Brescia: The Lioness of Italy

Nicholas Sterling

A city that resisted occupation by various empires but kept the monumental legacy of all of them, reflecting a vast array of artistic movements.

Brescia sits at the foot of the Alps, along the fertile Po River Valley in the region of Lombardy in Northern Italy. This noble enclave has been formerly occupied by Ligurians, Etruscans, and Celts. It was also a Roman colony by the Republic of Venice and the Duchy of Milan, both tried to conquer Brescia in several occasions.


Brescia is an attractive city, full of charm, a marvelous place to visit while on a trip to northern Italy.

In the early 19th century, the city was invaded by Napoleon’s troops, and in 1849—during the Italian Risorgimento—its citizens revolted against the Austrians, resisting their challenges and earning the nickname of Leonessa d’Italia (Lioness of Italy).

All the peoples and cultures that have passed through Brescia have left important historical landmarks. Located in the center of the city, the monumental archeological area of the Roman Forum and the monastic complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia have been declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco.


The historic center of Brescia is small and cozy, with cobbled streets and beautiful spaces. One of the town’s most stunning medieval squares is the Piazza Paolo VI, dedicated to the famous Pope, who was born in that city. This is where the traveler finds the old and the new cathedral, as well as the XIII century Town Hall known as Palazzo Broletto. On its north side, it boasts a tall tower called Tower of the People. It is the oldest civil building in town.

The Old Cathedral, known as La Rotonda for its circular design is an 11th-century church in the Italian Romanesque style. The new cathedral was built between the 15th and 19th centuries, so both its interior and exterior show a combination of late gothic, baroque and rococo styles.

On the south side of the square, we find the palace of Brescia’s Agricultural Credit, dating from the early 20th century and designed by architect Antonio Tagliaferri.


Facing the New Cathedral is the Casa dei Camerlenghi, a meeting place for financial managers and moneychangers during the Venetian domination. Under this building—in a medieval passage now known as Galleria Duomo—the square is connected with the ancient city walls.

This vast Piazza is the perfect place to enjoy spring and summer. Its modern cafes and terraces spill onto the street full of pleasant locals and tourists as well. A short stroll takes us to an archeological complex featuring the best preserved Roman public buildings in northern Italy: the Roman Forum, and the Capitoline Temple, considered the core of the splendor of the Roman Empire built by Emperor Vespasian in 73 A.D. Also here are the remains of the Roman Theatre and the Civic Forum.

Another magical space in the city is its museum situated in the monastic complex of San Salvatore and Santa Giulia, which recounts the 3,000-year history of Brescia on a route that winds through the churches and the cloisters. Inside, we find the Desiderio Cross dating from the end of the 8th century and jealously guarded in the upper hall of Santa Maria in Solario; the bronze statue of Aphrodite-Victoria from the Hellenistic period; and the Choir of the Nuns of the Monastery of Santa Giulia, with its spectacular 16th-century frescoes.

Brescia is an attractive city, full of charm, a marvelous place to visit while on a trip to northern Italy.  ■

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