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
Bologna is a city which has developed along fairly harmonious lines – obviously with its fair share of problems and contradictions – in terms of developing appropriate architectural structures and buildings to suit its citizens' way of life and recreational needs.
The city has many things going for it: it is strategically located on the road network which links the north to the south, it is a cultural center and home of the oldest university in Europe, it is the industrial capital of the Pianura Padana region and it is removed from the chaos of the capital and the large Northern industrial cities, which means it is not paralyzed by traffic problems. It is easy to get around on foot, by bicycle, on a bus, a scooter and in a car (although this is not recommended for getting around the historic city center).
This small, ancient, carefully-preserved city is full of churches, museums, theaters and thousands of other hidden treasures. It is the place to come if you want to totally immerse yourself in culture. It is also the city of the famous carnival mask "Dr. Balanzone", of raucous students, of markets and fairs, and of tortellini and mortadella. In short, good food and entertainment are never hard to find here.
Bologna's Taverns In 1300, Bologna was already one of the most densely populated cities in Europe, and contained around 150 taverns. This impressive figure probably had a lot to do with the massive influx of students of all nationalities who came here to study at its prestigious university. The cream of European youth would visit these taverns to sit around and have long discussions, while munching on sausages and mortadella and drinking copious amounts of wine. They would come to sing the Gaudeamus Igitur and other student songs, to be ironic and irreverent, sometimes even scurrilous in their attitude towards authority, the clergy and their professors. Students, artists, hardened drinkers, and famous intellectuals (such as Olindo Guerrini and Giosuè Carducci) alike could be found in these taverns and bars every day.
Between the two world wars, many of these taverns disappeared, but the Bolognese still retained a penchant for drinking and socializing. Today, there are over 200 taverns, wine bars, beer gardens and pubs in the city. One of the most traditional and characteristic taverns is the Osteria del Sole, while the oldest are probably Osteria da Mario and Osteria della Fondazza which both have a very simple charm.
However, there are also several taverns which have decided to go upmarket and become refined and elegant; these have transformed themselves into rustic-style restaurants, such as Osteria Piazza Grande, Osteria dei Poeti, Osteria del Brancaleone, Osteria Santa Caterina and Osteria dello Scorpione.
The pedestrian zone on Via del Pratello is traditionally an extremely popular meeting place. It is situated away from the hustle and bustle of the traffic and is often the scene of shows and seasonal markets. Characterized by its low doorways and streets paved in stone, the area is home to a number of pubs and bars including Birreria del Pratello, Monastero, Mutenye, Il Rovescio, as well as social, cultural and recreational groups such as Circolo Pavese and also several bars which have managed to maintain the old-fashioned charm of working-class pubs such as Barazzo and Osvaldo.
A couple of meters away is the beautiful Piazza San Francesco on which stands the Gothic church of the same name. In front this is the Bar De' Marchi - the sort of place where you can still play cards and challenge veteran players to a game.
In the university district, there are numerous pubs which are always full of young people, who flock here in the late afternoon to take advantage of the happy hour during which they drink and chat. At the two opposite ends of Via Zamboni, there is an Irish pub - Clauricane Irish Pub - and an English pub - The Lord Lister's English Pub. Also on Via Zamboni is Caffè del Museo which offers one of the most popular happy hours in the city every Thursday night.
On Via delle Belle Arti, you will find an Italian-style pub - Contavalli. On Via Borgo San Pietro stands the Corto Maltese, a "discopub" that is always very busy and stays open until late and Le Stanze (del Tenente), an elegant cocktail bar housed inside the Palazzo Bentivoglio. Finally, on Via Mascarella you will find Naked - a small, alternative pub which presents a different DJ every night, the more elegant Bravo Café and Cantina Bentivoglio - a wine bar serving food that has been hosting live jazz performances every night for the last ten years.
