Overview: Bologna is self-described as 'la dotta, la grassa e la rossa' (the learned, the fat and the red). The city claims to have laid the... more »
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Bologna is self-described as 'la dotta, la grassa e la rossa' (the learned, the fat and the red). The city claims to have laid the... more » intellectual foundations of Italy (it founded Europe's first university), it is universally praised as the country's gourmet capital (its offerings go way beyond the meaty bolognese pasta sauce), and it's the nation's centre of left-wing politics (the communist party has governed local politics for most of the post WWII years).
And if the city was located almost anywhere else in the world, its architecture and cultural history would gain greater attention - it suffers in comparison to its close neighbors Florence, Venice and Milan, but few places wouldn't.
This trail attempts to capture that essence. It could be done as walk in a few hours to orientate yourself around the city, or better enjoyed over two or three days while taking your time over the POIs that interest you most. less «
Tips: Bologna is one of the easiest cities in Italy to reach by the fast rail network from most parts of the country - it's about an hour... more » from Florence, Venice or Milan. less «
The trail starts in Bologna's expansive city square, where it seems most of the population will gather at some point in the day.
Like most major Italian piazza, it's a place to settle into a cafe and people watch but Maggiore also has some unique attractions. Dominating from the south side is the huge 14th century church, the Basilica di San... More Petronio. It was originally planned to be much larger (bigger than St Peters in Rome) but the pope of the day diverted money to the university instead (see POI 8).
The withdrawn budget also explains why the marble facade only makes it halfway up the building. It says a lot about the 'keep it real' mentality of Bologna that nobody in the centuries since saw it as a priority to spend money covering the bare red bricks.
Inside, the main attraction is not religious decoration but a scientific construction by the 17th century astronomer Cassini, who drew a meridian on the floor and created an astronomical clock which marks the times of sunrise and sunset through an opening in the ceiling at noon (allow for summer time if you want to witness it).
On the west side of the square is a slightly outrageous and bawdy Neptune fountain that has been appreciated by citizens and pigeons since the 16th century. Next to that is the Palazzo Communale, a fortress-like building that first graced the square in 1287 and has since served as a private residence, the seat of local government, a stock exchange and now the city's multimedia library and exhibition space. Near the entrance is Bologna's shrine to the 'Resistance' with photos of 2000 'partigiani' who died during WWII. Nearby is a list of names of the 85 victims killed during the 1980 bombing of the city's train station by a neo-fascist terrorist group.Less
For lovers of Italian food, Bologna is Mecca. In very un-Italian fashion, this is not a city that places appearance above substance, so while it has its fair share of 5-star restaurants, even the simplest dishes in cheap and cheerful trattoria can be gourmet delights.
In that spirit, all the restaurants recommended later in this guide are in the ... More'moderately priced' category. There are literally dozens of other excellent options, but those mentioned are reliable places to start the gourmet journey.
Another excellent start is to meander around the food stores and markets of the three streets immediately east of Piazza Maggiore - Via Clavature, Via Pescherie Vecchio and Via dei Orefici.
This is the city that invented tortellini and tagliatelle (this ribbon pasta, not spaghetti, is served with bolognese sauce - which is made from pork and veal, not beef). The surrounding region gave the world Parma ham, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar.Less
Book ahead because this is one of Bologna's most popular restaurants - and for good reason. It's a small, intimate trattoria, tucked down an unmarked side alley of the city's most foodie of foodie streets - Via Clavature. They focus on Bologna and regional specialties. The pasta in particular is consistently exceptional.
Telephone: 051-229 434
This complex of churches became a monastery in the 8th century, beginning 400 years of restoring older religious buildings on the site.
Among the present collection is the 5th century SS Vitale e Agricola, the oldest church in Bologna, but worship here has been traced back to Roman times with evidence that empire built a temple here dedicated to ... Morethe Egyptian goddess Isis.
In the middle of it all is a picturesque cloister leading to a museum that traces the history in detail and houses a collection of religious paintings and relics. Museum open every day, 10am - noon and 3.30pm - 6.30pm.Less
This is one of Bologna's more recent gourmet highlights. It's a modern and stylish (yet informal) place that gets rave reviews for its wine list but the food is excellent too. Why not start with the wine decision for a change, and then choose food to match?
