Bologna's fame is closely linked to the reputation and prestige of the Alma Mater Studiorum. Renowned throughout Europe, the University of Bologna has always attracted students from all over the world. Bologna is not a city which attracts mass tourism, but instead it welcomes curious and attentive visitors.
Bologna is a city with turrets and porticos which stretch out for kilometers, but it is not ostentatious. Often, the city's most valuable treasures can be found tucked away in magnificent Renaissance palaces, in churches which have been reconsecrated and restored, beneath gateways or inside courtyards.
The city attracts a considerable amount of visitors each year to a variety of exhibitions. It offers an excellent infrastructure and quality services, which facilitate visitor's stays and help render them as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
The historic city center, which is separated from the rest of the city by ancient walls, the
The political and religious heart of the city can be found on the Medieval
Another area which has retained its original structure is the
Beyond the city walls, the rest of the city looks different. This is a result of the urban development which took place after the Second World War. The reconstructions which took place after the bombings radically altered the appearance of the city, particularly in the area around the train station. One of the plans which were set in motion for this urban renewal was the widening of the Vie Ugo Bassi, Rizzoli and Indipendenza, to enable them to accommodate more shops and businesses in the name of commercialization.
Bologna is divided up into districts, the names of which are taken from those of the gateways in the ancient city walls. Much of Bologna's charm is derived from its beautiful gardens which are dotted throughout the built-up urban areas. These render the areas an altogether more pleasant place to live.
The exhibitions district is relatively modern. It is characterized by the extremely modern Kenzo Tange Towers, and was perhaps originally constructed with the aim of glorifying Bologna's historic
Another typical feature of Bologna is its hills. Here, you can take long walks and visit ancient villas, convents and sanctuaries. The unmistakable
Piazza Maggiore - Giardini Margherita Amidst the majestic Medieval palaces on the Piazza stands the unfinished Basilica di San Petronio. Dedicated to the patron saint of the city, it was designed by Antonio di Vincenzo and construction work began on it in 1390. Ironically, its unfinished façade makes it unique. Its marble base is a true masterpiece of pre-Renaissance sculpture. The columns on the main portal and the statues of Saint Petronio (done during Michelangelo's brief stay in the city) and the Madonna and Child on the lunette were done by Jacopo della Quercia, while the smaller doors were created by Amico Aspertini, Alfonso Lombardi and Giacomo Silla amongst others. The interior of the basilica is extremely light and spacious. It is dominated by the pink tones of its brick pilasters. The basilica's twenty two chapels contain a considerable artistic heritage.
In front of the basilica, you will see the meridian line drawn by Gian Domenico Cassini in 1655. You will also see the Palazzo del Podestà which was built in 1485 from a design by Aristotele Fieravanti.
To the west of the piazza is the Palazzo Comunale, also known as the Palazzo D''Accursio, which is used by the civic administration. Construction work began in 1287 and it was built on the site of the D''Accursio houses. Its façade is adorned with a beautiful sandstone portal (created by Galeazzo Alessi in 1550) and a terracotta Madonna scultped by Niccolò dell'Arca in 1478. The bronze statue of Pope Gregorio XIII Boncompagni on the portal was created by Alessandro Menganti in 1576.
The roof of the Palazzo Communale is embellished with Guelph and Ghibelline battlements. Inside, are the sumptuous rooms of the Papal Legate's former appartments. These contain the precious Civic Art Collection. The Museo Morandi is also housed inside this palace.
Also on the piazza are the Palazzo dei Banchi, the Palazzo dei Notai, the legendary Palazzo Re Enzo and the famous Neptune's Fountain, which was designed by Giambologna and Tommaso Laureti in 1563.
To the east of the basilica, along the right hand side is the Portico del Pavaglione, beneath which you will see the ancient Ospedale della Morte, which today houses the Archaeological Museum and the Archiginnasio, which is famous for the 7,000 heraldic coats of arms which have been painted on its interior walls.
Beside Palazzo dei Banchi lies the tangled street network of the Mercato di Mezzo, where the streets have all retained the names of the ancient Corporations of the Arts. If you leave Piazza Maggiore and cross Via Rizzoli via Via Oberdan, you will reach the Jewish Ghetto where the new Jewish Museum was opened in 1999.
If you walk away from the Ghetto down Via Rizzoli, you will be able to admire the beauty of the historic Due Torri di Bologna (Two Towers). The highest, which is known as Torre degli Asinelli - measures 97m while the Torre pendente della Garisenda is no higher than 48.16m.
