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All Monuments in Brescia
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Discover Roman Brixia: Piazza del Foro and 1st century A.D. theatre
To discover Roman Brescia, start from Piazza del Foro, one of the oldest squares in Brescia, adjacent to Via Musei.
Piazza del Foro is a sort of city navel: it’s the crossroads between the old Decumanus, the main east-west street in Roman times, and Cardus, the north-south street. This was the centre of the city’s civil, political, business, and trade life. By the square are the remains of the Capitolium Temple (73 A.D.) and the Roman Theatre (1st century A.D.), one of the main Italian theatres at the time with a capacity of 15 thousand spectators.
Opposite the Capitolium Theatre are the small Baroque church of San Zeno al Foro and the remains of the porches that ran around the square perimeter. The ground level at the time was much lower than today‘s and these remains give a great perspective of where the city was in those old days. By the square, surrounded by historic aristocratic residences, stands Palazzo Martinengo, built in the 17th century and used today to host temporary exhibitions. It also contains a wooden scale model of the whole area giving you a true window over the past of the city.
If the Roman Theatre is still awaiting restoration and is only partially open on special occasions, the Capitolium Temple, also known as Capitoline Temple, has been open since 2013 and has become one of the symbols of Roman Brescia.
BRIXIA PARCO ARCHEOLOGICO - Brescia
Brescia&rsquos centre contains monumental archaeological remains of ancient Brixia, impressive evidence of the town&rsquos long history. In Roman times, Brescia was one of the most important cities of northern Italy, located along the Via Gallica &ndash the road that connected some of the most significant centres of Celtic origin &ndash at the mouth of alpine valleys of ancient settlement (the Valle Camonica and the Valle Trompia), between Lake Iseo and Lake Garda, and immediately to the north of a rich and wide plain reclaimed during Augustan age.
The Brescia&rsquos Roman archeological area still preserves the city&rsquos oldest and most important buildings, such as the Republican sanctuary (1st century AD), the Capitolium (73 AD) and the Roman theatre (1st-3rd century AD). This archaeological area opens onto the current Piazza del Foro, which preserves remains of the Roman-era square (1st century AD).
The Capitolium, the main temple of every Roman city, symbol of Rome&rsquos culture itself, houses one of the most extraordinary bronze statues of the Roman era: the Winged Victory.
The statue, symbol of the city of Brescia, is one of the most important Roman works due to its composition, material and conservation status, and one of the few Roman bronzes from archaeological excavation preserved up until now. Collaboration between the City of Brescia, Fondazione Brescia Musei and Florence&rsquos Opificio delle Pietre Dure made a project for studying, retaining and restoring the statue, which is currently displayed in the eastern aula of the Capitolium, in a new museum exhibition space designed by the Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg.
Brescia: Capitolium and Roman theatre
It must have been one of the most beautiful buildings in Colonia Civica Augusta Brixia: the Capitolium of the town, i.e. the temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva on the northern side of the Roman forum. When the first excavations were launched at this spot in 1823, only one column of the portico or pronaos of the temple was still standing. Thanks to a modern reconstruction, much more of the building has now been made visible to the public. In 2011, the Roman forum of Brescia was added to UNESCO’s list of world heritage, together with the monastic complex of Santa Giulia (discussed previously) and as one of seven Longobard Places of Power. Now it should be noted that, in itself, the Roman forum has fairly little to do with the Longobards. After all, it was constructed hundreds of years before this Germanic people invaded Italy. The reason to nevertheless include it among the Longobard Places of Power is that close to the temple kilns have been excavated which were used to produce Longobard pottery. Furthermore, the site was used for burials and the Roman theatre (see below) became a place for public meetings. So the Longobard connection is tenuous at best, but the Roman forum certainly deserves a place on the UNESCO heritage list.
