The treasures in Brescia's old city quarters
Piazza della Vittoria, Via Dante, the Church of San Francesco d'Assisi, Corso Matteotti, the Church of SS. Nazaro e Celso, Corso Martiri della Libertà, the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Corso Palestro.
Coming out of Piazza della Vittoria (Tour1: The Great Squares of the City Centre) you take Via Dante Alighieri, a centuries-old road full of palaces which unfortunately suffered bomb damage during the last war. Near the square, on the north side of the road, you can see the buttressed remains of the demolition begun in Fascist times to free the way for a road, "Traversa della Pallata", which was planned to cut obliquely across to the Pallata tower . However the ancient Piazzetta delle Pescherie Vecchie, which used to open off a road in the middle of what is now Piazza della Vittoria, was not saved from demolition.
Among the palaces that face onto Via Dante you will find:
- no.15, Casa del Carmagnola, bought in 1430 by the Venetian condottiere, who was later executed by the Venetians for suspected treason. The present-day appearance of the palace with its imposing facade is thanks to the restoration work carried out by the architect Egidio Dabbeni (1906 -1908). All that remains of the original 16th century design is the rectangular ground plan and the central balcony with three-mullioned windows and other openings.
- no. 16, Palazzo Calzavella, with the exterior in Renaissance style attributed to Filippo De Grassi (15th century), has a marble portal surmounted by a mullioned window with two lights, and an elegant little balcony on the left.
- no. 17, Palazzo Martinengo di Padernello, nowadays belonging to the Salvadego family, is the most imposing private dwelling in Brescia; its building took so long that it was called " The Palace Works ". The construction dates back to the 15th century, when it was added on to a smaller 14th century edifice, but it was rebuilt by Giovan Battista and Antonio Marchetti in the 18th century. The part that was badly damaged on March 2, 1945 in an air raid was rebuilt after the war. Unfortunately the blast caused by the exploding bomb damaged a series of frescos attributed to Moretto, which had to be restored. These frescoes entirely cover the walls and ribbed ceiling of a small room, called The Noble Ladies' or Moretto's room , which has been famous for its magnificence ever since it was first frescoed. It was commissioned by Gerolamo Martinengo da Padernello on the occasion of his marriage to Eleonora Gonzago, celebrated on February 4, 1543. This delightful room creates an overwhelming atmosphere of elegance and decorum with portraits of the ladies of the house of Martinengo around its walls, pictured half-length against the background of a spreading landscape. The building is currently used by the Circolo Privato del Teatro (a private club): visits must be booked in advance.
When you reach the end of Via Dante, if you turn right into Via della Pace, you come to The Tower of the Pallata and link up with (Tour 4: Among the treasures of working-class districts) . Via della Pace is lined with important buildings except to the north-east and at the crossroads with Via Dante, where modern constructions have replaced the old ones destroyed by bombing . The road runs along the northern perimeter of the first medieval city walls, built in the 12th century, this is evidenced by the difference in level of the gardens of the palaces built along the east side of the road. A watercourse, called il Dragone, used to flow below the walls and was used to power water-mills ; it still remained above ground after the walls were demolished in the 13thcentury, when a circle of walls embracing a larger area was built.
After Palazzo Martinengo della Motella , on the corner with Via Dante, at no.17,you come to Palazzo Uggeri ( now the property of the Fenaroli family). It was built by the architect Gian Battista Marchetti between 1750 and 1760 and has a pleasing classical facade enlivened by unusual window surrounds and a lack of uniformity in the height of the various parts of the building. The palace has the typical U-shaped ground plan of noble Lombard houses and is considered to be one of the finest 18th century Brescian palaces, both because of its magnificent design and because of its sumptuous interior decor. The calculated view from the entrance through to the hanging garden in the background, typical of Brescian palaces of this period, is particularly striking. The garden was constructed on the embankments of the medieval walls and has a spectacular pavilion with a fountain bearing the statues of Venus and Cupid by Antonio Carra (1607).
The Church of Santa Maria della Pace is opposite the palace. It was built between 1720 and 1746 for the Oratorian fathers to a design by the Venetian architect Giorgio Massari and has an unfinished facade, a neo-classical doorway and two domes, one of them very large, which illuminate the spacious interior with a nave intervalled by majestic Corinthian semi-engaged columns of pink marble, between which there are niches with statues of the Apostles. The marble altars of the six side chapels were designed by Massari. The monochrome frescos on the inside of the nave are by Francesco Monti and Giovanni Zanardi. Among other 18th century paintings in the church is The Presentation in the Temple (1738) by Pompeo Batoni, which can be seen in the chancel.There are many fine statues, among them those by Antonio Calegari on the moulding over the high altar and above the second altar on the right, and a copy of the gilded statue crowning the cupola.
The nearby Oratory of the Pace was built on the ruins of the ancient palace of Bartolomeo Colleoni (c.1455). The only parts remaining of the original edifice are the courtyard and its arcade and loggia with pointed arches. The canvas by Pietro Marone, Presentation in the Temple, which used to be above the main altar, is in a large room on the first floor.
