August 16, 2012 - Anniversary of an Overthrow

I just returned from a road trip during which my husband and I visited the lovely campus of Gonzaga University. My husband was surprised I had never heard of this college before—apparently it is really big in basketball—but I was surprised just now to be researching happenings on August 16 and to see the Gonzaga name!

Today's anniversary hasn't got much to do with the university! (But the university was named for a member of the House of Gonzaga, so there is a family connection.) Instead, today's anniversary has to do with that all-too-common practice of people fighting other people for power.

Mantua is in Northern Italy, and it was invaded and ruled by a variety of empires, including the Romans, Byzantines, Longobards, and Franks. Finally, about a thousand years ago, it became a “free commune,” and a ruler altered the course of a nearby river to form four lakes that would surround and protect Mantua. (One of the four lakes has since dried up.) Because of these surrounding lakes, Mantua is sometimes called “the city of lakes,” and there are some canals rather like the ones in Venice.

At that point, instead of fighting off outsiders, the Mantuans fought among each other to see who would rule. On this date in 1328, the House of Gonzaga took over the throne and held it for almost 300 years.

The good news is that the Gonzaga family helped Mantua become one of the main artistic, cultural, and musical capitals in Europe during the beginning of the Renaissance.

The bad news is that some of the Gonzaga rulers were despots—dictators—you know, the sort of leaders who rule “with an iron fist.”

Check out Mantua in this video. Notice that the Italian name for Mantua is “Mantova.” 

Also on this date:

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