My most beautiful travel experiences result from coincidences, encounters, and chats with other travelers, and Brescia is no exception. In early November, while visiting London WTM, I met Armando, and he told me about his city with so much love and passion that I couldn’t help but add it to my bucket list. A month later, I got off the train at Brescia’s station.
Before my chat with Armando, I know nothing about Brescia, except that the accent of people living there is quite marked. Therefore I tend to absorb it and repeat it involuntarily and with considerable embarrassment … then, I had a vague image of an engineering city nestled in a foggy lowland.
Nothing that charming actually, but if the meeting in London inspired me, the one with the city struck me so much that I really didn’t want to leave so quickly! Brescia is definitely a town to visit in Italy!
There’s a famous Italian song saying that “we are our history” and it’s so true that I always thought we better learn it and visiting Brescia offers an insight into an important and considerable historical period.
In Brescia lived the Ligures, followed by the Gauls, the Romans, various barbarian invaders, and then the Lombards and the Venetian doges to get till the most recent fascist Republic of Salò (to sum it up…).
All of these settlements, colonies, duchies, and republics have left their mark, and strolling through the medieval streets and then looking up and finding yourself in a Renaissance square dominated by a baroque church very close to an aesthetically perfect fascist building seems to be something quite trivial in Brescia.
The inhabitants are also used to pass in a few dozen meters from an impressive Roman temple to a Lombard monastery built on a rich residential district of Ancient Rome and then developed during the Renaissance, all at the foot of the Visconti castle … maybe this is why the UNESCO declared so many sites of Brescia “World Heritage”? 😉
Top things to do in Brescia
First of all, I have to go back there soon to visit some monuments I had no time to discover last time and these have the priority:
- the Brescia Castle, built by the Visconti and now housing both a military museum and a Risorgimento one. It’s also surrounded by a park overlooking the city
- the Pallata tower, which I only saw briefly and from afar
- the city undergrounds, guided by volunteers of Brescia Underground
- the Museum Millemiglia, to retrace the history of this legendary vintage cars race! The museum is housed in a Benedictine monastery, and then doubly deserves 😉
- the monumental cemetery of Brescia said Vantiniano, which I absolutely want to visit with my blogger friend Claudia cause she is the specialist of cemetery safari!
Among the things I did visit … well, you should visit them all! In detail and especially following the order of my visit:
- Piazza della Loggia, a large and beautiful square in Venetian style. I got there from a particularly dark narrow alley and passed under the arch of the Tower Clock I smiled surprised by so much elegance and purity of line and style. In addition to the Palazzo della Loggia, now home to the City Council, the square also houses the two ancient pawnbroking with their facades decorated with marble with inscriptions from the Roman period and the clock with its automatons. During my stay, the arches and the square were lit for Christmas and at sunset, electric blue added magic to the place
- the Church of Saints Faustino and Jovita, also called San Faustino Maggiore, with its baroque frescoes (Tiepolo included!) and a fine example of serliana
- the Old Cathedral, a splendid example of Romanesque rotunda, precisely known as Rotonda. Passed the door you can see the historical layers of the building, from the original paving of the early Christian foundation onwards. The crypt is also very interesting and during my visit hosted an exhibition of nativity scenes
- the New Cathedral, which is just a few meters from the previous one, always in Piazza Paolo VI, whose official name would be the summer Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. An imposing seventeenth-century basilica with a soaring dome that recalls that of St. Peter in Rome. If you go this year pay attention to the front door because it is one of the Holy Doors wanted by Pope Francis for the Jubilee. I entered quite nervously finding people in front of me really too slow … well, they were probably reciting a prayer (I think the Creed) to cross the sacred threshold, but I realized it only once out!
- the Roman Forum square, which is a concentrate of the Roman Empire outside of Rome! Close to the Forum, the majestic Capitol, the Capitoline temple built by Vespasian, was destroyed at the end of the fourth century and only rediscovered in 1823. From 2013 you can enter the temple and see parts of the original decoration and furnishing of the cells and original floors in colored marble. A few meters away you can also visit the large Roman theater which could accommodate 15,000 spectators! I knew nothing of this archaeological park, and it left me speechless, also thanks to the charming visit with Art Glasses that tell you about Ancient Brixia letting you see it. A true archaeological show! However, the biggest surprise was the shrine of the late Republican period with the frescoed walls of the fourth cell, mosaic floors, and all the charm of a way of life that no longer exists …
- the City Museum, a monument consisting of the Benedictine monastery of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia and retracing the history of Brescia from the Roman Brixia until the nineteenth century. I particularly loved the Roman Domus dell’Ortaglia, the oratory of Santa Maria in Solario, the basilica crypt, the Renaissance cloister, the Choir of the nuns, and the exhibition spaces on the upper floors.
If you plan to visit Brescia before February 15th, I recommend the exhibition “Marc Chagall, Russian years 1907-1924” subtitled “with a painted tale by Dario Fo.” It’s worth it, even if you love only one of the two artists.
I also recommend a visit to the Grand Theatre, but I will tell you about it in a dedicated post in the “A night at the opera” section!
Where to stay
I stayed at the Albergo Orologio, one minute walking from Piazza della Loggia, and got a romantic bedroom in the attic.
Where to eat
Given that Brescia is not suited to weight-loss diets, I recommend these restaurants:
- Osteria del Savio, a short walk from the Museum of the City. I ate a very special hamburger, an excellent polenta and delicious fried sage leaves I now cook at home too!
- Trattoria Urbana Mangiafuoco, where I had and excellent dinner! The selection of wines, cheeses, and meats is fantastic, and their risottos a delight.
- Vineria Dolcevite, a little charming wine bar in front of the New Cathedral, whose motto is “Forgive my lips, they find joy in the most unexpected…”. They serve extraordinary sandwiches, and the fifties furnishing is lovely.
I went by train as I love to move around with public transport, take my time, look at the world in a slower way to see landscape and lives passing by…
For detailed info on how to get there, distances, and useful contacts to arrange your own trip, I suggest you check the official website of Turismo Brescia.
A guide in Brescia?
Given the richness and the historical importance of the places to visit in Brescia, I suggest you rely on a guide. I was quite impressed with Cristina.