Brescia: An Underrated Tourist Destination

Renaissance Cloister, Santa Giulia, Brescia -
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According to my guidebook, Brescia is “disappointing”. But I wanted a day out from Verona, and Brescia was an easy trip by train. So, not knowing quite what to expect, I went anyway, and I was not at all disappointed. I found Roman remains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and all the piazzas, churches and museums that you’d expect in an Italian city.

Renaissance Cloister, Santa Giulia, Brescia -
The Renaissance Cloister at the convent/museum complex of Santa Giulia

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Even if it had nothing else, Brescia would be worth visiting just for the City Museum, housed in a site that encompasses a monastery, churches, Roman remains and an art gallery. Together with the city’s Roman ruins, the Museum is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site grandly named Longobards of Italy, Places of Power 568-774. This recognises the Longobard influence on early Christianity and architecture and includes seven sites across the whole of Italy (including the Basilica of Monte Sant’Angelo, which I visited last year).

Church of San Salvatore, Brescia -
The pillars and frescoes of the 8th century Church of San Salvatore

The City Museum, also known as Santa Giulia, occupies the site of an 8th century convent, itself built on top of a Roman road and a number of Roman houses. It also includes later additions to the convent. The result is a dazzling and eclectic mix of art and architecture. Following a strict itinerary through the museum (necessary so that you don’t miss anything) you pass through the convent and on to the Renaissance Cloister. Then to the Church of San Salvatore, an important example of late Longobard architecture. For me, San Salvatore, with its pillars and frescoes, was a highlight of the visit. Beneath it is a crypt, a shadowy place that looks much as it must have done in the 8th century. And above is the Coro delle Monache (Nuns’ Choir), full of frescoes and funerary monuments, including the 16th century Martinegro Mausoleum.

Croce di Desiderio, Santa Giulia, Brescia -
The jewel studded golden Cross of Desiderius

But there’s more… The 12th century Church of Santa Maria in Solario, with the magnificent golden Cross of Desiderius, museum exhibits spanning the whole period of Brescia’s history, and a small art gallery at the very top of the building.

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Roman Brixia

Much of the City Museum is devoted to Roman Brescia (or Brixia as it was known), with rooms full of artefacts recovered from the city’s Roman ruins. But more remarkable is the remains excavated from the site itself. You can see a small part of the road that ran beneath the convent and remnants (complete with fragments of mosaics and frescoes) of two villas that had been buried beneath the kitchen garden. There is also a spectacular video reconstruction of Brixia showing the streets, Capitol and Forum as they would have been in Roman times. And in the Renaissance Cloister is a whole collection of Roman funerary inscriptions, giving an insight into the lives of people living in Brixia in the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

Roman villa in the City Museum, Brescia -
Mosaic flooring in the remains of a Roman villa

Close to the City Museum is the Capitolium archaeological area, supposed to be one of the foremost Roman sites in Italy. Parts of the Capitolium (temple area) have been rebuilt and turned into a small museum. You can also walk around what remains of the original amphitheatre (in use until the 5th century but later damaged by an earthquake).

Capitolium, Brescia -
The well preserved Capitolium

What Else Can You See in Brescia?

Over lunch in the Piazza della Loggia (a smart Venetian square) I looked at the leaflets I had picked up at Tourist Information. There was far more to see than I could fit into a day. Churches packed with artworks, and all sorts of museums including a collection of classic cars in another monastic complex. I would have liked to go to the Castle but it would have been an uphill climb and it was a very hot day…

Piazza della Loggia, Brescia -
The Venetian Piazza della Loggia. The two automatons above the clock strike the hour.

I settled for a quick look at the Cathedral and a visit to the Brixia Light Box where I descended into the basement through the remains of the Roman Forum and watched a virtual reconstruction of the excavated buildings. Walking back to the station I reflected how glad I was that I’d ignored the advice of the guidebook.

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20 thoughts on “Brescia: An Underrated Tourist Destination”

  1. It sounds like Brescia is worth staying for a few days. And I bet, since it’s not as much on the tourist radar, it’s quieter and less expensive than Verona. I’ll keep it in mind, next time I’m down that way!

  2. Wow, there is a lot to see there, shows that sometimes you just need to go and check it out yourself. Day trips are fun just to mix it up a bit.

  3. Brecia sounds very much like a hidden gem and is a great example of why guidebooks can sometimes steer us wrong! Your photos show a city full of places to see and things to do from the UNESCO WHS to the art, architecture and Brecia’s fascinating history. You’ve convinced us that this a a city well worth the visit and we’ll put it on our list for things to see in Italy.

  4. Hi Karen – isn’t it the truth, we sometimes must just ignore the traditional recommendations. Sounds like Brescia, which I admit I’ve never heard of, has been given such short shrift. The patterned floors are magnificent. Another reminder that I need more study of history in this region.

  5. I think I’d enjoy the peace and quiet of Brescia and the fact that it’s not so much on the tourist map would make it very appealing 🙂

  6. Brescia looks very interesting and I bet it was a lot less crowded than the places the guidebook deemed more “worthy”. I’ve had the same experience several times of going somewhere that wasn’t mentioned at all or was mentioned dismissively then enjoyed it. I guess one man’s treasure really is another man’s trash!

  7. The closest I’ve ever come to Brescia was a visit to Italy with our sons and I as a trailing family. My husband attended a conference in Brescia. However, he went there and the boys and I went to Florence. Obviously, we weren’t disappointed in Florence, but it looks like we wouldn’t have been disappointed in Brescia either. The layers of history in Italian cities and towns is fascinating to visitors from the US. Philadelphia, my hometown supposedly boasts the most historic square mile in the US. The city was laid out by William Penn in 1686—i.e. yesterday for an Italian.

  8. I find many of those ‘disappointing’ destinations in guide books are full of wonderful surprises. Especially when a Unesco World Heritage site is involved. Thanks for letting us in on Brescia.

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About WorldWideWriter

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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