Telephone: 051-226 315
These medieval skyscrapers are the remnants of an era when dozens of such structures dotted the Bologna landscape. They were built by noble families, partly for protection (it was also the era of the family vendetta) and partly as status symbols.
The taller of the remaining two, the 318-foot Torre degli Asinelli, was built in 1119 and is still... More Bologna's tallest building. It's open to anybody keen to climb the 500 steps for a view across the city's terracotta rooftops.
It leans about two metres (seven feet) to one side but that tilt is nothing compared to its shorter neighbor, the Torre della Garisenda. Sloppy foundations caused this tower to lean so far during construction that the family had no choice but to stop building. It was reduced to 157 feet when the lean became a threat to public safety in 1360 but the top still overhangs the base by 10 feet.Less
Bologna's university was officially founded in 1088 and claims to be western world's first. It's a hard claim to prove because of the informal beginnings of most medieval schools, but there's no doubt that todays 80,000 students are part of a long and proud academic tradition.
Bologna and Paris were considered the most important centres of... More learning in medieval Europe, but (in what could be considered an early sign of the city's radical thinking) the Italian institution was controlled by the students. They formed guilds called 'universities' (the first use of the word) which paid the professors directly, thus also giving them the power to fire incompetent teachers.
The long intellectual history is recorded through an eclectic collection of campus museums covering fields of study ranging from obstetrics to military architecture. See link in 'other resources' for a full list and opening times.
The road you walked to approach the university, Via Zamboni, and surrounding streets are good spots to search for lively student bars and cheap and cheerful pizza joints.Less
This ornate porticoed building is the municipal library, but it's also the former home of the university, which explains why its walls are decorated with images and memorials to famous scholars.
The university didn't have a central building until it was moved here in the 16th century by a former student, Pope Pius IV. To do this he diverted... More money that was originally earmarked to expand San Petronio and complete its decorative facade. Far from being a progressive or generous act, the pope was concerned about heresy and political opposition from the intellectuals and decided it was easier to keep an eye on their activities if they were all in one place. Continuing the theme, Napoleon moved the university to its current location in 1803 when he decided the students could cause less trouble if they were further from the centre of town.Less
Challenging the leaning towers for the title of Bologna's most quirky architectural feature are the 70km (40 miles) of porticoes attached to various buildings throughout the city.
The trend began in the 12th century when the influx of 2000 university students caused a housing shortage. The commune's solution was to allow extra rooms, overhanging ... Morethe streets, to be attached to existing buildings. The locals liked the look of the results and the shelter they offered from the rain of northern Italy.
This POI marks the granddaddy of all porticoes - the 4km continuous one that connects the old city up one of the surrounding hills to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca - supposedly built as an act of faith to shelter pilgrims making the journey to the church. Visitors today do the pilgrimage more for the portico than the final destination, but the most interesting bit is the section outside the old city walls. Unless you want the exercise, you can skip the first bit along Via Saragozza by taking bus 20 from Via Ugo Bassi near the Piazza Maggiore.Less
If you have made the portico pilgrimage, you may as well have a look at the church at the end. The sanctuary began life as an 11th century pilgrims hostel, before becoming a church 700 years later.
The church was designed to house a precious religious icon, the 'Black Madonna' which can still be seen in the decorative interior today. There are... More also excellent views across the first wooded hills of the Apennines.Less
Bologna has several excellent gelateria, but generally the ones close to Piazza Maggiore are not amongst them. This is the exception, as evidenced by the queues waiting to taste the heavenly homemade ice cream. As well as being the city's most popular gelateria, it is probably the one with the most flavors - you need the time in the queue to make ... Morea decision.Less
This small traditional hole-in-the-wall is filled with locals most nights. A pleasant, family-run business that has excellent service but it's the food that keeps the customers returning. It specialises in Bolognese and Umbrian cuisine - anything with cinghiale (wild boar) is worth trying. Getting complimentary lemoncello at the end of the meal is... More a nice touch.
Telephone: 051-648 6240Less