The Capitolium and the forum
In an older post, I had already explained that Brixia was the principal town of the Cenomani, a Celtic people. The inhabitants were on friendly terms with the Romans, which in 89 BCE resulted in the grant of Latin status under the Lex Pompeia de Transpadanis. This grant may have prompted construction of the first large sanctuary at the foot of the Colle Cidneo. This sanctuary was composed of four rooms or cellae, and the cella on the far left can still be visited (see the slideshow below). To see the room, visitors descend underground. The beautiful Hellenistic frescoes are vulnerable and are therefore kept in a room that is climate-controlled. To get used to this climate, visitors usually have to wait for a few minutes and watch a short movie about the complex before the doors to the exhibition rooms are opened. The movie is quite informative and provides the visitor with information about the various phases the complex has been through, from primitive huts to architectural gems from the Roman Imperial era.
Once the doors are open, we first enter a sort of vestibule where several objects which have been dug up have been put on display. Here we find an inscription on a piece of black marble about the emperor Caligula (37-41 see the slideshow above). In the Roman era, the letters used in inscriptions were often dyed red: the original meaning of the verb ‘to rubricate’(rubricare) is ‘to make red’, from Latin ruber. The interesting thing about the Brescian inscription is that the red of the letters has been preserved very well. Another object is a fine comb, made of bone, from the second half of the sixth or early seventh century. It was a burial gift for a woman. Above, I have already mentioned that the former Roman forum was used as a cemetery during the Longobard era (568-774), and the comb provides us with hard evidence.
Cella dedicated to Minerva, part of the temple built by Vespasianus.
A flight of stairs then gives us access to the left cella, of which the mosaic floor and the wall frescoes are still original (see the images above). This temple was completed in about 75 BCE and workmen from Central and Southern Italy were hired to build it. In the frescoes we recognise elements from the so-called first and second Pompeian styles of Roman painting. The walls have been painted as if they have been made of marble and other precious types of stone, and we also see painted columns and curtains. To make the frescoes look even more realistic they have been polished with beeswax and olive oil after completion. This has given them a certain glow.
In 49 BCE the inhabitants of Brixia were granted full Roman citizenship and between 27 and 8 BCE their city was given the status of a colonia. In the year 73, the Roman emperor Vespasianus (69-79) provided Colonia Civica Augusta Brixia with an entirely new forum. He had a brand new temple, dedicated to the Capitoline triad – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva –, built over the old sanctuary with its four cellae. This temple covered the northern side of the forum at the southern end a large basilica was erected and both long sides of the forum were closed off with colonnades. Nowadays it is the name of the Piazza del Foro that reminds us that in Antiquity this was the spot where the Roman forum was to be found. Around us we may still see traces from the Roman era. If we leave the Via dei Musei – the old decumanus maximus of Roman Brescia – and walk south across the Piazza del Foro for about forty metres, we can spot the scant remains of the eastern colonnade near the Vicolo Lungo. Still further to the south, on the Piazzetta Giovanni Labus, remains from the Roman basilica have been incorporated into modern buildings (see this picture). If you want to get a better idea of what the forum complex used to look like almost 2.000 years ago, visit the Museo di Santa Giulia, which has a pretty good scale model.
Scale model of the Roman forum.
Cella dedicated to Jupiter.
At the end of the fourth century, the area around the Roman forum fell into disrepair. In the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire in the west it was mostly used as a quarry from which all the precious materials were taken to be used elsewhere. The remains of the temple of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva were covered by a thick layer of mud which had slid down the Colle Cidneo. Only a small piece of a Corinthian column was still visible and provided excavators with a valuable clue that an important building had once stood here. This building was uncovered between 1823 and 1830 and then partially reconstructed. The reconstruction was subsequently used to accommodate the first municipal museum, the Museo Patrio. The excavations also led to the discovery of several valuable bronze items, the famous winged Victoria (Vittoria alata) and six bronze busts. These can now all be admired in the Museo di Santa Giulia.
