Bologna “la Dotta” (the Learned), “la Rossa” (the Red), “la Grassa” (the Fat): this is how the capital of Emilia Romagna is defined. Bologna the Learned for the presence of one of the oldest universities in Italy, still a very active cultural center today. Bologna the Red for the color that the roofs and houses give to the city, typical of the medieval era. Bologna the Fat for its tasty gastronomy: Bolognese cuisine is in fact known all over the world.
Things to do in Bologna
Start your visit to the historic center from Via Indipendenza, the shopping street. Slightly uphill, Via Indipendenza directly connects the railway station to the wonderful Piazza Maggiore. After Via Indipendenza you will find yourself in front of the Sala Borsa. Inaugurated in 2001, the Sala Borsa is a public cultural center that collects a selection of books to satisfy every reader, and then DVDs and discs of all kinds. Therefore it is a resource that constantly feeds the students of the University of Bologna, as well as a venue for temporary exhibitions. Also worth seeing for its history and architecture and on the ground floor the glass floor allows you to observe the underground excavations, as well as the archaeological finds of ancient civilizations dating back to the Villanovan civilization, born in the seventh century BC.
The beating heart of the city, Piazza Maggiore (or Piazza Grande – Great Square – as the Bolognese call it) is the center of civil and religious life in Bologna. It is famous for the Fountain of Neptune, which overlooks the most important buildings of the medieval city: the fourteenth-century Palazzo Comunale (the town Hall), the sixteenth-century Palazzo dei Banchi and the imposing Basilica of San Petronio in front of which is located the Palace of the Podestà. Dominant figure of the square, Neptune with its fountain was promoted by Cardinal Borromeo with the aim of offering a new improved image to the adjacent Piazza Maggiore. The statue is majestic and is one of the most photographed monuments by tourists in Bologna. Admire also the figures that make up the fountain under the feet of Neptune: it is a very elegant work of art.
Basilica of San Petronio
The Basilica of San Petronio is the most important and imposing church in Bologna as well as being the fifth largest church in the world. The construction work on the Basilica began in 1390 but went on for centuries. Its facade is unfinished. It is the last great Gothic work made in Italy, with a Latin cross with three naves and chapels. The Basilica of San Petronio belonged for a long time to the Municipality that used it for the most varied purposes: a place of ceremonies, court, public meeting; only in 1929, following the Lateran Pacts, did it become Vatican property. If you visit the Basilica of San Petronio you cannot help but notice the sundial built by Cassini to demonstrate that it was the Earth that revolved around the Sun, and not vice versa as it was the belief of the time. The interior also houses the oldest functioning organ in Italy.
Towers of Bologna
The towers of Bologna are one of the distinctive features of the city. Of the many towers that were built between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, today less than twenty remains. These structures had both military and noble functions: they gave prestige to the family who ordered their construction. The two most important towers are the Asinelli and the Garisenda towers. The Asinelli Tower was built between 1109 and 1119 by the family of the same name who, in addition to receiving social prestige, used it for military defense and sighting purposes. In fact, in 1448 the tower was equipped with a place to welcome the guard soldiers. Currently the arches of the portico of the tower house some artisan shops, in memory of the commercial function that the city played in the Middle Ages. Visitors, after walking the 498 steps of the internal staircase, can reach the top of the Torre degli Asinelli which, from its 97 meters high, allows you to have a beautiful view of the city. The Garisenda Tower is lower (47 meters) and cannot be visited. A curiosity: tradition “forbids” students to climb the Torre degli Asinelli before they graduate: doing it before this academic goal seems to lead badly to the career.
Basilica of Santo Stefano
The Basilica of Santo Stefano is a collection of sacred buildings that form the best-known complex of the Seven Churches. The triangular Santo Stefano square, which has recently been restored to its original appearance, houses the Church of the Crucifix, the Basilica del Sepolcro, the Church of San Vitale, and Sant’Agricola, the Cortile di Pilato, the Martyrium Church, the Medieval Cloister and the Museum of Santo Stefano. All very old buildings which, even if they date back to different periods, maintain a certain stylistic homogeneity, making the complex the most interesting and best-preserved Romanesque monument in Bologna. Over the years, the modification and restoration works have changed the ancient appearance of the complex to reduce the number of the seven initial churches to four.
Archiginnasio of Bologna
The Archiginnasio is one of the most beautiful buildings in Italy, with a long porch and with 30 arches decorated with hundreds of coats of arms and two loggias on the upper floors. The Archiginnasio was built in 1563 by Cardinal Carlo Borromeo. The goal was to give the University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, a single, beautiful location. This palace was a teaching place until 1838, then it became a library. Once you have gone up the stairs, there are 10 classrooms and the Library, which can be accessed for study but not for tourist visits. The two magne classrooms are beautifully decorated. The vaults, the walls of the rooms, the stairways and the loggias are covered with coats of arms, inscriptions and monuments that celebrate the teachers and students who passed by the Archiginnasio classrooms. Do not miss a visit to the Anatomical Theater.
