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Brescia

Brescia in Italy is a rich city, which is popular for its arms industry. The city has valuable Roman remains, Renaissance squares and a Medieval city centre juxtaposed with important twentieth-century architecture. Brescia's centre is grouped around the four piazzas beyond the main Corso Palestro. Piazza del Mercato is a sprawling cobbled square of more interest to the stomach than the eye - there's a supermarket, and small shops selling local salamis and cheeses nestling under its dark porticoes. Piazza della Vittoria is quite different, a disquieting reminder of the Fascist regime embodied in the clinical austerity of Piacentrini's gleaming marble rectangles. Alongside the monumental post office, Via 24 Maggio leads to Brescia's prettiest square, Piazza della Loggia, dating back to the fifteenth century, when the city invited Venice in to rule and protect it from Milan's power-hungry Viscontis. The Venetian influence is clearest in the fancily festooned Loggia, in which both Palladio and Titian had a hand, and in the Torre dell'Orologio, modelled on the campanile in Venice's Piazza San Marco. In the northeast corner is the Porta Bruciata, a defensive medieval tower-gate, which in 1974, as part of the Strategy of Tension, was the scene of a Fascist bomb attack during a trade union march, in which eight people were killed and over a hundred injured.

Behind Piazza del Duomo, Via Mazzini leads to Via dei Musei - the decumanus maximus of the Roman town of Brixia, with Via Gallo the cardus. There's a theatre, but the most substantial monument is the Capitolino, a Roman temple built in 73 AD, now partly reconstructed with red brick. Behind the temple are three reconstructed celle, probably temples to the Capitoline trinity of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.

To the south of Porta Bruciata, a small side street leads to Piazza Paolo VI, one of the few squares in Italy to have two cathedrals - though, frankly, it would have been better off without the second, a heavy Mannerist monument that took over two hundred years to complete. The old twelfth-century cathedral, or Rotonda (April-Oct daily except Tues 9am-noon & 3-7pm; Nov-March Sat & Sun 10am-noon & 3-6pm), is quite a different matter, a simple circular building of local stone, whose fine proportions are sadly difficult to appreciate from the outside as it is sunk below the current level of the piazza. Inside, glass set into the transept pavement reveals the remains of Roman baths (a wall and geometrical mosaics) and the apse of an eighth-century basilica, which burned down in 1097.

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