Music 18th and 19th century music in Bologna is associated with great figures such as Father Martini, Gioachino Rossini, Richard Wagner (who became an honorary citizen of Bologna), Ferruccio Busoni and Ottorino Respighi. Antonio Bibiena left the city his masterpiece – the Teatro Comunale, which was inaugurated on May 26, 1763 with the performance of Il Trionfo di Clelia. Melodramas have been staged in this magnificent theater from the 18th Century through to the present day. The repertoire of opera and symphonies at the Teatro Comunale, as well as the work of the Conservatory and the Bologna Festival have kept the city's passion for classical music very much alive.
However, Bologna also has a strong attraction to jazz, and many famous international jazz musicians have graced its stages: from Chet Baker, Steve Grossman and Bill Frisell to Richard Galliano. The Bologna jazz circuit covers a number of pubs and bars that are convinced that good wine and good music should go hand in hand. These include Cantina Bentivoglio, Chet Baker Jazz Club and Osteria dell'Orsa.
Bologna is also the home of many great singers. It has always been an important center for pop music, and has seen artists such as Francesco Guccini and Lucio Dalla as well as many other groups and young bands rise up out of obscurity and make the big time. There are several clubs which although not overly spacious, have always hosted pop concerts, such as Il Covo and Officina Estragon.
Cinema In this century, the Emilia Romagna region has shown itself to be – in the words of film historian Renzo Renzi – "the land of cinema". Many famous directors have worked and produced their best work here in Emilia Romagna and Bologna. These include luminaries such as Michelangelo Antonioni, Pupi Avati, Bernardo Bertolucci and Federico Fellini.
Bologna therefore became an important center for cinematographic culture. This was further strengthened in the 1960s and 1970s with the founding of the Cinema Commission (by Renato Zanghieri) and the institution of the DAMS – a degree course based on contemporary arts, music and drama, with particular reference to cinema.
This cinematographic culture is of course provided for the benefit of the public. Bologna probably has the highest number of passionate cinema-goers in the whole country – it definitely has the largest number of cinemas. This is probably partially due to the activities of the Cineteca Communale which attempted to promote cinema-going with the construction of a major cinema – Il Lumière - which showed re-runs of an extensive range of both classical and contemporary classics for people to re-discover.
The Cineteca Communale also organizes a variety of festivals. These include: Cinema Ritrovato - an open-air summer festival which screened masterpieces of silent cinema to the accompaniment of live music, Future Film Festival which, since a few years ago has been taking place annually. This festival details new cinematographic technologies and developments in the world of animation. A couple of major non-commercial cinemas in Bologna which are worth a visit are il Roma and Adriano. The latter also shows a cycle of films in their original language entitled Maniamerica. The Medusa Multicinema is a futuristic, multi-screened cinema which predominantly features Hollywood blockbusters. Its brand-new rooms offer extreme comfort and the best new technologies with regard to sound and picture quality.
Theatre Theatre is very popular in Bologna: the university hosts various initiatives, there are numerous theatre schools, the repertoires are varied and the public is enthusiastic. Many interesting events and meetings are organized here all the time. The city's main theatre is Arena del Sole. The restoration work - finished in 1996 - gave rise to a spacious theater split into two rooms: the larger room is dedicated to major performances featuring world-famous artists and the smaller one - Sala Interaction - is given over to experimental work and avant-garde theater. One of the oldest theaters in the city is Teatro Duse which is part of the Ente Teatrale Italiano (Italian Theatre Association). Another historic theatre is Teatro delle Moline, which is extremely small (it has a capacity of 50) but very successful. It is used by the artistic directors Marinella Manicardi and Prof. Gozzi (a DAMS graduate) for experimental work featuring predominantly Italian artists.
Teatro Dehon and Teatro delle Celebrazioni offer more commercial shows, particularly the latter which tends to put on musicals and cabaret shows. A more elite and intellectual audience can go and see avant-garde repertoires at Teatri di Vita, which also stages contemporary dance shows. Children's theatre is not overlooked: Testoni Ragazzi - a theater and arts center for children and young people - offers a series of shows and workshops for children. There are also many other theaters in the rest of the province, where theatre-going is no less popular. These include Teatro Consorziale di Budrio.
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.
Located as it is at the foot of the Apennines, (near several other cities of artistic interest) Bologna enjoys a strategic position in Italy's road and rail network.
