Montagnana is built on an area of an ancient prehistoric settlement, dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Later, the Romans made it a settlement fortified to defend the bridge over the river Adige, which was one of major meeting point of the famous ‘Via Emilia Altinate’ that linked the cities of Modena and Altino. Between the 9th and 10th centuries the city began to born around a castle, and by the 12th century had become a fortified town contended by the great Lords of the time, like the Marchesi of Tuscany and the Obertenghi. Around the middle of the 12th century Montagnana became a Municipality.
The great walls of Montagnana, are also the theater of a long history of battles: an architectural, 14th-century compendium that has been beautifully conservated with merlons, perimeter towers, arches, and soldier housings. One of the names that can represent history and relevance of this walls which extends over approximately two kilometers in circumference, are Ezzelino III da Romano (1194-1259), a ruthless Venetian leader who between 1225 and 1258 imposed his fierce and bloody tyranny over the cities of Trento, Verona, Belluno, Vicenza, Padua, Brescia and Bassano. As a Ghibelline ally to Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, Ezzelino inflamed the rebellious town of Montagnana in 1242. Also Dante placed him – That forehead there which has the hair so black – in his “Inferno” (Canto XII, 110), among those who were violent against their neighbor, immersed in a river of boiling blood. According to legend, Ezzelino proceeded to build the castle Rocca di San Zeno, including Porta Padova, which is the oldest part of these city walls.
After Ezzelino’s time, Montagnana’s walls always protected the town, at least until the 1500s (when firearms first became available). The town indeed was never taken. In the early 15th century Montagnana was ruled by Venice, which had the city until the Napoleonic age (1797). The Venetian period was a time of economic prosperity for the town, especially with the production of hemp and the work of the local mills. The Pisani, a nobles Venetian family, embellished the city with a palace built by Palladio (1508-1580) and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta was built in the early 16th century. Considerable building activity continued during all the following centuries. After the fall of Venice, Montagnana was ruled by the French and later the Austrians until 1866 when it entered the Kingdom of Italy.