When we visited the Capitolium at the end of July of 2019, two of three cellae were open to the public. The cella on the left was dedicated to Minerva (see the image above), the one on the right to Juno and the cella in the centre to Jupiter. Only the base of the three rooms is still original. The floors, executed in opus sectile, were made from original material, but they have been re-laid in the nineteenth century. The central cella once had a statue of a seated Jupiter which was 4,7 metres high. Unfortunately it has not been preserved. The cella is now used as an exhibition room for archaeological finds. Among the objects that have been put on display we see three altars and the remains of a large candelabra (see the image on the right). The walls have been decorated with dozens of inscriptions that have been found in the vicinity. The rubricated (i.e. reddened) letters are often still intact.
Remains of the Roman theatre.
Colonia Civica Augusta Brixia had a theatre as early as the Augustan age (27 BCE – 14 CE). However, the immense theatre that stood directly east of the Capitolium must be attributed to Vespasianus, who had it built in 73 as part of his forum project. It has been estimated that it could accommodate about 15.000 spectators, which makes it one of the largest in Northern Italy. The theatre was remodelled under the Severan emperors of the third century and was used for large public assemblies until well after the year 1000 – according to one source until 1076, according to another until 1173. Fairly large chunks of the seating section of the theatre, the cavea, have been preserved, but the permanent background, the scaenae frons, is completely gone. In the fourteenth century, the nice-looking Palazzo Maggi Gambara was built over the left side of the scaenae frons and the stage. If we study the right side of the building, we will see how elements from the Roman theatre were incorporated into the foundations of the palazzo.
Much of the City Museum is devoted to Roman Brescia (or Brixia as it was known), with rooms full of artefacts recovered from the city’s Roman ruins. But more remarkable is the remains excavated from the site itself. You can see a small part of the road that ran beneath the convent and remnants (complete with fragments of mosaics and frescoes) of two villas that had been buried beneath the kitchen garden. There is also a spectacular video reconstruction of Brixia showing the streets, Capitol and Forum as they would have been in Roman times. And in the Renaissance Cloister is a whole collection of Roman funerary inscriptions, giving an insight into the lives of people living in Brixia in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.
Mosaic flooring in the remains of a Roman villa
Close to the City Museum is the Capitolium archaeological area, supposed to be one of the foremost Roman sites in Italy. Parts of the Capitolium (temple area) have been rebuilt and turned into a small museum. You can also walk around what remains of the original amphitheatre (in use until the 5th century but later damaged by an earthquake).
The well preserved Capitolium
Brescia is located in the north-western section of the Po Valley, at the foot of the Brescian Prealps, between the Mella and the Naviglio, with the Lake Iseo to the west and the Lake Garda to the east. The southern area of the city is flat, while towards the north the territory becomes hilly. The city's lowest point is 104 metres (341 ft) above sea level, the highest point is Monte Maddalena at 874 metres (2,867 ft), while the centre of the town is 149 metres (489 ft). The administrative commune covers a total area of 90.3 square kilometres (34.9 sq mi).
Modern Brescia has a central area focused on residential and tertiary activities. Around the city proper, lies a vast urban agglomeration with over 600,000 inhabitants that expands mainly to the north, to the west and to the east, engulfing many communes in a continuous urban landscape.
According to the Köppen climate classification, Brescia has a humid subtropical climate (Cfa). Its average annual temperature is 13.7 °C (57 °F): 18.2 °C (65 °F) during the day and 9.1 °C (48 °F) at night. The warmest months are June, July, and August, with high temperatures from 27.8 °C (82 °F) to 30.3 °C (87 °F). The coldest are December, January, and February, with low temperatures from −1.5 °C (29 °F) to 0.6 °C (33 °F).
Winter is cold and snowfall is not rare (average 21 cm (8 in) per year), mainly occurs from December through February, but snow cover does not usually remain for long. Summer can be sultry, when humidity levels are high and peak temperatures can reach 35 °C (95 °F). Spring and autumn are generally pleasant, with temperatures ranging between 10 °C (50 °F) and 20 °C (68 °F).
