A first church of early Christian origin was erected on this site in the 5th century, and destroyed by a fire in 894. The church was rebuilt in Romanesque style in the 11th century, probably by Matilda di Canossa, and became the Cathedral of Mantua. The bell tower belongs to this era.
The current church was rebuilt and enlarged between 1395 and 1401, at the behest of Francesco I Gonzaga. The splendid long lost marble facade of the church, equipped with a porch, rose windows and pinnacles, designed by Jacobello and Pierpaolo dalle Masegne, can be found in a painting by Domenico Morone preserved in the Ducal Palace.
During these years, the Cathedral was flanked by two rows of Gothic chapels, decorated with marble and terracotta spiers and cusps, also designed by Jacobello dalle Masegne, whose wall structure is still visible on the right side of the church.
In 1545, the Cathedral was renovated by Giulio Romano, who left the facade and the perimeter walls intact, but substantially modified the interior. The death of Giulio Romano in 1546 marked a long interruption of the works, which continued under the guidance of Giovanni Battista Bertani, especially in the construction of the presbytery.
On the initiative of the bishop Antonio Guidi di Bagno, the current Baroque facade was built in marble between 1756 and 1761 on a design by Nicolò Baschiera. The work was entrusted to the sculptor Giovanni Angelo Finali.
The facade of the Cathedral has remarkable features, with the central part, in which the three portals open, defined by four Corinthian pilasters, surmounted by a triangular pediment.
On the tympanum are placed four statues depicting San Celestino, San Pietro, San Paolo and Sant’Anselmo, while on the lateral bodies, from left to right, those of Santa Speciosa, San Luigi Gonzaga, San Giovanni Bono and the Beata Osanna Andreasi.
The Cathedral has a Latin cross plan, with a hall divided into five naves by four rows of fluted Corinthian columns. While the two external aisles and the central nave are covered with a flat ceiling, the two internal aisles are covered with a barrel vault.
Along each of the two external side aisles, opens a row of side chapels, whose altars are decorated with altarpieces by the most important artists of Mantuan Mannerism. The main altar is in polychrome marble and is surmounted by a carved wooden crucifix.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Cathedral of San Pietro Apostolo is located about 1.3 kilometers away from the Mantua railway station. The closest bus stop, Duomo, is located near the Cathedral, on the bus Lines 4C, 4S, 4T, 6 and 12.