Palazzo del Te
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Quality Travel in Rural Italy: Palazzo del Te in Mantova
Mantova may sound familiar. It's where Romeo was exiled from fair Verona in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It may not sound like an obvious choice as an artistic hidden gem, but when Shakespeare wrote his play Mantua was a swamp land. The Palazzo del Te was built in 1526, commissioned by Duke Frederigo II Gonzaga and designed by Giulio Romano. The Palazzo itself is an embodiment of Gonzaga's desire for love and struggle for power. It was built in two phases: The first phase of the Palazzo is rife with frescos of passion, love, and a whole lot of naked gods and goddesses. It was in these rooms where he would probably make believe he was as well endowed as Zeus and play out the sexual scenes with mistresses, of which he had many. The second phase was built in 1530 and in those 4 years Duke Gonzaga got his priorities in order. This time he meant business and aligned himself politically with Charles V—Holy Roman Emperor, aka Charles I King of Spain. Aside from its history, what makes the Palazzo del Te "quality travel" is its location off the beaten track, away from the crowds of tourists blocking your view of the Sistine Chapel or the colosseum. You get an intimate experience with a work of art, or in this case an entire building without being shoveled out (which was my experience at the Sistine Chapel). Give the small towns of Italy a chance, and help preserve lesser-known works of art that deserve it as much as the famous sights in Rome, Florence, and Venice.
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A 16th C 3D Experience: Sala dei Giganti in the Palazzo del Te
The Palazzo del Te is a palace commissioned in 1526 by Duke Federigo II Gonzaga and built by Giulio Romano. Within the second phase, built in 1530 you can read the struggle for power upon the frescos. The Sala dei Giganti is as close as one could get to 3D back then. As I entered the massive doorway I was a pebble, a blip in the universe of Giulio Romano. I found myself in a realm of titans and gods, reality and illusion. The walls and ceiling are shaped as an egg with the corners made into smooth curves. Painted upon the surface, from floor to ceiling, are ugly titans being toppled by the wrath of the gods and goddesses who are perched high above the viewer. Giulio Romano, the architect and artist, knew the immediate response of the viewer would be to have their eyes fixated on the art around them so that they wouldn't watch where there feet were heading. This is why the floor is uneven and made of pebbles. As you walk through the room and realize what you are seeing - titans falling as the gods rain down their lightening bolts and wind - you too will feel as though you are falling with the uneven floor. Your equilibrium is further thrown off balance because the room is thought to have special acoustics being the hollow egg shape that it is. The slightest of noise is thought to ricochet off the walls so that even a whisper would be made audible. With sound, sight and equilibrium involved I felt as though I was part of the scene unfolding upon the walls.
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