The relative humidity is high throughout the year, especially in winter when it causes fog, mainly from dusk until late morning, although the phenomenon has become increasingly less frequent in recent years.
Precipitation is spread evenly throughout the year. The driest month is December, with precipitation of 54.6 mm (2.1 in), while the wettest month is May, with 104.9 mm (4.1 in) of rain.
|Climate data for Brescia|
|Record high °C (°F)||19.9 |
|Average high °C (°F)||5.0 |
|Daily mean °C (°F)||1.8 |
|Average low °C (°F)||−1.5 |
|Record low °C (°F)||−19.4 |
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||63.9 |
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)||6.6||6.4||6.9||9.4||10||8.8||6.5||6.7||5.6||7.0||8.3||6.2||88.4|
|Average relative humidity (%)||86||81||75||76||73||71||72||72||75||79||85||86||78|
|Source #1: Archivio climatico Enea-Casaccia,  Ispra (precipitation) |
|Source #2: Servizio Meteorologico (humidity 1961–1990 and extremes 1951–present recorded at Brescia Ghedi Air Base)   |
|Climate data for Brescia-Ghedi|
|Average high °C (°F)||5.4 |
|Daily mean °C (°F)||1.7 |
|Average low °C (°F)||−2.0 |
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||65,5||47,9||56.0 |
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm)||7||5||6||9||10||8||6||6||6||8||7||6||84|
|Average relative humidity (%)||84||78||71||72||70||69||69||70||72||78||83||85||75|
|Source: Servizio Meteorologico (1961–1990 – Recorded at Brescia-Ghedi Air Base) |
Camonica Valley – Alto Sebino Biosphere Reserve
Established on 26th July 2018, Camonica Valley – Alto Sebino Biosphere Reserve protects a priceless environmental ecosystem which stretches from Lake Iseo to Tonale Pass and the Adamello glaciers. It’s a unique combination of landscapes, natural environments, biodiversity, historic and cultural values, art, crafts, and identifying symbols encompassing no less than 1,360 km² and 45 municipalities along Oglio River.
Brescia, half way between Milano and Verona, in the province of Lombardy, is less well known than its neighbours but is ripe for discovery. As you walk through its four main squares, you journey through different periods in its history – roman, medieval, renaissance and fascist. Roman Brixia had at least three temples, an aqueduct, a theatre, and a forum and now you can find some of the best preserved Roman remains in Northern Italy. In 2011, UNESCO gave the city World Heritage Status as part of a group known as “Longobards in Italy, Places of Power (568-774 A.D.)”.
Monuments include the Capitolium, the most important temple of ancient Brixia, built in 73 AD with remains of the portico, composed of Corinthian columns that support a pediment containing a dedication to the Emperor Vespasian. To the East is the Roman theatre, 86 metres in diameter and seating 15,000 spectators.
Perhaps the most impressive is the complex of San Salvatore-Santa Giulia, now the Museo di Santa Giulia, with around 11,000 works of art and archaeological finds. It’s home to the Basilica of San Salvatore, built in 753, the Church of Santa Maria in Solario, from the 12th century, and the Church of Santa Giulia, built between 1593 and 1599. A special feature is the nuns choir between San Salvatore and Santa Giulia, on two levels, from the late 15th and early 16th century. The interior of the choir is entirely decorated with frescoes painted by Ferramola and Caylina, and inside are funerary monuments of the Venetian age, including the Martinengo Mausoleum, a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture in Lombardy.
The Pusterla Vineyard takes its name from the secret passage that was opened on the northern wall of Brescia’s castle and it is probably the largest city vineyard in Europe as well as the oldest. The white grape, Invernenga, is cultivated here on four hectares with vines as old as 80-100 years. These grapes, with their typical almond aftertaste and a thick skin, are harvested late, and the white wine, Dolce Passione, is sweet. They also produce Vino Bianco Pusterla and a grappa called Fuoco D’inverno or Winter Fire.