The city is an important center for business and conferences; it has an extremely well-equipped exhibition district and a Palace of Culture which can hold up to a thousand visitors. After it was named European City of Culture, much restoration work took place and new buildings dedicated to the arts were designed and built. As a result, Bologna is able to benefit from an impressive tourist industry linked to business, exhibitions and conferences, i.e. cultural tourism.
Young people from all over Europe come to Bologna in order to attend the oldest university in the world. The city is therefore extremely lively, with an active non-stop night life; you will never feel alone in this city, even on at 4a on a weekday!
If you don't want to risk the possibility of spending a night sleeping in the car, on a makeshift bed or under the stars, make sure you find out about hotel availability well in advance, especially during the exhibition period (which runs virtually throughout the year). Once you know when you are going, check out the Bologna Fiere website for exhibition news.
When deciding where to stay in Bologna, it is important to bear in mind that the historic city center is closed to traffic between 7a and 8p every day, including public holidays. However, hotel guests will receive a special pass given to them by the hotel. This pass entitles the holder to bring a private vehicle into the historic city center between 8am and midnight (including at weekends and on public holidays), and into the Corono Semicentrale area between 8a and 6p as well as free bus rides for 24 hours (from the moment the ticket is first stamped). Note that in order to remain exempt from fines, it is important to register your number plate with the Municipal Police in advance.
If you are intending to drive around the rest of the city, be warned that sign posts and information boards often provide insufficient information and can be set out in an illogical order. For this reason, it is best to plan your route before you set off and not to be afraid of asking passers by (who in this city are generally very friendly and helpful) for assistance.
A final piece of advice: spring is far and away the best time of year to visit the city. Not only will you be able to enjoy the colors and fragrances of the flowering and regenerating fauna, you will also be able to cycle around, take excellent photos, go shopping in the fine weather and generally enjoy the beautiful gardens and parks which the city has to offer.
Porta Piera Bologna's hotels reflect its cosmopolitan nature. For those who wish to take in the monuments and the beauty of its historic city center, there is a large choice of hotels available. The Grand Hotel Baglioni on Piazza Maggiore guarantees a luxurious stay, with all the facilities and amenities associated with a five-star hotel. The Golden Royal Carlton Hotel which also has a beautiful garden to stroll in. There are other affordable hotels a bit away from the center, such as San Vitale where you can enjoy a pleasant and inexpensive stay. Several yards away, on Piazza XX Settembre, you will find the Jolly Hotel - a four-star hotel which is often used as a conference center. It is also equipped to accommodate your four-legged friends, particularly dogs of all shapes and sizes!
Porta Stiera The four star Cappello Rosso is housed in a 17th-century palace and also provides an excellent service. A couple stylish hotels in this quarter are the Hotel Astoria and Hotel Re Enzo, which offer modern, comfortable surroundings near the historic center. For those who do not wish to be too far from the historic Piazza Maggiore or the Basilica di San Petronio, hotels such as Art Hotel Commercianti, which is full of Medieval charm, or the friendly Art Hotel Orologio (which stands beside the Palazzo Comunale) are highly recommended. For those arriving in Bologna by train, there are several hotels located near the station, such as the Excelsior or Sofitel Hotel which is situated in front of the station.
Navile If you are involved in any of the numerous events or exhibitions which take place throughout the year, you should choose a nearby three star hotel such as Il Guercino. If you are looking for something less traditional, try the Alloro Suite Hotel in which all the rooms have a cooking hob which is ideal for those who wish to have a little independence or who are planning a more long-term visit. Alternatively, try Marco Polo Hotel which is perfect for visitors with cars, as - being an authentic motel - it offers services for both drivers and their cars. Remaining in the exhibition district, if you are looking for simplicity and economy, try either the Hotel Ideale or Arcoveggio both of which offer basic services at affordable prices.
Borgo Panigale Close to the airport is the major, modern hotel - Sheraton that has all the fixings of major American hotel chains.
San Vitale Tower, owned by the Boscolo Hotel chain, offers luxurious, spacious accommodation outside of the city center.