Situated in the Emilia-Romagna region of Northern Italy, in the Po Valley, Bologna can be described as the historical explorer’s dream. Free from the hordes of tourists who flock to more popular destinations, Bologna offers the visitor an unparalleled opportunity to discover ancient sites, surrounded by beautiful side streets and medieval piazzas. Known as the university town, due to the fact it is home to the oldest university in Europe – Alma Mater Studiorum, founded in 1088 – Bologna is as famous for its sumptuous range of gourmet cuisine, as it is for its stunning historical attractions, having been named the European capital of culture in 2000.
Although the city of Pisa is celebrated for its leaning tower, Bologna, in fact, has two, known as Le Due Tomi or The Two Towers. The towers are dominant features of Bologna’s skyline and comprise the town’s most recognizable landmarks. At 97 meters, the Torre Asinelli is the largest tower, offering visitors panoramic views across Bologna, whilst the second, Torre Garisenda, stands at just 48 meters. A main feature of Bologna is its two main squares, the Piazza Maggiore and the Piazza del Nettuno, which is also where the famed 16th-century Fountain of Neptun resides. A stroll through these squares, situated beside one another, will also lead you around many of the town’s attractions, such as the Basilica di San Petronio – Bologna’s largest church and the fifth-largest basilica in the world – and numerous palazzo, which are grand buildings known for their architecture, and often, their occupants. As such, these include the Palazzo dei Notai and the Palazzo dei Banchi.
Connecting the town is a series of walkways, which are covered by arches or vaults, known as arcades: Bologna is home to the longest one in the world, the Portico of San Luca. There is 38 km of arcades to be found in the town, meaning it is possible to peruse the sights of the town whilst being sheltered from the elements. In addition to the town’s many historical attractions, it is also host to a plethora of annual events. Most notable is the week-long marathon dance event, Amores which comprises traditional and contemporary performances and shows, taking place throughout the streets of Bologna. Furthermore, the Artelibro Art Book Festival is a popular attraction, which has book and art enthusiasts coming together with leading trade figures. The book festival is the only event of its kind to be offered in Italy and includes a program featuring exhibitions, lectures, readings, and debates.
As mentioned, Bologna is renowned for its gastronomical offerings, and food lovers alike won’t be disappointed. Indeed, most famous for giving its name to bolognese, it also offers a wide variety of other pasta, meats, and cheeses. Actually traveling to get there is easy, with flights to Bologna offered throughout the year, as well as a host of excellent rail and motor links. The only decision you need to worry about is which season to go in! The information contained within this article is the opinion of the author and is intended purely for information and interest purposes only. It should not be used to make any decisions or take any actions. Any links are included for information purposes only.
Once in Bologna you can take the Bus nos. A, 25, and 30, they run between the station and the historic core of Bologna, Piazza Maggiore from where you can start your visit of the city. Lunch in one of the restaurants in downtown Bologna should not be missed, as Bologna is called “la grassa” (The Fat) for its culinary traditions.
Bologna 1 – PIAZZA MAGGIORE Maggiore square
This is the heart of the city and the result of secular transformations which enriched it progressively with important buildings.
Surrounding the square are: Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo del Podestà and the scenic facade of Palazzo dei Banchi.
2 – FONTANA DEL NETTUNO Piazza del Nettuno- Fountain of Neptune
This monument of marble and bronze was built by the “Flemish” Giambologna according to a design by Tommaso Laureti in 1563. It represents the symbol of papal power: while Neptune rules over the seas the Pope dominates over the land.
At the foot of the God are four cherubs which represent the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon and the Danube-the rivers of the continents known to humans at the time.
3 – PALAZZO RE ENZO Piazza del Nettuno- Piazza Re Enzo- King Enzo’s Palace
Originally called Palatium Novum because it was added on to the older Palazzo del Podestà, it was later renamed Palazzo Re Enzo, as it became the prison of Enzo, son of the Emperor Frederic the Second, who was defeated by the people of Bologna in the battle of Fossalta in 1249.
