It started with the ringing of the church bells from the historic Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta church which dates back to 1767. A mixture of classical catholic hymns that then morphed into a more eccentric cacophony of melodies. Ringing unapologetically into an echo chamber that is the sparse town of Sabbioneta, Italy.
[Listen to the church bells ringing in Sabbioneta below]
Mesmerizing, curious, and difficult to decipher like the town itself.
Sabbioneta was empty upon my early morning arrival and I wasn’t sure if its residents would start trickling into town after 9am or if it would remain this sparse the rest of the day. The town has about 4,200 residents, most of which live outside the city walls and in the surrounding countryside.
Bestowed the status of UNESCO Heritage Site in 2008 alongside sister city Mantua for its Renaissance art and urban planning, Sabbioneta was once an independent fortress state. At its center lies the impressive Palazzo Ducale. The palace which was once its seat of government is now a massive exhibition space with equestrian statues that pay homage to Vespasiano Gonzaga who built the town in 1500s. The nearby Palazzo Giardino was his garden villa for relaxation and it is filled with frescos, stuccoes, and marbled halls. The town also has a small historic Jewish ghetto quarter and an active synagogue which dates back to the 1800s.
In the heart of Sabbioneta’s main square – Piazza Ducale – is where I met one of its most eccentric citizens at the antique store, Antic DAL Conte Della Cont Moretti Dott Eleonora. Remnants, artifacts, statues, historical décor, marble, wood, wrought iron, chandeliers, ceramic busts, mirrors, wooden furniture, silver, and other vintage items and antiques which had been salvaged from Sabbioneta’s various palaces and medieval villas can be found in this store.
Floors upon floors of artifacts and its gatekeeper Count Michelangelo Moretti II – a real count complete with top hat, bowtie, and real familial ties to the dynasty – who lives among them. I could feel those medieval statues and their eyes following me as I explored the dark depths of that antique house. And I dared not bring anything back with me, lest I bring back spirits attached to those relics.
So much history is etched across Sabbioneta’s walls and heart. It is a quiet town which invites you to stay to explore it more yet it feels hidden away, frozen in time, in its own cocoon of history and eccentricity.
By late morning, more souls had started to roll into town. Mostly other Italian tourists who come away to Sabbioneta on day trips to explore more of their country’s heritage. There was also a classic car show lining the entrance to the city itself and slowly, it woke to life, while still remaining relatively sparse compared to its sister, Mantua.
Confronting intriguing towns like Sabbioneta which are hard to decipher while still being utterly beautiful is one of the reasons why I absolutely love to travel.
From random run-ins with some of its residents to its stunning architecture, here are some lifestyle scenes from Sabbioneta.
You can view more photos of Sabbioneta, Italy, in my image bank. Have you heard of Sabbioneta or even been before? Please share your thoughts below.
I explored Sabbioneta as part of the #inLombardia365 campaign in collaboration with iambassador and Explora Tourism. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and travel content I share on here are my very own.