Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna. It is the seventh most populated municipality in Italy and is the heart of a metropolitan area of 1 017 196 inhabitants. Home to the oldest university in the western world, Bologna hosts numerous students who animate its cultural and social life. It is home to prestigious cultural, economic and political institutions and one of the most advanced trade fair districts in Europe. In 2000, it was “European capital of culture”, while since 2006 it has been “UNESCO city of music”. Let’s see together the gems of this enchanting city!
It is the main square of Bologna, measuring 115 meters in length and 60 meters in width and is surrounded by the most important buildings of the medieval city. The oldest is the Palazzo del Podestà, which closes the square to the north; it dates back to the thirteenth century and is surmounted by the Arengo Tower, which by ringing its bell called the people together. Palazzo Re Enzo was soon added to this, under which the cross vault of a pedestrian crossroads opens. The square is closed to the west by the Palazzo Comunale (or d’Accursio), a monumental architectural complex of fourteenth-century origin, currently home to the Municipality of Bologna, the Municipal Art Collections and the Morandi Museum, which also runs alongside the adjacent Piazza del Neptune, in the center of which stands the homonymous fountain (also called the Giant) built in 1565 by Giambologna. To the south, opposite the Palazzo del Podestà, the unfinished facade of the Basilica of San Petronio rises, an example of Italian Gothic, which began in the late fourteenth century and never finished.
The museum was born from the recompositing of several laboratories of the ancient Institute of Sciences, founded in 1711 by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili (1658 – 1730). Realized with the support of Pope Benedict XIV who saw in it the symbol of a possible reconciliation between science and faith, the institute represented the continuity between the humanistic knowledge of sixteenth-century Bologna and the scientific illuminist knowledge of eighteenth-century Bologna. Dismembered in the Napoleonic era to create the laboratories of the new university locations, the heritage of the Institute of Sciences was returned in 2000 to the original headquarters of Palazzo Poggi, where today it is possible to admire not only the collection of Ulisse Aldrovandi (1606 – 1686) and the “room of wonders” by Ferdinando Cospi (1606 – 1686), but also the splendid decorations by Prospero Fontana, Pellegrino Tibaldi, Nicolò dell’Abate and Ercole Procaccini. Palazzo Poggi also houses the Museum of Ships and Ancient Geographical Maps (tel. 051 2099398 – 051 2099610), the Museum of Military Architecture, with models of fortifications, and the Obstetric Museum ‘G. A. Galli ‘, with waxes and ancient obstetric instruments.
Torre degli Asinelli
It is the highest original medieval tower in Italy, and together with the younger sister Torre Garisenda, it is the symbol of Bologna: the “Two Towers”. It was probably built for defensive purposes, by imperial will, just outside the first circle of walls, between the end of the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth century (recent analyses set the date between 1060 and 1100). A few decades later, it passed to the Asinelli family, originally Ghibelline and later Guelph. The tower was built between 1109 – 19 by the family of the same name and passed to the municipality in the following century. 97.20 m high, it has an overhang of 2.23 meters and an internal staircase of 498 steps finished in 1684. The base is surrounded by a ‘rock’ built in 1488 to house the soldiers on guard. Today under the portico some craft shops have been relocated to commemorate the commercial function carried out by the medieval ‘middle market’.
it is one of the so-called two towers of Bologna, symbol of the city, located in piazza di porta Ravegnana, at the crossroads of the ancient streets San Donato (now via Zamboni), San Vitale, Maggiore, Santo Stefano and Castiglione. Built in masonry around 1109 by the Garisendi (prosperous family of Ghibelline faith changers). Originally, the tower had an original height of sixty meters, then reduced to forty-eight by the despot Giovanni Visconti following the structural subsidence which had begun to manifest itself early and intensely in the foundation soils, characterized by poor mechanical and load-bearing capacity.
The Archiginnasio Palace is one of the most important buildings in Bologna. Placed in the heart of its historic center, it has housed the Municipal Library since 1838.
The Palace was built by Cardinal Borromeo between 1562 and 1563 on a project by the architect Antonio Morandi known as Terribilia as the seat of the University (until 1803). It was badly damaged by a bombing raid in 1944, during the Second World War, and later rebuilt.
Two large staircases lead to the upper floor which has classrooms (today not open to visitors) and two lecture halls one for the Artists (today the Reading room) and one for the Lawyers, called Sala dello Stabat Mater: here, Albert Einstein, on 22nd, 24th, 26th October 1921 gave three memorable and packed conferences, attended by scientists, teachers and students. On the upper floor, there is also the Anatomical Theater (for teaching anatomy), built in wood in 1637 to a design by Antonio Levante and restored after the bombings of 1944.