Only a part of the building can be visited; from the courtyard, you go up the staircase leading to a “loggia” or gallery with a spectacular view.
Open: open to the public only during the exhibitions.
4 – PALAZZO DEL PODESTA’ Piazza Maggiore – Podestà Palace
The present building is a 15th-century reconstruction of the old 13th-century palace. It was designed by A.Fioravanti and built in sandstone in 1483. The medieval tower reaching into the sky is fruit of Master Alberto’s genious: a true masterpiece of engineering, it doesn’t stand on the ground but on the pillars of the arched Podestà vault. Open: open to the public only during the exhibitions.
5- PALAZZO DEI BANCHI Piazza Maggiore-Banchi Palace
This was the latest building constructed on the square: it is actually thought of as a scenic facade to hide the narrow streets of the market in the back. Designed by Vignola, it dates back to the second half of the 16th century. Its facade is composed of 15 arches, two of which allow access to the Clavature and Pescherie streets. Only the exterior is visible.
6 – PALAZZO DEI NOTAI via Pignattari, 1-Notai Palace
This used to be the seat of the ancient and powerful Corporation of Notaries. It has two different parts: the first, towards the church, was built under the supervision of Antonio di Vincenzo, while the construction of the second, more recent one, was directed by B.Fioravanti in the 1440s. The difference can be seen in the double lancet windows. Opening hours: Notai Hall/Internet Café: Mon and Fri 8.30-14.30, Tue/Wed/Thu 8.30-18. Closed:Sat and Sun. Entrance free.List of the villas, historical residences and palaces of Bologna
7 – BASILICA DI S.PETRONIO Piazza Maggiore – Basilica of saint Petronius
Its construction began in 1390 to celebrate the victory of the people of Bologna over the Florentine people and the Pope. It is a civic temple, that is, belonging to the citizens. It has never been completed and its construction continued up to the 17th century. Pink marble and bricks were used for the facade, and the massive central door is a masterpiece of Jacopo della Quercia, on which he sculpted scenes from the Old and the New Testament. In the inside: the Altar of the 2nd chapel to the left holds the funerary Urn with the remains of Saint Petronius. The particular illuminaion of the church is due to its north-south orientation. The sundial, which is the largest one to be found in an enclosed area, was built by the astronomer Cassini in the 17th century. Among the chapels, the 4th from the left, attributable to Bolognini, is famous for its exquisite decoration. The frescoes are the work of Giovanni da Modena who represented Hell, Paradise and the Coronation od the Virgin on the left wall and, on the right, the journey of Three Kings. Entrance free. List of the most interesting churches
8 – PALAZZO D’ACCURSIO Piazza Maggiore, 6-D’Accursio Palace-Town Hall
It is made up of two distinct constructions. The building on the left, the older of the two, was the residence of the Accursio family, giving its name to the whole building.It belonged to the Magistracy of the Elders from 1336. The clock tower was built in 1444. The right part of the building is fully Gothic characterized by eight double lancet windows and a great window in the lower part. It was built in the mid-16th century by Galeazzo Alessi. The same architect built the triumphal entrance on whose upper part stands the statue of Gregory XIII, responsible for introducing the reform of the calendar. The building now houses local council offices but from the 16th to the 19th century it was the official residence of the Papal legate.The Chapel and the Sala Farnese, the Sala d’Ercole, the Sala Rossa, the Council Chamber and what was previously the Sala Borsa (now the center of the new Council library) are all open to public view. Archaeological exhibits can also be seen in the library (entry from Piazza Nettuno). Morandi Museum-Inaugurated in 1993 on the occasion of the donation of a collection by the painter’s sisters, it includes about 200 works of art that span the artist’s entire career, from youth to maturity. The museum houses aquarelles, etchings, drawings and reconstruction of Morandi’s studio which was located in the central Via Fondazza. Municipal Art Collection and Appartments of the Legate Cardinal-It includes pieces from private collections (Palagi, Pepoli,etc.) arranged in the halls of the Accursio Palace. Among others, there are pieces dating to the 14th century, as well as pieces by Tintoretto and Carracci.List of museums and collections and List of the villas, historical residences, and palaces of Bologna