Head towards the famous Piazza Santo Stefano, with a short stop to take in the Palazzo della Mercanzia. This enchanting piazza houses the legendary Complesso Basilicale Stefaniano which was founded by Petronio, the city's patron saint. This religious complex (made up of seven churches) is unique as it was built on the remains of an ancient Pagan temple dedicated to the Goddess Iside. Turn down Via Santo Stefano, and you will be able to see the beautiful church of San Giovanni in Monte. At the bottom of Via Santo Stefano, turn onto Via Dante which will lead you to Piazza Carducci where you will see Casa di Giosuè Carducci (house of the poet Giosuè Carducci), the Museum of the Risorgimento and a monument dedicated to the poet.
Continue down the street and you will get to the church of Madonna del Baraccano which was built just behind the ancient city walls. Finally, stop off for lunch or simply a gelato at Giardini Margherita.
Strada Maggiore - Via Irnerio This tour starts on the roads which lead from the city center out to the periphery. Along Strada Maggiore stand many important palaces built for the city's nobility including the 18th Century Palazzo Davia Bargellini (better known as Palazzo dei Giganti) which houses the Museum of Industrial Arts. Opposite Palazzo Davia Bargellini stands the Santa Maria dei Servi church which was built in the 14th Century. If you continue down to the bottom of Strada Maggiore, you will get to Via Fondazza - the legendary street on which Giorgio Morandi lived.
Leave Strada Maggiore and head towards Piazza Aldrovandi; this should take you down Via San Vitale. You will pass a Romanesque church dedicated to the early Bolognese martyrs - Santi Vitale e Agricola, as well as the beautiful Palazzo Fantuzzi (characterized by its door-less rock façade and the eighteenth century Palazzo Hercolani - the ancient senatorial residence which now houses the Faculty of Political Science.
From Via San Vitale, you will reach Piazza Rossini which is dominated by the Romaneque façade of the single-spired San Giacomo Maggiore Church . The piazza also houses the Musical Conservatory where Rossini and Donizzeti once taught. Beneath the beautiful portico on the right hand side of the San Giacomo Maggiore Church, you will find the partially hidden Santa Cecilia Oratory which contains frescoes of equal value to those in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
On Via Zamboni, you can visit the beautiful Palazzi Magnani and Malvezzi Campeggi. Continue down Via Zamboni and you will get to the Teatro Comunale and the heart of Bologna's university district. You can also visit Palazzo Poggi, the Aula Carducci, the Specola, the Museum of Astronomy, the Naval Museum, the Academic Museum and several others. Continue walking and head towards the National Gallery - a must for all art lovers. At the bottom of Via Zamboni, you will see the Museum of Paleontology and the Museum of Mineralogy. Continue down Via Irnerio where you will be able to visit the Erbario, the Botanical Gardens and the Museum of Anatomy.
Via Indipendenza - Colle della Guardia Via Indipendenza links the train station to the historic city center. Here you will see the Porta Galliera and, on the left, the remains of the notorious Rocca di Galliera (the former papal residence). Also on the left of Via Indipendenza stands the beautiful stairway leading to Montagnola Park where an uninterrupted series of porticoes leads to the monumental Metropolitana di San Pietro. This church of considerable proportions is characterized by its imposing façade designed by the architect Alfonso Torreggiani in 1743. The inside of the 13th Century bell tower houses an ancient round bell in the Romanesque style.
Via Manzoni opens up on the right hand side, and here you will see the Fava Ghisilieri and Fava Ghisilardi Palaces which now house the Medieval Museum. Opposite the palaces stands the beautiful Madonna della Galliera Church which has a unique sandstone façade decorated with statues. At the bottom of Via Manzoni, you will reach Via Galliera and a succession of beautiful palaces built for the nobility.
Now turn towards Via Ugo Bassi and stop outside the San Francesco church on Piazza Malpighi. This magnificent 13th Century church has retained its Romanesque façade, but its interior is testament to the French Gothic influence. The side of the church which gives out onto the piazza is embellished by the presence of several beautiful arches. The church's two bell towers are also charming from an architectural point of view. The larger of these is attributed to Antonio di Vincenzo, who was also responsible for the construction of the San Petronio Basilica. Leave Piazza Malpighi and continue down Via Barberia until you reach the Synagogue.
Via Barberia leads to Via Carbonesi and along the way, you will be able to see the seventeenth century church of San Paolo which was designed by Giovanni Ambrogio Mazenta. You will then reach the Collegio di Spagna which has a beautiful courtyard facing the bell tower of the little church of San Clemente. Closed in behind crenelated walls, the college, and fortress, was built on the orders of Cardinale D'Albornoz as a place of refuge for Spanish students.
