According to legend the town was founded by the soothsayer Manto when he fled from Thebes; Mantua enters history with the Etruscans. It goes from Roman rule to the barbarian invasions until, around 1000 A.D. it becomes part of the feudal dominions of the Canossa.
It becomes a free commune in the XII and XIII centuries, continuing to grow while the unhealthy marsh by which it surrounded is drained and reclaimed. In 1237 Pinamonte Bonacolsi comes to power and consolidates its economic prosperity until 1328, when control passes to Luigi Gonzaga, founder of the dynasty to which Mantua owes most of its artistic beauty. It is, in fact, under Gonzaga rule that Mantua becomes notably more important politically, enjoys economic prosperity and is acknowledged as a primary centre of culture and Renaissance art.
The family residence soon becomes one of the largest and most magnificent palaces in Europe. Mantegna frescos the bride and bridegroom’s bedroom, L.B.Alberti designs the churches of Saint Andrew and Saint Sebastian and Giulio Romano builds the Palazzo del Te. Damaged by the War of Succession, decimated by the plague, the city declines rapidly. The Gonzaga dynasty falls in 1707 and the city passes into the hands of the Austrians. In 1866 Mantua becomes part of the Italian State.