9 – LE DUE TORRI Piazza di Porta Ravegnana -The two towers
These are to be considered the symbol of the city. Originally, during the Middle Ages, Bologna counted about seventy towers and house-towers. The construction of the Garisenda tower began arond 1120 to celebrate the banishment of the imperial legate, but was left incomplete due to the incliantion of the ground. Construction of the Asinelli tower began right afterward and bears the name of the family who owned it. It is 97 m high (498 stairs) and together with the Garisenda (47m), is under constant observation to measure and contain the incliantion. List of villas, historical residences, and palaces
10 – PALAZZO DELLA MERCANZIA Piazza della Mercanzia, 4
Built by Antonio di Vincenzo in 1384, the palace itself is in clay brick while the double lancet windows and the balcony are in marble. The palace, in Gothic style, is characterized by two ogival arches and a long upper frieze displaying the coats of arms of the city guilds. In niches found on the left and on the right are patron saints of the city, while the statue of Justice is in the central one. The palace was destroyed by the bombings during World War II and later rebuilt. Access limited to the entrance hall/groups only by request. List of villas, historical residences and palaces
11- BASILICA S. STEFANO Via S. Stefano, 24-St.Stephen’s Basilics
This is actually a group of churches also known as “Holy Jerusalem” because it recalls the passion of Jesus. Its construction began in the 8th century and was erected by the Longobards, who made their own church. On the left you can see the church of St.Vitale and Agricola, so named for the relics of the first martyrs of Bologna which originally lay here; the church of the Holy Sepulchre, within which is housed the small central temple intended to bring to mind the sepulchre of Christ of Jerusalem (until the year 2000 it contained the remains of Saint Petronius) and the church of Saint John the Baptist. Inside, there are two medieval cloisters, the church of the Holy Trinity and the Museum of St.Stefano. List of the most interesting churches
12 – PALAZZO DELL’ARCHIGINNASIO Piazza Galvani, 1-Archiginnasio Palace
This building was the seat of Bologna University from the 16th century until 1803 when the offices moved to Palazzo Poggi (Via Zamboni 33). From 1838 the building housed the Council library. The building is the work of the architect Antonio Morandi, known as “Terribilia”. The Anatomy Theatre, in cedar and deal, forms part of the interior. It was used for the staging of the experiments conducted by the Faculty of Medicine.List of villas, historical residences, and palaces
13 – BASILICA DI S. DOMENICO Piazza S. Domenico, 13 – St.Dominic’s church
Its construction began shortly after the death of the Saint (1221). The beauty of the church is mostly attributable to the tomb of Saint Dominic placed inside.
In this magnificent piece of architecture built in different periods are two remarkable pieces: the 13th century sarcophagus by Nicola Pisano and Arnolfo Cambio, representing episodes of the Saint’s life-the crowning by Niccolò da Puglia, who was named “Dell’Arca”-”of the Ark”-after this masterpiece. The candle holder on the right, an angel, was made by Michelangelo. We also reccomend a visit to the wooden choir inlaid by Brother Damiano-Fra Damiano (1528-51), to the “Mystical Wedding of St.Catherine” by Filippino Lippi, to the “Crucifix” by Giunta Pisano and to the 15 “Mysteries of the Rosary”, a collective piece of art created by the painters: Calvart, Cesi, L.Carracci, Reni, Albani, Domenichino e L.Fontana. Outside, you can see the tombs of the “Glossatori” (masters of Roman law): tomb of Rolandino de’Passeggeri and near the wall on the left tomb of Egidio de’Foscherari.