Next I get on a bike to explore the Strada del Vino Colli dei Longobardi. I start with a wine tasting at Azienda Pratum Coller Winery. This is an organic vineyard, although not yet certified, with about 3.5 hectares of 30 year old vines, 2.5 hectares of 10 years, and 1.5 hectares were planted in 2010. The red varieties are typical of this area: Marzemino, Merlot, Barbera and Sangiovese with also the presence of Pinot noir, Syrah, Petit verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. The white is Trebbiano of Lugana. Pratum Coller currently produces four types of wine: the rosé Eōs, the white Nĭtŏr and reds, Rěděo and Arduo.
It’s a pleasant cycle ride through quiet lanes for lunch at Azienda Agricola San Bernardo. Sangiovese, Marzemino, Merlot, Trebbiano di Verona and Pinot Blanc are grown in 18 Hectares on the Monte Netto hill of Brescia on clay soil. Rampollo DOC is 100% obtained from Marzemino grapes and cask-aged for 6 months. It’s has cherry and wild berry aromas and pairs excellently with grilled meats and roasts.
Dinner is at the Fenil Conter Restaurant. I start with Aubergine Parmigiana with a selection of salami, then follow it with risotto with saffron and Courgettes, the rice cooked exactly al dente. Then there are slices of fillet steak, very pink in the middle, with saute potatoes and green salad. Dessert is a lemon semifreddo served with grilled fresh pineapple, an appropriate finish to a brilliant meal.
Next day I travel East and visit Cooperativa Agricola San Felice which is the biggest olive oil coop in Lombardy. Only 20% of their oil is Garda Bresciano DOP as it depends on soil conditions and how the trees are cultivated. They have to be grown in areas facing the Brescia side of Lake Garda and must include at least 55% of olive varieties Gasaliva Frantoio and Leccino. It’s a delicious oil, ranging in colour from green to yellow, smelling fruity with a slighly bitter and spicy taste.
My final stop is at the Costaripa Winery. This is the most northerly spot in Italy where lemons and oranges can grow with a micro climate similar to that of Provence. Unusually, wine maker Mattia Vezzola concentrates on rosé wines and produces some of the best in the country. His RosaMara Valtènesi Chiaretto DOC is made using the pick of the crop using Groppello, Marzemino, Sangiovese and Barbera – all are cultivated in vineyards with the best exposure, overlooking the lake. It’s colour is light pink, characteristic of very soft, delicate vinification, and the aroma has hints of hawthorn, sour cherry and pomegranate.This is a classy wine, silky and harmonious with a slight aftertaste of bitter almonds.
After an excellent lunch at Restaurant Al Braciere in Sirmone there’s just time for a tour of this picturesque town. Remains of a huge Roman villa, jutting out into the lake, built around 150AD, confusingly known as the Grotto of Catullus, are well worth a visit. Scaliger Castle, guarding the entrance of the town and surrounded by water, was built near the end of the 12th century as part of a defensive network surrounding Verona. I finally get a quick spin on the lake, thanks to the Lega Navale di Desenzano, although an approaching storm cuts it short. Later at Restaurant Il Giglio in Gardone Riviera I enjoy an excellent selection of the freshest fish caught in the lake that morning. If you only visit Brescia for its food and drink, then you won’t be disappointed, but do make time to visit its impressive monuments.
Hotel Vittoria makes a comfortable base in Brescia.
Agriturismo L’Unicorno is a tranquil place to stay, in its own vineyards near Lake Garda .
Brescia Tourism has information about the city and region.
Brescia, Lombardy – La Bella Italia
A dear child has many names and so does Brescia. This industrial capital of Italy is known as Leonessa d’Italia and it offers its visitors a lot of historical sights, tasty food, and a charming atmosphere. It is also the home to Italian caviar and Franciacorta wine. We liked the city very much and would recommend it as a day trip to anyone visiting northern Italy.
