SIGHTSEEING IN BOLOGNA
Bologna’s Villanovan origins, Etruscan mysteries, Celtic past, and rich prehistoric legacy go hand in hand with the ruins of its Roman aqueduct, its impressive ancient churches, its Medieval buildings, and its university, the oldest in Europe.
Downtown Bologna is indeed imbued in a Medieval atmosphere with its many majestic churches and chapels, imposing towers, fine historical monuments and noble palaces, ancient narrow streets and lanes, time-mellowed shops with an olde-worlde magic touch about them, and lively and festive taverns. It’s the ideal destination after visiting the fair for sight-seeing or an exciting shopping tour along its colonnaded sidewalks. These arcades, a precious legacy of the town's urban development in the late Middle Ages, are the longest of their kind in the world. Thanks to the cover they afford, the Bolognese are free to take a comfortable and dry stroll whenever they feel like it, even in bad weather, walking in festive pilgrimage as far up as the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Saint Luke on the Monte della Guardia, one of the higher hills overlooking the town.
Bologna is one of the most welcoming and visited Italian cities, and owes its cultural and artistic richness to 2,500 years of history. The Etruscans founded the city in the 6th century BC, and two centuries later its rule passed to the Gauls, who gave it the name “Bononia” (meaning good land), from which comes the name Bologna.
Following the Roman conquest in 189 BC, it became the main inhabited centre in the province, thanks to the abundant communications network whose main artery was the via Emilia, a road network that still crosses Bologna today, and facilitated then links with other important municipalities in the area.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Bologna was known as the Longobard Dominium, which coincided with the city’s most splendid period: the birth of its very famous University in 1088, which makes it the oldest in Europe, lays testimony to this. The “Studio” (as the university was known) attracted students, intellectuals and men of culture from throughout Europe, and in so doing increased the centrality and the artistic profile of the city. Thanks to the value given by intellectuals and artists who have taught there, the University has retained its prestige up to our days.
It was in fact during this first municipal period that the Two Towers Asinelli and Garisenda were built, henceforth becoming the symbol of the city. In the same period the huge complex that makes up the Piazza Maggiore was built, a charming historic group of buildings made up of the Palazzo del Podestà and the Palazzo Re Enzo, the Basilica di San Petronio and the Palazzo Comunale.
In the late medieval period Bologna affirmed itself once and for all as a significant artistic centre: its fame throughout Europe was increased by both the importance of the university and the continued enrichment of its urban architecture. The city passed under the rule of the Pepoli, and then under the Bentivoglio dynasty, rich families that gave the city a further artistic impetus: they ordered the construction of palaces and summoned great maestri from Florence, Venice and Ferrara, whose works can be admired in the wonderfully fitted out Pinacoteca. During the centuries of the Renaissance and Baroque, the artistic prestige of the city will spread abroad in the courts of Europe, thanks to the fame of painters from Bologna, like Guido Reni, the Carraccis and Guercino. In the same era a notable musical movement flourished and the importance of this art is still noteworthy today.
In 1506 Bologna became annexed by the Papal States, and there followed a period of inactivity in the construction of great buildings. Despite the decline of its political role, the city continued to excel as a seat of learning. During the following two centuries, Bologna grew considerably, the surrounding city-walls were enlarged and the distinctive porticato di San Luca was built, which connects the city to the top of the Colle della Guardia (the ‘Sentinel Hill’) upon which rises the Basilica della Beata Vergine di San Luca, to which the Bolognese are much devoted.
Occupied by the French in 1797, Bologna came under Napoleonic rule, and then was once again annexed by the Papacy, before becoming independent and the capital of the Government of the United Provinces. It was annexed by the House of Savoy and in the last years of the 19th Century the face of the city began to transform, both in the creation of a wide suburbia and the restoration of many monuments and areas of the historic centre.
The 20th Century has been tumultuous for the city and full of changes: Bologna was one of the politically most active cities both during the World Wars and thereafter. Bologna, with its distinctive historic centre, has represented and continues to represent one of the best preserved artistic heritages in Italy. It is an open-air museum that shows the different historic phases the city has passed through, without ever losing its prestige and its identity.
BOLOGNA THE LEARNED
Bologna’s Alma Mater is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world. Its fame was initially due to its law school established here in the far-off eleventh century and a continuator of the legacy of Roman law.
Thanks to this school’s prestige, the university was soon a beacon of learning attracting students from all over Europe. Other important city jewels with university associations worth visiting are the historical astronomical observatory, the oldest in Italy, the Arch-gymnasium Palace, that hosts the rich town library with its over 700,000 written works, codes, autographed writings, incunabula, rare and first editions, precious original documents, prints, drawings, and a remarkable Anatomy Theatre, where lessons in medicine were once held.
An “erudite” walk about this world-famous capital of learning mustn’t leave out the National Art Gallery that hosts an outstanding collection of works of the Bolognese School of painting from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century, including paintings by Vitale, Giotto, Cossa, Raphael, the Carraccis, Guido Reni, and many others.
The whole city is an open-air museum: just by walking through the streets of the centre, or taking a trip into the surrounding hills, you will be able to appreciate the rich detail of the architecture, or admire the suggestively beautiful views.
For lovers of history, art, science and curiosity, the city offers a range of thematic museums for which combined tickets are also available.
SHOPPING IN BOLOGNA
Bologna is a city of a thousand temptations … and they’re all mostly irresistible! From its exclusive downtown designer boutiques to its small shops tucked away in some secret corner, from the stalls of its typical street markets like that of the Montagnola where the shopper’s always guaranteed a bargain to its antiques shops where a browse can always turn up an exciting find, with perhaps a stopover in one of its rich and tempting speciality food stores where the typical Bologna sausage is a treat not to be missed by any fine-food lover, going out on a spending spree in Bologna is easy and fun! Within the boundaries of its renowned quadrilateral, the area bordered by the four streets of Via Rizzoli, Via D'Azeglio, Via Farini, and Via Castiglione, Bologna discloses to the visitor its refined and fun-loving life-style.
The alluring lights of shop windows with their eye-catching displays amidst the many multi-coloured vegetable and fruit vendors’ and fishmongers’ stalls all contrive to turn the quadrilateral into a veritable shopper’s paradise. It’s definitely the place to go to find the best Italian designer fashion- and foot-wear, jewellery, highly original interior decoration items and objets d’art, as well as fine kitchenware.
HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS IN BOLOGNA
Bologna “the fat” is another appellation by which the city is known worldwide thanks to its excellent and rich cuisine. Cooking here is a veritable fine art and the kitchen and dinner table are the realm of such exquisite dishes as the small egg-pasta dumplings with meat and cheese filling called tortellini, traditionally served in a meat broth, of passatelli, of a great variety of egg-pasta, of which the long ribbon-shaped tagliatelle are the most renowned, giving out their best when dressed in a traditional luscious meat sauce topped with lashings of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and of the oven baked sheets of egg-pasta in layers with meat and white sauce filling in between called green lasagne.
And these are all only the starters! When it comes to the main dish, the king is without a doubt pork, be it in the cooked sausage meat version of cotechino and zampone, or in the more straightforward version of ribs or cutlets. It’s the cold cuts though that take the pride of first place with the pink Bologna sausage, the finely cured ham, the salamis, and other cured cuts of excellence. Jam-filled pastries called raviole and rice cakes sweeten the taste buds, while a glass of a good white wine such as Trebbiano, Albana, or Pignoletto, or of a red one, such as Lambrusco or Sangiovese make merry the spirit and festive the company.