The winding road running between Via Barberia and Via Collegio di Spagna will lead to the Roman Theatre which is surrounded by a modern building containing shops. The Roman Theatre is thought to have been built at the time of the Empire. It was only discovered as a result of excavation work which was carried out in order to construct a new building. It was felt that such a rare archaeological find could not be given up for the sake of a new building, and therefore it was decided to keep both constructions side by side. The results are those of a feat of modern archaeological engineering and therefore very interesting. The only small drawback is that the opening hours of the shops also determine the times you can visit the Roman Theatre.
You should now proceed in the direction of Via Saragozza, passing the gateway of the same name. Steel yourself for a long walk, punctuated by 666 porticos which will eventually lead you to the Madonna di San Luca Sanctuary which is perched elegantly on the summit of the della Guardia Hills. This walk (around three kilometers long) is usually done by pilgrims, but it is also recommended as good exercise, with a beautiful panoramic view at the top as a reward. Every year, in the month of May, there is a procession up this hill in honor of the legendary Madonna of San Luca. She is prayed to for protection against inclement weather and bad harvests.
The origins of Bologna can be traced right back to the Bronze Age. Around 3,000 years ago, a population of unknown origin settled in the Appenine region, on the banks of the Apose and Ravone rivers. During the Iron Age, this population developed its own authentic culture and came to be known as the Villanovian Civilization.
These Villanovian villages were inhabited by skillful potters and smiths who developed working relationships with other civilizations such as the Etruscans, the Greeks and the Phonaeceans. This meant the Villanovians were able to play a central role in the trade route network covering northern and central Italy.
In around the sixth century BCE, the settlement of villages was eventually surrounded by the Etruscans (who brought with them their culture) and the area was transformed into the wealthy and prosperous Felsina. The Etruscans in Felsina (mentioned by Pliny in one of his works) added to the trade links already established by the Villanovians and it soon became the commercial center of Etruria. The population here was a peace-loving one, which an interest in both crafts and commerce.
In around 350 BCE, Felsina found itself incapable of repelling a rash attack by the Galli Boi who had reached the surrounding plains. The coarse, dirty and ugly Galli Boi did not leave any important heritage behind - except perhaps the name of the city: it is said that the name Bologna is derived from the word Boi or bona which means city in the Celt language.
It was only after two hundred years of Celt domination that they were finally defeated in battle by Publio Cornelio Scipione Nasica and sent into flight. Bononia (as it was then called) became a Roman colony. In 187 BCE, the Roman Consul Marco Emilio Lepido had the Via Emilia constructed, thus giving the city an important position in the center of Peninsula Italy's road network.
During the Roman period, Bononia re-acquired some of its lost splendor. Many important architectural works were built including the Roman castrum, the road network (part of the paving of which is still visible in Via Manzoni, as well as the Palazzo Fava Ghisilardi, and Fava Ghisilieri, the Roman theatre in Via Carbonesi.
The fall of the Roman Empire also brought about the decline of Bononia. Realizing that they were lacking in defenses and therefore vulnerable to raids by Barbarians, the citizens rushed to repair the city's defenses and fortify the city with a high defensive wall made from selenite. In an effort to bring new hope to the weary population and re-build the fragmented society, the Bishops of Rome (who had been granted freedom of religion by an edict from the Emperor Constantine in 313 CE) were able to have churches constructed.
In 431 CE, the city regained a semblance of its former vitality, mainly due to the deeds of Bishop Petronio who reinforced the fortifications, restored the public buildings and initiated the construction of the Basilica di Santo Stefano. His actions left such an imprint on Bologna's history that 900 years later, the splendid Basilica di San Petronio was built in his honor on the Piazza Maggiore. This piazza soon became the religious and political heart of the city.
This period of relative peace was however rudely interrupted and between 535 and 553 CE Bologna became involved in the bloody Byzantine-Gothic war. It was then the turn of the Longobards who in 569 CE invaded the plains, attempting to win the region from the Byzantines.
It was only in 727 that the Longobard king Liutprando succeeded in defeating the Byzantines. Bologna was then ruled peacefully for the next 50 years. Very little evidence remains of the Longobard period, with the exception of the Catino di Pilato (Pilate's Basin) which stands in the courtyard of the Santo Stefano Basilica.
In 774, the Longobards gave way to Charlemagne who, after being summoned by Pope Adriano I, ceded both Bologna and l'Esarcato to the papacy. Throughout the 9th Century, Bologna was therefore ruled by Dukes who had been appointed by the Pontificate.
