A trip to… Bologna

Bologna is not a much known town among foreigner’s tourists, even though lately more and more people from abroad come to visit it. Despite the contemporary way of living, when time is not enough, and everything is in a hurry, Bologna still remains a liveable town, who makes you fall in love even if you only stay for a day, or few years to study in the university, as it happens to lots of students coming from Italy or other country from around the world.

Ultimate stage of the Grand Tour, welcomed within the city walls artists, men of letters, politicians and noblemen from all around Europe, from Dante to Leonardo, from Charles V to Napoleon, from Stendhal to Herman Hesse, along with names as Michelangelo, Francis I, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Gioachino Rossini, Lord Byron, Giacomo Leopardi, Charles Dickens, Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giosuè Carducci who lived in Bologna for 47 years, where is also buried, in the city cemetery of Certosa. These are the words of the famous writer: “I love Bologna; for the faults, the mistakes, the follies of my youth, which I committed here, and of which I cannot regret. I love it for the joys and the pains, of which this noble town preserves as memories in its quarters, and its religion in its Certosa. But I love it more because it’s beautiful. To Bologna, even scorching in the summer, from the Alps to the seashores my thoughts come back to it. And I think back at those moments with a sense of nostalgia: the grave archways, which look like classic sceneries, and the austere squares, fantastic, solitary, where is amazing getting lost while thinking in the September evening or under the moon of May, and the churches where it would be pleasant, remembering, praying in the summer, and the hills where is divine, being young, loving in the spring, and the Certosa, where it will be fine, in every patch of it, either looking the hill or the pleasant immense green plain, lying to sleep forever.”

You can visit the town centre in three-four days, and surely it is able to surprise who, for a moment, will put aside the map, and decide to wander freely in the streets, getting lost in the intricate labyrinth of narrow streets that surround the inner city; spring and autumn are the best moments to visit and appreciate its main qualities. Winters are quite harsh, with high probability of heavy snow, while in the summer the heat empties the town of its inhabitants, who look for a cool place in the near Appennini, or in the Riviera Romagnola, nearly 100 km from the town.


For sure the first thing to see is Piazza Maggiore, the  main square, which is identified by the locals as the union of the actual Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Nettuno, where it is located the homonymous fountain, but before visiting the squares, your tour could start from a particular point: the Quadrilatero. Delimited by Via Farini, Via Castiglione, Via Rizzoli and the Pavaglione, it is what remains of the “middle market”. Nowadays it is an exclusive corner market, but the vivid colours of the products exposed on the display windows or in front of the shop deserve a walk around the narrow streets, which in the morning are populated by old ladies being deep in shopping for food. This is the best time to breathe some of the local atmosphere. You will be surrounded by cascades of ham and mortadella (better known as Bologna sausage), flood of tortellini (made of chocolate too…!), and towers of Parmesan, dazzled by the colours that the market offers in every corner.

Once you’re done with your walk around the market, take Via Pescherie Vecchie, pass through the arch entering in Piazza Maggiore, surrounded by Palazzo dei Banchi (behind you), which is nothing more than a façade build to embellish the square that was delimited by houses of different form and colour on that part. On you right you’ll find the Palazzo of the Podestà, built in 1200 by the Commune, to host the Curia, and on your left, there’s the Basilica of San Petronius, dedicated to the saint patron of the city. Though it’s not the cathedral, San Petronius is for sure the most loved church by the inhabitants, and the richest in works of art; it is worth a visit to admire its gothic architecture, the painting in the chapels along the aisles, as the Inferno by Giovanni da Modena in the Bolognini Chapel, and above all the sundial, considered an ultimate lap of the Grand Tour.

Palazzo d’Accursio, is not only the centre of the Bolognese municipality for more than 700 years, it is also a very important monument, hosting two museum: the Bologna art collections, and the Morandi Museum. On the first floor, you can also visit the Sala d’Ercole, from which you can access the hall where the municipality discuss the government of the city. Here the attendant will show you where Giosuè Carducci used to sit down, and the chair of the mayor is.

Once you’re out Palazzo d’Accursio, keep going left, and you’ll find yourself in front of the famous fountain of the Neptune, a place where the locals usually meet, built by  a great Flemish sculptor, Jean Boulogne De Donai called “il Giambologna” around 1564 AD. It represents Neptune cooling down water; people from Bologna usually refer to the fountain as “il gigante” (the giant). If you climb the stairs leading to the Sala Borsa, the biggest city library, and you turn towards the fountain, with Via Indipendenza behind your back, you’ll notice that the Neptune  suddenly acquires incredible attributes…! This is just an optical illusion, some say by made by the author himself, though probably is just a case. In front of the Sala Borsa, there’s palazzo Re Enzo, taking its name from its most famous guest, King Vincent, who was captured on 26th may 1249 during the battle of Fossalta, and held prisoner in the palace for 23 years.

After having lunch on the stairs if the Sala Borsa (for the low cost kind of people, and as lots of student do), o in a bar of the area, if the day is sunny and the sky clear, take the chance to go on top of the Asinelli Tower, one of the symbols of the city, along with the Garisenda tower (near the Asinelli) and the Neptune fountain. Once you’ve climbed the 498 stairs, the view over the city and the surroundings is simply breathtaking.. If you’re particularly lucky, you can see in the distance the contour of the Alps, so don’t forget the camera to portrait the view, from the Appennini to the Pianura Padana, which opens in front of your eyes.