National Art Gallery of Bologna
The National Art Gallery of Bologna (Pinacoteca) houses one of the most important Italian museum collections. The works of art present here retrace the entire Emilian and Italian artistic process from the 13th to the early 19th century. There are works by Raffaello, Perugino, Parmigianino, Tintoretto, Vasari, Guercino and many others. Over the years, the heritage has been enriched with donations from private individuals, bequests and state acquisitions to make the Pinacoteca one of the most popular and well-known national galleries in Italy and abroad. It includes thirty exhibition rooms plus a space entirely dedicated to temporary exhibitions and educational activities. The Pinacoteca of Bologna, in addition to performing a purely exhibition function, deals with the protection, conservation and study of all the regional and city artistic heritage.
Museum of Modern Art (MAMbo)
Even the Museum of Modern Art (MAMbo), in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni 14, is a place that contains culture and art. The admirable modern and contemporary collection is among the most important in Italy, in fact it has been the most frequent museum in recent years. This is also thanks to the numerous temporary exhibitions that bring internationally renowned artists to the city.
The old market in the Quadrilatero
In Via Drapperie, Via Pescherie Vecchie and in the streets around them, the colorful open market called “del Quadrilatero” is held every day, with strong aromas and bright colors. It is an ancient market for the characteristic streets of the city center, with the ancient palaces with pastel shades. The Quadrilatero is the district that has hosted the artisan and commercial activities of the city since the Middle Ages. The beautiful streets that make it up have retained their ancient appearance. Many old signs stand the corners of the streets unchanged. Getting lost in these romantic streets is undoubtedly one of the things to do in Bologna.
Mercato Delle Erbe
The ancient herb market is also located in the center, in via Ugo Bassi. It is not only the city’s fruit and vegetable market, but you will also find delicatessens with typical products. The area houses restaurants and bars where you can stop to eat and drink.
In via Farini 14 we find the Galleria Cavour (Cavour gallery) a place of excellence for luxury shopping. Here you will find all the luxury and high fashion. Since 1959, the presence of important international brands has allowed the Gallery to have a place of honor in the world of fashion both nationally, like cities like Milan and Rome, and internationally. Strategically located in the heart of Bologna, the Gallery is hosted by historic buildings that represent authentic jewels of Italian art capable of hiding, inside them, a small world to be discovered: it is precisely among historical frescoes, damasks and nineteenth-century marble floors that the most prestigious boutiques on the world luxury scene are added.
For 40 kilometers the city is crossed by arcades which are not only an architectural element but represent the very essence of the city. During the summer they are an excellent protection from the sun, in the colder months, however, perfect shelter from the rain. The most famous portico is the one of almost 4 km which from the center of Bologna leads to the Church of San Luca, the symbol of Bologna located above the “Colle della Guardia”. Linked to the cult of the image of the Blessed Virgin of S. Luca, the current church was built between 1723 and 1757 to replace an earlier fifteenth-century church. The church has an elliptical plan with the Greek cross interior embellished with works of art by Guido Reni and Guercino. The covered porch, with 666 arches, connects the sanctuary to Porta Saragozza in the city. The number of 666 (symbol of the devil) would not be random but is full of symbolic references: the arcades have the shape of a snake (the devil) crushed by the foot of the Madonna, represented by the church with its miraculous image. The climb, therefore, represents a path of liberation and purification from sin. From the church, every year, the procession starts that brings the Madonna and Child to the cathedral during the Ascension week.
Santa Maria della Vita
Another important church is that of Santa Maria della Vita, founded in the second half of the thirteenth century and is considered the most important example of Bolognese Baroque. Do not miss the nearby oratory and the Museum of Health. This small church, which can be reached from a side street in Piazza Maggiore, is worth a visit for the beautiful “Lamentation of the Dead Christ”, a sculpture from the second half of the 15th century by Niccolò dell’Arca; it is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian sculpture.
What to eat in Bologna
Bolognese cuisine is varied and abundant. Tortellini are certainly the most famous of the typical dishes of Bologna and can be found in most restaurants. If you want to eat like a local, ask for a plate of Tortellini in broth; they are often served in other ways too, but the tradition is precise: according to the original recipe, Tortellino is prepared by filling a base of fresh egg pasta puff pastry with a filling of meat and cheese, all rigorously of Emilian origin.
In addition to the famous Tortellini, still prepared by hand by expert pasta makers and rigorously served in broth, egg pasta and pork are the protagonists of the tables, and from the different combinations of these two elements, some typical dishes are born. Among these, the ragù, prepared with mixed pork, veal, and beef.
Without a doubt, the best-known dish abroad are Tagliatelle al Ragù. The noodles are prepared with flour and eggs. Fresh egg pasta must be strictly handmade and respect precise measurements.
Green lasagna is another traditional dish from Emilia Romagna and in particular from the city of Bologna. Green is given by adding spinach to the dough. Ragout and bechamel are essential to prepare this delicious dish.
Then we also have the Bolognese cutlet, covered with cheese and a slice of raw ham. Still from pork comes mortadella, a typical salami from which the filling for tortellini is obtained. Among the desserts, the famous “certosino” is to be remembered: it is a Christmas cake prepared with honey, almonds, candied fruit, pine nuts, butter, sultanas, cinnamon, and dark chocolate.
Did you know that “Osteria del Sole” is the oldest restaurant in Italy? Probably it dates back to 1465. It is located in Vicolo Ranocchi 1.
Do not miss also a visit to FICO, the shopping center of excellent Italian food that can be reached by bus from Bologna station.