The end of the first millennium brought about a mixture of good and bad events. The Metropolitana di San Pietro was built, the city walls were widened and reconstruction work on the Basilica di Santo Stefano was commenced.
The danger of Byzantine domination was definitively staved off during the struggle for investiture between the Pope and the Emperor, and this was reconfirmed when the Church of Rome took over patronage of the city. The close ties between the Church and the city were maintained for a long time, but they were not always amicable ones.
In the meantime, the city began to rebuild itself and the first municipal institutions began to appear. These were built with the approval of the Emperor Enrico V. In 1088, the most important university in Europe was built by the Master of Laws - Irnerio.
This was a period of frenzied activity for the city. The more that was happening here, the more it became a potential target for the major powers. Regimes with colonial expansionist urges began to set it in their sights. Federico Barbarossa attempted to remove its autonomy by imposing his own magistrates on the city's government, but Bologna refused to submit to this. In 1167, it joined the League of Lombardy and entered into armed struggle to defend its autonomy.
Bologna was a hotly contested city. It was sought after by the Church, by the Imperial powers, and by rich and powerful members of the nobility. There were many reasons for this, not least its strategic geographical location, the economic and cultural benefits brought about by the presence of the university and its flourishing markets which had been revitalized as a result of fervent activity on the part of the Corporazioni delle Arti (Art Guild). There were a large number of craftsman's workshops in the city, and these even gave their name to some of the streets, which are still visible today in the Mercato di Mezzo district.
Many illustrious personages were buried here and great funereal monuments - such as the Glossatori Arches which can be seen near the Piazza San Domenico and the Piazza Malpighi - were built for them.
In the 13th Century, waves of discontent continued to wash over the citizens of Bologna, due to the alternate domination of the city by both the Guelfs and and the Ghibellines.
The Emperor Frederico Barbarossa never actually managed to subjugate Bologna, and his nephew, King Enzo of Sardinia was even taken captive during the battle of the Fossalta. He was incarcerated until his death in a palace which bears his name to this day: Palazzo Re Enzo.
The Church met with a different fate, but it was no less effective. Often, when the citizens of Bologna felt they'd had enough of the abuse of power of the Papal Legate, they would rail against the Rocca di Galliera. This building - constructed by Cardinal Bertrando del Progetto - as the official residence of the Papal Legate - was the stronghold of the Catholic Church in Bologna.
Bologna courageously resisted all attempts at subjugation, even during the bloody civil wars which were to follow. The powerful Geremei, Lambertazzi and Pepoli families fought for domination of the city for years, siding from time to time with the Papacy or the Emperor for support.
It was only the fury of the Papal Delegate which managed to temporarily curb the heated disputes which were taking place between the opposing factions to the point where even he only narrowly managed to avoid being thrown out of the city.
Bologna did however, have its moments of glory. The Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi was built and the Basilica di San Domenico was finished. Contruction work on Basilica di San Petronio was commenced in 1390.
In the 15th Century, the Bentivolgio family came to power. There was also a power struggle between the Viscounti of Milan and the Pope for domination of the city, from which the church emerged victorious. The Rocca di Galliera was consequently rebuilt. Pope Alessandro V felt that the city was finally at peace and attempted to stabilize the political sitution. He died in 1410 and his body was preserved in the sepulchre at the Basilica di San Francesco.
However, the tensions in the city were still simmering away and relations with the church continued to be problematic until the 19th Century. Every time the church attempted to calm the population, it would allow itself to be calmed. However, as soon as the papal legate became in any way controversial, the citizens of Bologna would once more be up in arms.
Bologna's other enemies, the Visconti, took full advantage of the situation and continually threatened the city, in an attempt to realize their ambition of territorial expansion into Emilia. The Bentivoglio family repeatedly attempted to reinstate the rule of the Signoria (or nobility), as did both King Louis XII of France and Cesare Borgia, grandson of Pope Alessandro VI. In 1506, the church once more intervened and it was Pope Giulio II that finally liberated the city from domination by the Bentivoglio family and reinstated papal rule, definitively making Bologna part of the Papal State.
In the years which followed, various major events took place: in 1530, Carlo V was crowned Emperor in the Basilica of San Petronio, and in 1542, Bologna hosted several sessions of the Trento Council. Various important institutions were transformed as a result of the papal domination, e.g. the University came to be housed inside the Archiginnasio, in order for its autonomy not to be limited.
