Slightly off the usual tourist trails, Brescia has a castle and a cathedral among its historic highlights
The town of Brescia is the second largest city in Lombardy (Milan is the largest) and in an attractive setting. The city contains a great deal of architectural heritage of interest to visitors including Roman ruins, some fine Renaissance architecture, and a touch of Mussolini's excesses
While Brescia lacks the romantic charm of some cities in the region, such as Mantova, there are certainly enough sights here to merit a visit.
Explore Brescia: tourism and travel
There are four substantial Piazzas in the centre of Brescia, and it is the most northerly of these at Piazza della Loggia that is most attractive and contains the best architecture, including the loggia and the torre dell'orologio.
Below we suggest a route through the city centre that takes in most of the important historic monuments. There is also a tourist tram that would serve as a quick introduction to the layout and main monuments in the city.
Our suggested route for visiting and enjoying the many artistic works of Brescia starts from the railway station and heads along the short boulevard that leads into Corso Matteotti, which contains several 18th century churches and palaces.
In particular, see the Fe d'Ostiani Palace and the Church of the Santi Nazario and Celso with paintings of Moretto (Coronation of Mary) and Titian. Next continue via Fratelli Bronzetti to see the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, rebuilt more than once between 1488 and 1569. It has a very nice facade, with some Lombard and Venetian decoration.
The main site of historical interest on Burano is the Church of San Martino, with its tower (campanile) visible from many parts of this small island.
From the Vicolo Saint Nicholas you can reach the Church of Saint Francis, of romantic style and built between 1255 and 1265.
This church is interesting because it contains a considerable number of important paintings and antiquities: in addition to a "Deposition of Christ" by a pupil of the great master Giotto (Giotto di Bondone, 1267-1337), the others include works by the 16th century Masters of Brescia, from the "Marriage of the Virgin" by Romanino (1484 c.-1562 c.) to many paintings by pupils of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio, 1488 c.-1576).
We recommend that you now pass along Corso Garibaldi where you will see the great Palaces of the Martinengo and Colleoni families and into Via Fenarolo with the Church of the Madonna del Carmine and numerous paintings by Guido Mazzoni [1450-1518] and Vincenzo Foppa [1427-1515]).
Continue into Via San Faustino to see the Church of Santi Faustino e Giovita with an interior featuring impressive paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770).
From here you can climb up to Brescia Castle on the hill that dominates the town, with a formidable entry portal by Michele Sanmicheli (1484-1559) and from which you can enjoy the panoramic view across the city. The castle has a large 13th century tower and also contains two minor museums, one with a collection of old weapons and the other commemorating the story of Italian reunification in the 1860's.
Passing the grandiose Porta Bruciata ('Burned gate', named after a fire in 1184), you enter into the city centre with the Church of Saint Joseph and Piazza della Loggia [Lodge Square], in the Renaissance style. In Piazza del Loggia, the most attractive square in the city centre, you can see the 16th century loggia that gave the square its name, an intricate clocktower, and a medieval gateway.
In Piazza del Duomo you can see see the 12th century Duomo Vecchio ('old cathedral'), with some paintings by Moretto, and the "Duomo Nuovo" ('new cathedral') built in 1604 in late-Renassaince style. The old cathedral has an unusual circular plan and contains some very ancient floor mosaics. In the same square you can also see the medieval town hall, in part dating from the 11th century and the magnificent Civic Library called Queriniana and dating from 1758.
On reaching Piazza del Foro a short distance to the east you can see the ruins of a Roman building (the Curia), and to the east you can admire a Roman column more than five metres high, and the ruins of a Capitoline Temple erected by Emperor Vespasianus in 73AD. Archaeological excavations in this part of Brescia have also revealed a Roman Theatre, in which traces of frescoes of Pompeian style are visible.
There is also a Museum here, the Museum of Santa Giulia, which is the most important museum in Brescia and has several examples of Roman portraits, works in glass and various bronzes. Also near here is the Museum of the Christian and Modern Age that brings together numerous medieval works. Descend from the Museum towards Brescia Arnold Square, and the monument to 'Arnold of Brescia'.
Arnold of Brescia' (1090-1155) was a heretic who was fighting against the corruption of the Church in the 12th century. He was excommunicated by Pope Adrian IV in 1155 and executed in Rome in the same year.
You can conclude your tour of Brescia along the Corso Magenta, where you will see the Church of Santa Eufemia (1776) and the Oldofredi Palace; the Church of San Barnaba (1632); the Palazzo Martinengo (of Baroque style) and the Gallery Tosio-Martinengo that contains more than a thousand paintings from the 15th century onwards. Although few major artist are reperesented this art gallery should be considered as one of the highlights of your visit.
Brescia food and drink
If after your long visit to the historical monuments you need to fortify yourself with some typical local dishes from Brescia, we recommend a famous dish the "polenta and osèi" [polenta and birds], the so-called "soup of mericonde" (flour, crumbs moistened in milk, butter and egg) and the "brofadei" (broth soup) and finally the "casonsei" (ravioli stuffed with vegetables and cheese). We also recommend that you taste the famous "Malvasia grappa" liqueur.
See also history of Brescia.
Where is Brescia?
Brescia is situated in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, to the west of Lake Garda and east of Milan. The attractive town of Mantua (Mantova) with its many historic monuments is to the south-east of Brescia, and Bergamo to the west has a central square that shares the same Venetian influence as Brescia.
Selected places to visit near Brescia, Italy
See the Lombardy guide for more travel ideas...