Brescia: A Short History
It is difficult to write a short history for a city that has been through so many invasions, wars and battles. The city is situated on the foot of the Alps and near the lakes Garda and Iseo. It is more than 3,200 years old. Visitors can enjoy the best-preserved Roman public buildings in northern Italy and a medieval castle.
Here are some picks from the history of Brescia. You can read the full story here >>
The city has played a major role in the history of the violin. From 1490 to 1640 Brescia was home to a magnificent school of string players and makers, all styled “maestro”.
The sack by the French in 1512 left deep scars. The sack took place after the city had revolted against French control. The French controled Brescia until 1520, when Venetian rule resumed.
Who knew what a struck of lightning could cause. In 1769 a massive explosion destroyed one-sixth of the Brescia and killed 3,000 people. The explosion was the result of a lightning that struck the Bastion of San Nazaro, igniting 90,000 kg of gunpowder.
The city’s nickname, the Lioness of Italy, stems from the Ten Days of Brescia. This refers to a revolt that occured in March 23 to April 1, 1849. Some 1,000 citizens were killed during the battle between Brescia and the Austrian Empire.
The Piazza della Loggia bombing in 1974 killed eight people and wounded over 1000 during an anti-fascist protest in the city.
Top Things To Explore in Brescia
Let’s be clear. If you want to see all of Brescia, you need more than one day. For instance, the city has 72 fountains. So, you could go chasing fountains. Here we have collected some of the sights that we found very impressive. The city is quite compact so you can walk everywhere. There are some hills and cobblestones, so remember to bring comfortable shoes.
1. Monumental area of the Roman forum
At this archaeological complex you find the most well-preserved Roman buildings in northern Italy. The oldest building in the forum, the republican sanctuary, is from 1st century BC. The buildings in the complex are:
2. Monastic complex of San Salvatore-Santa Giulia
Desiderius founded the monastery in 753. Nowadays a museum, the monastic complex is famous for the diversity of its architecture. There are also several churches on the site. It includes Roman remains and significant pre-Romanesque, Romanesque and Renaissance buildings. The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. Piazza della Loggia
This wonderful square is a renaissance piazza. The Palazzo della Loggia houses the current Town Hall. At the east side of the square stands a tower with a large astronomical clock (mid 16th-century).
4. Duomo Vecchio & Duomo Nuovo
The Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral stand together on a square. The old cathedral is a circular Romanesque church that dates back to the 11th century. Near the entrance is the pink marble sarcophagus of Berardo Maggi, while in the presbytery is the entrance to the crypt of San Filastrio.
It took more than 200 years to build the new cathedral. It is the largest Roman-Catholic church in Brescia and it was opened in 1825.
Both cathedrals are decorated with masterworks by Italian artists.
5. Piazza della Vittoria
Piazza della Vittoria is a contrast to the ancient constructions of Brescia and it is a fine example of Italian Art Déco. Architect Marcello Piacentini built the square in 1927 and 1932. The L-shaped square is surrounded by Torrione (the first skyscraper built in Italy), Palazzo delle poste (“Post Office building”), Torre della Rivoluzione (“Tower of the Revolution”) and some other buildings.
The castle also goes by the name Falcone d’Italia (“falcon of Italy”). A steep walk leads to the castle atop Cidneo Hill at the northeast angle of the town. The castle was built between the 13th and the 16th century and it is among the largest castles in Italy.
The view from the castle is spectacular. There are also some museums on the site. The Arms Museum has a fine collection of weapons from the Middle Ages onwards. The Risorgimento Museum is dedicated to the Italian independence wars of the 19th century. Visitors can also enjoy an exhibition of model railroads as well as the astronomical observatory.
Getting There And Back
Brescia is located on the Milan-Venice railway and it’s an important connection point. We took a direct train from Bergamo. The city also has high speed trains to Milan, Rome, Naples, Turin, Bologna, Florence and Venice.
Three motorways connect Brescia with the rest of Northern Italy. There is an airport but it seems like it doesn’t have so many flights. Bergamo Airport is 50 kilometers away.