During this period, many great architectural works were built including the Palazzo dei Banchi in 1565, Piazza Galvani in 1563 and the Ospedale della Morte (today housing the Museo Civico Archeologico) which was also built in 1565.
In this way, Bologna reacquired some of its faded glory and prestige. While the corruption-riddled nobility were involved in the worldly, secular life of the city, the papacy struggled to maintain law and order.
At the beginning of the 17th Century, the city's population was decimated by the Plague, but it was still constantly under development. Magnificent palaces were built and there was an increasing amount of activity in the world of the arts.
In the 18th Century, Bologna began to enjoy a better standard of living as a result of successes in both the agricultural and textile industries. The University regained some of its antique splendor with the addition of the Institute of Sciences which was housed in the Palazzo Poggi, donated by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili.
Bologna was the papal state's second city (after Rome), and in the nineteenth century, it became involved in a series of historical events which changed the face of Europe. In the Napoleonic period, it was at first the capital of the Cispadana Republic and then, it left the papal state to became part of the Cisalpina Republic. During the Restoration, Bologna was restored to the papacy. However, Bologna soon became actively involved in the Risorgimento which culminated in the driving out of the Austrians and the definitive severing of Bologna's centuries-old ties with the papacy. In 1859, Piedmont was annexed and became part of a unified Italy.
Today, Bologna is often seen as Europe's cultural capital. It take pride of place in Italy's road network and its prestigious University is world-famous. It is an ancient city with a widely-respected artistic heritage (the Caracca and Reni Schools originated here) which has promoted various cultural initiatives on an international scale. It is a city which is known for its strong identity, its inter-cultural exchange programs, its towers, its gateways, its magnificent palaces and for the joie de vivre of its population.
There is no denying that Bologna is noted for its academic culture; the presence of one of the world's oldest universities here is testament to this fact, but there are also many other cultural aspects of which Bologna can be proud. Its cuisine, for example, never fails to delight visitors to the city: it has a culinary tradition which successfully manages to combine the traditional and the modern while never sacrificing creativity. For this reason, Bologna is known as "La Grassa", or the Fat One.
Puff pastry dishes are extremely characteristic of Bolognese cuisine. Other typical dishes include the famous, aromatic mortadella, tiny tortellini in stock and pale yellow tagliatelle in ragù (meat sauce) - which is a very popular home-cooked dish.
These tempting, fragrant dishes are always accompanied by excellent regional wines including Barbera, Bianco, Cabarnet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pignoletto, Pinot bianco, Riesling italico, Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Albana and Trebbiano Doc.
On April 16, 1972, an unusual tale about tagliatelle was recorded. Apparently, a strand of the pasta was made, measured by experts and found to be 8mm when cooked. This was worked out to be a decimal fraction (12,270) of the height of the Torre dei Asinelli (dei Asinelli Tower). A model of the strand of pasta was kept in the archives of the Chamber of Commerce. Many other bizarre stories such as this one have been recorded about the legendary Bolognese sauce.
According to popular legend, tortellini was invented by a cook who was so enchanted after having seen Venus's navel, that he decided to attempt to reproduce it with his own hands. This legend is echoed in a poem by Giuseppe Ceri entitled Venus Navel in which the last verse tells of a cross-eyed man from Bologna who was inspired to make tortellini after having seen Venus's navel!
Porta Piera The historic city center is full of pubs, pastry shops, ice cream parlors and small restaurants which serve up traditional dishes in a friendly, rustic environment. These include Belle Arti and Al Caminetto d'Oro are located a stone's throw from Piazza XVIII Agosto. The city center is also home to numerous expensive restaurants which are known throughout the country, particularly I Carracci where you can dine on haute cuisine surrounded by beautiful frescoes by the Caracci brothers themselves. If you take a walk down Via Indipendenza, one of the most well-known streets in the city, you will eventually reach the Ristorante Diana. Not far from here, down a side street off Via Indipendenza, you will find Franco Rossi. For great ethnic cuisine, and close to the train station if you're near just for a stopover, try Ru Yi for Chinese or the Piedra del Sol for Mexican.
Porta Stiera One of the most popular ethnic restaurants in the city is India, which also has another restaurant in Fiesole, near Florence.
Porta Ravegnana Not far from the tourist sights, Pappagallo - which is famous throughout Italy - is situated near the historic towers. There are plenty of pizzerias in Bologna, but it is safe to say that pizzas are not a big specialty here. As pizza is part of the southern culinary tradition, it tends to be more popular down south. Pizzerias in the city include Il Doge and Piedigrotta, both near Piazza Maggiore.