Famous for its art, its cuisine, its culture and its palaces, Bologna preserves the traces of the civilization of the past and of the medieval splendor. The University of Bologna, one of the oldest in Italy, makes it a city teeming with students and events dedicated to young people, but also an important cultural center. Perfect for a walk or a bike ride, the city offers unique and evocative views.
If you are planning a weekend in Bologna, here are our tips on what to visit and do following a hypothetical travel itinerary.
The pulsating heart of the city, Piazza Maggiore is the most important square in Bologna and testifies to the history of the city. Surrounded by important buildings dating back to the medieval city, the square was founded in 1200, in order to equip the city of a place to be used as a market. The most ancient and important building in the square is Palazzo del Podestà, surmounted by the Torre dell’Arengo, which called the people to collect with its ringing bell.
Palazzo Comunale, an architectural complex of fourteenth-century origin and currently the Municipality of Bologna, closes the square to the west and runs along Piazza del Nettuno, in the center of which stands the Neptune fountain, built in the second half of 1500 with the bronze statue of God Neptune of Giambologna. To the south stands the Basilica of San Petronio, which began at the end of the 1300s but never finished. It is the most important church in the city, the last great Gothic work made in Italy, and offers beauties of the caliber of the Bolognini Chapel. To the east the 16th century Palazzo dei Banchi rises. Film lovers will have to make a leap in July: the Cineteca di Bologna every July in fact organizes in Piazza Maggiore “Under the stars of the cinema”, a film festival with over 3 thousand seats, one of the largest open-air cinema Italy.
Be careful, however, if you are a student of the University: the legend says that it brings bad luck to cross the center of the square.
A curiosity to try is the particular acoustic effect caused by the vault of the Podestà, which is the basis of the Palazzo del Podestà. If you try to speak, even in a low voice, in a corner, you can be heard perfectly meters away from other people in the opposite corners.
Torre degli Asinelli
Bologna is famous for its towers: many were built between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, now there are less than twenty towers. Torre degli Asinelli, together with Torre Garisenda, are the symbols of the city and are located at the intersection of the streets that lead to the five gates of the circle of walls called “dei Tesoretti”. Built both for a military function and to give prestige to the family that designed its creation, Torre degli Asinelli was built between 1109 and 1119. Who feels particularly fit, can climb the 498 steps of the internal staircase, and will be rewarded from a marvelous view, from the height of its 97.20 meters (it’s the highest leaning tower in Italy): in the beautiful days the look reachs the Prealps of Veneto.
Basilica of Santo Stefano
In Piazza di Santo Stefano stands the Complex of Santo Stefano, a place of exceptional historical-religious interest that includes a series of sacred buildings, including the monastery on the beautiful square with pebble floor. Among the hypotheses at the base of his creation there would be the project of Bishop Petronius, who after a trip to the Holy Land would have liked to reproduce the places of Jerusalem in Bologna. The Church of the Crucifix, the Basilica del Sepolcro, the Church of San Vitale and Sant’Agricola, the Cortile di Pilato, the Church of the Martyrium, the Medieval Cloister and the Santo Stefano Museum can be visited in the square.
San Luca and the arcades
In addition to the towers, the symbol of Bologna are the arcades, in the city there are a good 40 km! The longest portico in the world stands right here, and connects the historic center to the Sanctuary of Madonna di San Luca, located on the top of one of the hills of Bologna, the Colle della Guardia. We are talking about almost 4 km, 666 arches and 15 chapels. Once a year the painting Madonna and Child in San Luca is carried with a procession in the Basilica of San Petronio: the legend says that it was the icon of the Madonna of San Luca, when he entered the city in the middle of the fifteenth century, to stop the rain that ruined the crops. This is also why the portico, initially only a paved road, is now covered: to protect the procession from the rain. You can also climb by car or by bike, but the experience of climbing on foot is unmissable.
Not many people know that while walking through the streets of Bologna, many underground canals flow beneath us, most of them underground in the 1950s. Bologna has been a city of water, and in many ways you can hear the roar of the water but you can not see it, as at the intersection of Via delle Moline and Capo di Lucca, where you can hear the rhomb of the river Reno. Even today there are some glimpses in which it’s possible to observe these canals: the most striking is in Via Piella, from which we can see the Moline canal, which has been used for centuries to feed the water mills used to process the grain. At the end of 1100, with a brilliant intuition, the Bolognese created two majestic hydraulic works, which brought water to a city that had none: two channels dug up to the city center, for more than 27 kilometers, and derived from the Savena river to the east and from the Rhine to the west. The hydraulic energy could move hundreds of shovels that fed silk mills, rice piles and many other factories. The Bolognese system was original thanks to the idea of placing the mills not directly on the canals, but on the many derivations created by means of spigots.
A sunny Sunday and a car are the perfect ingredients for a trip on the hills between Bologna and Modena, very interesting both from the panoramic point of view and for the churches and villas set in these hills. Among these, Marzabotto is a pretty village in the Reno valley, Monteveglio in South West of Bologna, seems almost a painting with its historic center, San Marino di Bentivoglio in the North-East offers the eighteenth-century Villa Smeraldi. Among vineyards, parks and breathtaking views, a ride on these hills is really worth it.
What to eat
They call it “The Learned One” for the University, “The Red One” for its characteristic red roofs, but also “The Fat one” for the typical delicacies of the Emilian wine and food tradition. The province of Bologna is a land famous and appreciated by gourmets. The pillar of Bolognese cuisine is undoubtedly the fresh egg pasta, handmade: it’s used to compose the most famous first plates in the region, such as lasagna, tortellini, pappardelle, tortellini, ravioli, tagliatelle and much other. Another essential element is the production of cured meats: from raw ham to coppa through pancetta, the queen is mortadella. Not to forget also the ragout, which requires a very long preparation, and which is used to season all types of fresh egg pasta. The queen cake of the place is undoubtedly the rice cake: this cake was also called “cake of decorations” because it was prepared and consumed on the occasion of the feast dedicated to the Corpus Christi, during which the windows of the houses were decorated with decorations.
A mention must be made for FICO, the largest agri-food park in the world; here it’s possible to do the shopping speaking directly with the producers, to visit the fields and stables from which the products are directly worked and sold, to admire the two thousand different species of cultivated plants, to eat in more than 40 restaurants offering typical dishes of Italian gastronomy between tradition and innovation, to participate in educational experiences for adults and children thanks to the various activities proposed in the open air, in the internal cinema or in the internal theater.