Bologna is the city of portici (porticos) par excellence. Here, portici measure a total of more than 38 kilometers, counting only those in the historic center, which reach 53 km if you add those out of town.
We can start from that of San Luca, which with its 3,796 meters in length and its splendid 666 arches are the longest in the world. The first evidence of this extraordinary architectural heritage dates back to the year 1041. The University of Bologna attracted many students and academics to the city, and soon a real housing emergency was faced. Thus, the citizens decided to increase the cubic capacity of their houses, expanding the upper floors with the creation of wooden protrusions supported by the extension of the supporting beams of the attic and, in the event of a strong protrusion, by shelves called “spouts”. Over time, the jetties increased in size, so it was necessary to build support columns from below, which prevented the collapse. This was how portici were born. A few days ago, the Governing Council of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO met at the MiBACT headquarters and approved portici presentation on the World Heritage List for 2020. The outcome of the candidacy is expected in 2021.
Although one would not say, Bologna is a city on the water, because the canals on which it is located were plumbed almost completely in the mid-1900s with the mayor Dozza, to reclaim and redevelop the city center.
Knowing that these canals exist, but above all understanding why they exist, is one of the most fascinating things in Bologna, a city that hides not only in its palaces with magnificent hidden gardens, but also in its basements.
It is important to remember that water has been the engine of the city for centuries. Bologna is far from the sea, and in the absence of a river, medieval bologna had to equip itself with artificial canals for the city’s water and commercial sustenance.
Today the remaining canals are few but rich in atmosphere and charme. The main channels, still existing today, although almost completely buried in their city path, are: Navile channel, created for navigation between Bologna (with its Navile Port) and the river Po, Rhine canal whose main purpose was the water supply for the other canals, Savena canal water supply for the canals, Cavaticcio canal driving force for water mills, Canale delle Moline driving force for water mills.
Church of Santa Maria della Vita
The monumental complex of Santa Maria della Vita, entrusted to the management of the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation in Bologna since 2006, is located near Piazza Maggiore and was founded in the second half of the century XIII from the Confraternity of the Battuti or Flagellati, whose name derives from the habit of the confreres to scourge their bodies for penitential purposes. It was reopened to the public in May 2010 following the renovations, becoming part of the Genus Bononiae path.
The church, with the dome designed by Bibiena, is the most important example of Bolognese Baroque; inside it houses the famous Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca, that “stone scream”, as Gabriele D’Annunzio defined it, which has influenced the history of Italian culture so much.
Next to the church there is the Oratory, where it is possible to admire the sculptural group of the Transit of the Virgin by Alfonso Lombardi, and the Museum of Health and Assistance. The Schola Gregoriana Benedetto XVI is also located in the complex, a project aimed at promoting the knowledge and diffusion of Gregorian chant. The Schola is directed by the Olivetan monk Don Nicola Bellinazzo, who also follows the liturgical training for the understanding and interpretation of Gregorian chant.
Basilica of San Petronio
The Basilica of San Petronio is among the best-known churches in the city and among the most dear to the Bolognese, because it dominates the main square, Piazza Maggiore, and because it is dedicated precisely to the patron saint. It is the fifth largest church in the world, after San Pietro in Rome, San Paolo in London, the cathedral of Florence and that of Milan; its construction began at the end of the fourteenth century, and it lasted a long time, passing through numerous architects and projects.
The interior of the temple, although built in different eras, has an admirable classical sense, therefore far from the overseas Gothic. It is divided into three naves, as the salient façade suggests, supported by ten polygonal rib pylons with sandstone leaves capitals, on which the arches and the vaults stand out: the six bays of the main nave are square in plan. Precisely in these naves, on February 24th, 1530, Emperor Charles V, leaving Palazzo d’Accursio, entered solemnly accompanied by the military and dressed in the imperial cloak, to go to the main altar where Pope Clement VII was waiting for him to crown him Emperor. While both walked along the nave the roof had not yet been completed, the role of Bologna, a crossroads between the North and the South of Europe, determined the choice of San Petronio as the place of the coronation.
In the lower naves there are twenty-two chapels, externally cuspidate and in red bricks which were cared for and financed by families or associations of art and crafts. Worthy of note are also the chapel of San Petronio, that of the Three Kings and that of San Giacomo on the left nave and the chapel of the Madonna della Pace on the right nave.