Once you’re back with your feet on the Earth under the tower, take Via Castiglione for about 100 meters, until you’ll find on your left a carmine façade; it is the Palazzo della Mercanzia (Merchandise Palace), now  base of the chamber of commerce, where the recipes of the tortellini and the ragù, better known as the Bolognese sauce, are deposited. Admire the architecture of the Palace, then continue walking along the narrow street on the left of the building, and after a few steps, you’ll find yourself in a wonderful pebbled square, where is located the most peculiar church of the entire city: the church of S. Steven. It if formed by seven churches different in style, colour and shape. This group of churches is thought to be the most ancient monument in Bologna, and St. Petronius himself, who governed the Bolognese church in the  5th century, is indicated as having designed the Basilica in 983, as part of a project that would have reproduced Jerusalem. In this same spot, in the 1st century, the Romans built a temple on honour of Isis, that probably was located where now it rises the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, which reproduces in details the homonymous sepulchre in Jerusalem. While wandering around this group of churches, breathe in the magical and mystical atmosphere, and let the plainness of the architectures surprise you.

DAY 2:

One of the most important museums of the city is for sure the National Picture Gallery, located in via Belle Arti; it contains paintings mostly from the Bolognese and Emilia school from 1300 to 1700. We can say, that is a complementary collection to the city, as reflects its artistic history. In addition to the paintings of the Carracci, Guido Reni and Donato Creti, in this museum are shown works by Giotto, Raffaello, Pamigianino, Perugino and Aspertini.

Once you’ve finished the visit at the gallery, walk along via Zamboni, the university area, where you’ll find loads of students taking a break, or going in and out the building to attend lessons. At the end of the street you’ll see again the two Towers, which are worth a picture, then walk to Piazza Maggiore, and once you’re there proceed along the portico of the Pavaglione, on the left of the Basilica of S. Petronius. While walking  under the arcades, while admiring the windows of the shops, you’ll go along the left aisle of S. Petronius basilica, and you’ll notice distinctly that a part of the church look like had been half destroyed. Legends says, that is was left like this, because of the fast construction of the  palace you’re walking under, the Archiginnasio. Desired by the Pope Pio VI as permanent base of the university, now houses the city library, with more than 650.000 volumes, 12.000 manuscripts, lots of correspondences, geographical maps and prints. From the courtyard on the low ground, you can visit the Chapel of S. Mary del Bulgari, while on the upper floor, you’ll find the splendid anatomic theatre, redecorated after the war; before going to the theatre, stop on the stairs to watch the  crests painted on the walls representing the students who came there to study, and once you’re in the anatomic theatre sit down on once the wooden benches, to look around and contemplate the view taking notes on the details of the room, especially its sculptures.

In the afternoon you can relax, maybe doing some shopping in Via Indipendenza or in the area of the Pavaglione, or you can lay down under the sun (if the weather is right for it), in the biggest park in the city, the Margherita gardens, located outside the circle of walls, between Porta Santo Stefano and Porta Castiglione… if not, you can visit the museum near the city centre as for example the civic museum of archaeology, with one of the  most important Egyptian collections in Europe, or the Medieval museum.

In the evening, after a shower, you can have a happy hour in one of the bars in the city centre or in Via del Pratello, where the locals, especially young ones, meets to drink something and chat with friends, in one of the bars and pubs along the street.

DAY 3:

Just outside the city there are two things worth a visit, not just for the buildings, but also for the view: the sanctuary of San Luca and S. Michele in Bosco.

The first is maybe the most loved by the locals, which walks under the portico 3,5 km long and featuring 666 arcades, that leads from the Arch of the Meloncello to the church… you can walk too, if you like, or reach the top of the hill by car. The name of the sanctuary comes from a painting of the Madonna of San Luca, that it is said to be a portrait of the Virgin painted by Luke, the evangelist, and you can see the painting right at the bottom inside the church. Legend has it that a Greek monk discovered this Madonna and the child  in the mosque of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, accompanied by an inscription asking that the holy image be installed on the “Monte della Guardia”. In Rome, he met the Bolognese ambassador who convinced him the this mount was located in Bologna. The icon was solemnly installed there in 1160. However, it is more probable that it had passed through Bologna during the crusades and was repainted by a local artist.

S. Michele in Bosco, instead, today houses the famous Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute, was built in the 14th century by Olivetan monks on the site of a 13th-century convent, which was itself, according to legend, an ancient Gaulish temple. Though you can’t visit the building, the view from this spot in simply breathtaking, at any hour of the day, and worth some pictures of the area around the city, and Bologna itself.

In the evening enjoy a typical dinner in one of the typical restaurants in the city, choosing between lots of local dishes, such as tortellini, tagliatelle with ragù, lasagne, crescentine, Bolognese cotoletta, ending with a slice or rice cake, or spongata..


~ by itaramoana on November 25, 2012.

2 Responses to “A trip to… Bologna”

  1. I had already had a preview of the italian version and I really think you’ve beautifully descripted your town. It justs shows how much you love Bologna and you really make me want to come back and visit it again, as I was still in high schooll when I first did a trip there! I think you live in one of the most beautiful italian cities!

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