Loving our city means both knowing and promoting it. A curious way to promote it is to describe its features, especially the most peculiar ones, which you would never find in a history book, that are the city’s memories. Bologna has a number of nicknames: la Dotta (the learned) for its ancient university, la Grassa (the fat) for the wonderful food, la Rossa (the red) for the warm color of its roofs.
BOLOGNA LA DOTTA (the learned)
The atmosphere of Bologna, which enchanted great writers such as Goethe, Dickens and Stendhal is partly created by the particular material and structure of its architecture.
Of various styles and lengths, the attractive porticoes in Bologna extend for about 38 Km. The porticoes were built in the Middle ages as enlargement of the residences, considered private property that was, however, occupied during the day by artisans’ and merchants’ stalls and offering refuge to itinerant students at night.
Entering Piazza Maggiore, known simply as the “piazza” by the locals, let yourself be seduced by the wide spaces, the great area surrounded by some of the buildings that can tell its story, Palazzo D’Accursio, the city’s Town Hall, which originally was housed in the ancient building of Hotel Commercianti and until a few years ago, Morandi Museum, and the Basilica of San Petronio.
Your journey of discovery around Bologna starts at the Fountain of Neptune, one of the symbols of our city and the work of the Flemish sculptor known as Giambologna. Before visiting the splendid setting of Piazza Maggiore, take a step back into the history of ancient Bononia and enter Sala Borsa. In the 19th century, Sala Borsa was the city’s economic centre and today it is a place of culture. With its rich, multi-media library, it has become one of the favourite meeting places for the people of Bologna. At the centre of the building is a covered square, where you will meet the first unexpected side of Bologna. Below your feet, a glass floor will offer you a view of the original city . The floor in glass allows visitors to view remains of the great Roman city of Bononia. Here, you will be able to have a coffee spanning two thousand years, while admiring the art nouveau ceilings and seeing close up the archaeological remains on which our city stands today.
BOLOGNA LA GRASSA (THE FAT)
After discovering Bologna “The Learned”, spend time exploring Bologna “The Fat”, the Bologna of good food and the heart of Italian cuisine. This is the home of fresh pasta, like tortellini, lasagne and tagliatelle, the famous mortadella, sausage, nearby there are the finest producers of Parma ham, Parmigiano cheese and balsamic vinegar. Go back on yourself, behind Piazza Maggiore, and enjoy wondering through the narrow streets of the old city market, the Quadrilatero. Bologna is one of Italy’s most important university cities, and with more than 80,000 students living here there is a huge choice for budget eating and drinking. The evening aperitivo is a ritual rendezvous, replacing dinner, with complimentary buffet.
A tour of Bologna’s ancient market , the Quadrilatero behind the landmark Piazza Maggiore is a must for anyone interested in food, from the bustling fruit and vegetable stalls to salumerie where the seductive aroma of mortadella is in the air, from fresh fish stalls to various sweets. La Baita or Tamburini are the most renowned salumerie shop. At lunchtime you could stop off for a meal of affettati (cold cuts) and cheeses like a unique Parmigiano… Take a chance to visit the brand new Mercato di Mezzo and Eataly Ambasciatori, in via Orefici , with good food and books, like a special one, “100 Bolognesi in Cucina”, by Pendragon, a complete cookbook, with English text and a curious insight of the city.
SECRETS OF BOLOGNA…
The Shadow of Lucio Dalla – Dalla, a Bologna born singer-songwriter, is considered a musical legend here in Bologna and Italy. Dalla is so highly renowned that you often find artwork dedicated to him throughout the city. On the corner of Via D’Azeglio and Piazza dei Celestini, where his house can still be found, turning your eyes upwards , you can see the shadow of Lucio Dalla playing his saxophone to the birds. Just out of Art Hotel Commercianti, turn on to the right to Vicolo Colombina and get to Via DAzeglio, cross the street and find his house and shadow. At 6 pm every day, walking down to Via DAzeglio, you will start hearing Dalla’s songs.
The whispering gallery at Voltone del Podesta’
Before leaving Piazza Maggiore, play a little game. Below the open arcade of the so-called Voltone del Podestà, between Palazzo di Podestà and Palazzo Re Enzo, there is a kind of whispering gallery. If you whisper, facing one of the four corners of the arch, you will be heard by anyone who is at the opposite corner.
Bird watching Peregrine Falcons from Hotel Commercianti: It could be a wonderful experience to observe the family of the couple of Peregrine Falcons who, again this year, has chosen the Tower Bell of San Petronio to build its nest.
Did you know of our secret gardens of splendid Golden Age? Wonderful green islands and gardens in a sea of red roofs could be better observed from the sky. These gardens often contain rare plants and special trees as well as providing refuge for the many different species of birds flying through the city.
Ancient palaces and homes: Bologna boasts a large number of sumptuous palaces where one can still breathe the aristocratic air of time gone by. You can discover palaces located in the city centre and together with the present owners, the secrets of the noble families whose historic deeds and misdeeds took place in these special houses: love crimes, crime of passion and religious miracles. Almost all the noble palaces are today private residences.
Underground Bologna and the city’s waterways: From Via Zamboni, going towards Via Indipendenza, you will discover another unexpected side of Bologna, the underground waterways that were open canals until two centuries ago. Perhaps not everyone knows that there was a time when Bologna had much in common with Venice, with canals, boats and “Gondolieri” crowding the city. Today you can no longer see the water but it hasn’t disappeared – it is just hidden underground and you can see it. This open-air itinerary retraces the ancient waterways, the Salara (the old wharf side salt warehouses), the port and the canals which can still be seen in the city centre. Part of Bologna’s underground passages are now open to visitors. Under the arcade of Via Piella, your glance takes in a brief impression of Venice: from the Finestrella di Via Piella, a small window, you can see water lapping against the buildings’ foundations. Curiosities and Secrets of Bologna by Cinzia D’Angelo.