the Mantuan walls of Belfiore in 1851, is the work of Domenico Guidoni (1888). The fountain was made by Tagliaferri at the end of the XIX century using material, including the remains of the XIII century sarcophagus of San Tiziano, from the monastery of SS. Cosimo and Damiano, which once stood here and was demolished in the XIV century or thereabouts.to make way for the enlargement of the Broletto.
Skirt the tower of Porta Bruciata, but before passing through the tower gateway, turn a few paces right into the little square and you will see, on the left, the original external structure of the church of San Faustino in Riposo, which is also called Santa Rita. It was built at the end of the XII century on the site of a IX century chapel that may have been destroyed in the great fire of 1184. Its interior was rebuilt in the XVIII century. A cylindrical central part of stone with a denticulated, tiled roof shaped like a truncated cone is surmounted by a cylindrical belfry with four small mullioned windows. The spire of the belfry has a denticulated tiled roof too.
B) On the corner of the western stretch of Via Musei and Via Gabriele Rosa, there is the church of Santa Maria della Carità , which was built in 1640 to a design by the architect Agostino Avanzi and altered in the first half of the XVIII century. Before it was built another church stood on the same site next to the "Conservatorio delle Derelitte" which Laura Gambara had had built to take in women who had been raped during the sack of Brescia in 1512. The two granite pillars of the facade of Santa Maria came from the old cathedral, San Pietro de Dom. The statue on the left, Angel with a Lily, is by Antonio Calegari (1746) and on the right Angel with the House is by Antonio Ferretti.The four trompe l'oeil statues painted as frescos on the outside have been ruined by the weather. The octagonal interior with a cupola and lantern is embellished with a multi-coloured floor and Baroque, paintings of views in perspective.
Palazzo Maggi di Gradella, a house of simple and elegant design, the work of Ludovico Beretta, still has frescos by Lattanzio Gambara (1530 - 1573) in the west wing. Next door is Palazzo Uggeri-Ganassoni, which was built at a slightly later date, with its eaves decorated with cherubs and grotesque faces.
Number 47 Via dei Musei is Casa Luzzago, where the Brescian statesman, Giuseppe Zanardelli, lived (1826 - 1903). The remains of frescos can be seen on the front of the building. Number 32 is the first entrance to Palazzo Martinengo Cesaresco Novarino, whose XVII century wing, finished in 1663 as the inscription on the corner of the building states, gives onto Via Musei (the oldest wing borders Piazza del Foro). The main doorway, designed by Stefano and Carlo Carra (1678) is surmounted by a balcony of stone and wrought iron, held up, as though they were caryatids, by eagles - symbol of the Martinengos. On the left of the entrance to the courtyard there is an imposing frescoed staircase, while a fountain and a statue of Scilla Martinengo in a raised niche (end of XVII century) can be seen at the back of the courtyard. The most famous noblewoman to live in the palace, however, was Marzia Martinengo Cesaresco, beloved in 1807 by Ugo Foscolo, who attended her intellectual salons.
The Biblioteca Queriniana (Querini library) is opposite the apse of the Duomo Nuovo in Via Giuseppe Mazzini, here you will find a rich collection of illuminated manuscripts, incunabola and parchment documents, besides over 400,000 books. The Bishop's Palace is next-door.
Going along Via Giuseppe Mazzini in the opposite direction from the tunnel under Cidneo hill and turning right at the end you come into Corso Giuseppe Zanardelli, the city's high street and meeting place. The south side, without arcades, includes the ex-Piazzetta San Luca: the little square has a fountain designed by Rodolfo Vantini, which was moved here when the street was repaved in 1983. The north side of Corso Zanardelli is distinguished by its arcades, with much higher arches in front of the imposing facade of the Teatro Grande. The theatre building includes another elegant little auditorium: the Ridotto.
When you reach the corner of the high street, if you go straight on instead of turning right under the arcades, you come into Corso Palestro, an elegant pedestrian street, where people come to stroll. In the past it was a real jewel because when the houses were built on the land cleared by the demolition of the Visconti walls in the mid 1500s Gerolamo Romanino was commissioned by the city authorities to fresco them and he passed on the work to his son-in-law, Lattanzio Gambara. Nowadays only a few buildings bear traces of these frescos, which consisted of 48 large pictures of scenes from the Bible and Graeco-Roman history. Some can still be seen in the last stretch of Corso Palestro and part of Via Gramsci, on the front of the so-called case del Gambero, where there was the oldest inn in the town.