Going back along Via Pace you come to the church of San Francesco; while if you would like to see some other palaces, you can make a detour and walk along Via Cairoli until you come to:
- no. 1 - 3, Palazzo Oldofredi with Renaissance twin doorways with round marble medallions at the sides of the archways;
- no. 2, Palazzo Martinengo della Motella or Calini, built at the beginning of the 17th century and characterised by a majestic stone portal dating from the late 16th century, decorated with sculpted armour and trophies and an oval with a mounted warrior;
- no. 5, Palazzo Porcellaga, built around the 16th century with the lower part of the facade faced with stone bordered by two grooved pilaster strips and originally decorated on the upper part with frescos by Romanino, which, however, no longer exist. The Renaissance portal has two medallions at the sides of the archway with profiles of emperors;
- former riding school, now a reading room , once church of the Jesuits who came to Brescia in 1560, and dedicated to Sant'Antonio the Abbot. It was transformed into a riding school by Luigi Donegani in 1845;
- no. 19, Palazzo Durante dating from the mid 18th century with graceful window cornices and moulding on the first floor, typical of Lombard late Baroque;
- on the corner of Via Bassiche, the Monastery of Santi Cosma and Damiano (now a an old people's home, entrance no.39) with a church built in 1488, whose little square Romanesque belltower reconstructed between 1658 and 1702 is still standing; there is a large 15th century cloister next to the church (called Chiostro della Memoria because the names of Brescians who died for their country are inscribed on the pillars), which belonged to the Benedictine monastery that was transferred here after the original building was demolished by decree in the 16th century to make way for the enlargement of the palace of the Broletto.
After walking along Via Dante, you turn left and at the end of the road you will find the Church of San Francesco d'Assisi, which, with the adjoining picturesque monastery cloisters, is one of the most fascinating sights in Brescia.
Continuing along Via San Francesco, if you turn left, you come into Corso Giacomo Matteotti and walking south along this road you will find Palazzo Bocca at no.25, which was designed in 1760 by the architect Donegani and has a baroque doorway and projecting arched tympanums over the windows; the escutcheon on the left-hand corner of the facade bears the initials S.B.
The following also face onto Corso Matteotti but on the north side of the road: at no.8, Palazzo Martinengo Colleoni di Pianezza, which now houses the "Ballini" technical school, has a majestic doorway, which with the pillared entrance designed by Filippo Juvara, makes the facade still more imposing. The Church of San Carlino adjoining the palace, which is used as a cinema nowadays, was built between 1755 and 1768 and has a barrel-vaulted roof frescoed by Pietro Scalvini and a small dome frescoed by Fontebasso and Zanardi.
The Collegiate Church of Saints Nazaro and Celso on the corner of Corso Matteotti and Via Fratelli Bronzetti is built in 18th-century style; its imposing facade has tall Corinthian columns supporting a triangular pediment crowned by a balustrade and seven marble statues by Citterio.
Inside the church there are numerous works of art, including, among other masterpieces: (just inside the door, on the left) Cenotaph of Bishop Giovanni Ducco dating from 1522. San Rocco and Eleven Episodes in the Life of the Saint , Antonio Gandino's (1565 - 1631) chief work,is over the first altar on the right, while over the third altar there is Moretto's Transfiguration (1541), where Christ with the symbols of his passion is pictured between Moses and Elijah. The Averoldi Polyptych , the young Titian's masterpiece, framed in marble by Vantini in neo-classical style, is in the chancel on the wall of the wooden choir carved in 1667 by Lelio and Salvatore Zucchi of Verolanuova. On the left-hand side of the nave there are other very interesting works: The Adoration of the Magi by Pittoni (1739 - 1740), some 16th century cenotaphs, and other fine works by Moretto: The Adoration of the Shepherds with Saints, the paintings on the organ panels - The Annunciation and The Incoronation of Mary with Saints Francesco, Nicola and the Archangel Michael (in the second chapel) a splendid work of the artist at the height of his powers. Other organ panels painted by Romanino are kept in the sacristy. The parsonage is next door to the church (Via Fratelli Bronzetti,no.5) and has early 16th century frescos by Ferramola in the chapter house.
Almost opposite the entrance to the church, at no.54 Corso Matteotti is the eighteenth century Palazzo Fé d'Ostiani (nowadays belonging to the Materossi) designed by Carlo Manfredi and modified by Giovan Battista and Antonio Marchetti; the facade is enlivened by balustrades at the windows and by pediments of various designs on the first floor, by the projecting bands between the storeys and the wrought-iron balconies while inside there are staircases of unusual design.
Via Fratelli Bronzetti ends where it comes into Corso Martiri della Libertà; on the left in this latter road at no.19 you will find Palazzo Onofri, nowadays a branch of the Bank of Italy, that was built in the 18th century. At no. 17 there is Palazzo Appiani, built at the beginning of the 16th century, and has a splendid room frescoed in 1762 by Pietro Scalvini; right opposite the palace you will see the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a jewel of the Brescian Renaissance, which has noteworthy paintings of the Brescian manneristic school in the interior.
Continuing north along Corso Martiri, you come to Palazzo Martinengo Villagana at no.13, which now houses Banco San Paolo - Banco di Brescia. It was built in the 17th century but the side that looks onto Via Santa Croce was added in the 18th century. It has a marble facade decorated with pilaster strips and two balconied doorways in severe, strictly baroque style. A majestic staircase leads up to the interior of the palace from the well-proportioned courtyard. The east front is next to Palazzo Fenaroli. The part behind the palace is a typical corner of 18th century Brescia.
Corso Martiri ends where it crosses Corso Palestro (Tour 1: The great squares of the city centre).