Our Hotel Commercianti has been recognized as an historical entreprise of Bologna, since it has been located in the same location for more than a century. This certificate has been granted by Bologna chamber of commerce to only 53 entreprises in Bologna, so far.
Venite a soggiornare da noi, vivrete un pezzo di storia della nostra bellissima città!
Art Hotel Commercianti boasts a centuries-old history closely linked with that of Bologna’s historical centre–never stagnant, but in continuous transformation. Its buildings, piazzas, and establishments are constantly have been constantly readapted and remodelled over the centuries, and yet regardless of this long history, the city continues to mirror the spirit of the Bolognese people of the 16th century.
Our history, according to historical clues, medieval chronicles, and ancient documents… It’s fascinating to look at our building’s history based on the traces left behind by past inhabitants, each of whom used it as a residence and workshop in turn, modifying and readapting it to their purposes over the course of nine centuries. Although its current incarnation as a hotel dates back to the twentieth century, it was originally born as a tower house in the high middle ages, at the beginning of the eleventh century, when such fortified structures were built to resist the wear and tear of the times–as well as acts of hostility by enemies. Even today, despite numerous renovations, the origins of this tower are still visible: on the exterior, the high compound pillar and the wooden trestles of the portico still support the original facade; on the inside, beams blackened by an ancient fire are still to this day integral to the entire building’s structure. The well dug deep into the subsoil is the same one that at one time supplied water to the inhabitants during sieges, and the frescos, created with the original segno a chiodo techniques (literally “marks by nail”), are all that remain of the pomp and splendour of wealthy families long since forgotten. What we have found over the course of various renovations bear witness to the life and activities of previous inhabitants. Potsherds tell of the modest life of a family in Etruscan Felsina; geometric friezes and a high-relief of a mythological animal recall the opulence of Roman Bononia of the VIII Regio Aemilia; nails and iron tools, together with a terra cotta statuette and pieces of pinata pots, hint at the humble work of a medieval blacksmith and a crockery peddler. The year 1116 witnessed the birth of the comune and new municipal liberties for Bologna: consequently, the citizen authorities selected the Curia di Sancti Ambrosii, together with its attached building that houses us today, for the seat of their Domus Comunis. After sixty-three years, however, the seat of the Domus Comunis moved to a location near the Archiginnasio and our building, no longer the seat of the Comune of Bologna, was acquired by two of Bologna’s most celebrated glossatori Alberico di Porta Ravennate, who made it the seat of his Society of the Arts, and Odofredo, who used it as his personal residence. As was the custom in those times, both taught lessons in their own homes and received compensation directly from their students..
The end of the fourteenth century saw the rise of the imposing construction site for the newly commissioned Basilica di San Petronio, which was designed to be even larger than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In order to make space for this monumental construction, the majority of one of the city’s burgs, including at least eight churches and towers, was demolished, and our building too was marked for sacrifice to this oversized project. It was ultimately spared thanks to Papacy, which prohibited the completion of a basilica that would have overshadowed the image of Saint Peter, symbol of Christendom. Thus, as one can see from the unfinished transept jutting out just a few meters from our windows, the original cross-shaped plan was abandoned and the wings of the Basilica were never built..
The Templars, antique documents of the cadastre, and the old inn’s banner…
Let’s step back in time once more to the medieval era to talk about the Order of the Templars, another illustrious entity which has long been intertwined with our own building’s history. This order of knights first appeared in Bologna in 1161 and soon became one of the wealthiest and most powerful entities of the city: their Temple boasted vast holdings which included hundreds of acres of land, numerous palazzi and buildings, and four churches, including the nearby Santa Croce in Via De’Pignattari. According to a listing in the ecclesiastical administration’s catalog of assets reserved for the cadastre, a certain inn was annexed for pilgrims–an inn which we like to think was located in our own tower house. But as all human institutions inevitably do, even the venerable Order of the Templars started to lose power and began to fall into disgrace; eventually, in 1312, the papal bulls “Vox in Excelso” and “Ad providam Christi vicarii” dissolved the order and stripped it of its assets. The church of Santa Croce, which had been ceded by the religious order that had been granted the Templars’ confiscated assets, was subsequently demolished in order to make space for the construction of San Petronio. Today, nothing of the church remains except for a chapel erected in its memory inside the Basilica. Fortunately, a different fate awaited the other buildings, including ours, which had been annexed by Santa Croce: thanks to the suspension of work on San Petronio, they were allowed to survive undisturbed.
Nothing more of our building is mentioned for another four hundred years, but it resurfaces in the 1712 etching called “Giuoco nuovo di tutte le osterie che sono in Bologna” (New Game of All the Taverns in Bologna) by Giuseppe Maria Miteli: the twelfth box depicts the banner of the Garden of via De’ Pignattari, (then called “della Pellegrina”). This name was discovered in a lease drawn up in 1760 by the lay abbot of the Magione di Santa Maria del Tempio. One last jump forward in history brings us to the beginning of the twentieth century, when the inn became a hotel, taking its name from the merchants(commercianti) who frequented the important weekly market in the nearby Piazza Maggiore. Today, Via De’ Pignattari is a peaceful pedestrian lane, but in centuries past it was a bustling thoroughfare. It began as a Roman decumanus, an east-west road typical of a Roman city (one segment dated to 200 BC can be found at the beginning of our portico), and over time it contained various important establishments that made it a flourishing main street full of activity. In the 7th century, it was called San Ambrogio and, given its exceptional width for the time, became a part of the piazza where it terminated. Up until the 17th century the two hundred meters of this street were divided into three sections with three different names according to nearby industries and businesses: “Dazi dal vin,” “Pignattar,” and “Dal Salario.” The section called “Dazi dal vin” featured a company of porters also known as “brentatori,” named for the brente (wooden wine containers) that they carried. They weren’t, however, mere porters–these brentatori were authorised by the city council to taste the wine, to ascertain its price based on its quality, and to then collect the proper “duty” owed. The section called “Pignattar” was named for the pignattari (potters) who made terra cotta pots called “pignatte,” a word originating in the Latin term “pinnata,” while the street called “Dal Salario” contained a salt warehouse.
In the 1600s, these three sections were united in one street called “De Pignattari” which, while significantly diminished by the construction of San Petronio, connected to Piazza Maggiore. This splendid medieval square had in the meantime become the heart of Bologna, where the populace would gather to listen to decrees and ordinances proclaimed from the balconies of the Podestà. Both the Piazza and its surrounding streets were crowded with people in search of entertainment and business, and it provided a clamourous setting for the many jousting tournaments, festivals, and spectacles which were held there. To this day, Via De’Pignattari still benefits from its proximity to Piazza Maggiore, that common space to which every Bolognese feels a sense of possession and belonging. Today the piazza hosts the city’s most important and beloved events, including the Children’s Carnival, updates on political elections on screens outside the Podestà, a historical stopover on the Mille Miglia (an open-road endurance race featuring vintage automobiles), New Year’s festivities with the traditional “vecchione” (an effigy representing the old year), and finally, the endless open debates held on the Crescentone (the slightly raised centre section of the Piazza).
Bologna is known as “la dotta” (the learned) “la rossa” (“the red”), and “la grassa” (“the fat”). “Learned” comes from the Alma Mater Studiorum, Bologna’s prestigious university that was founded in 1063 and which is considered the oldest university in the Western world. It is “fat” because of the traditional Bolognese cuisine which features such opulent dishes as lasagne, tortellini, tagliatelle al ragù, mortadella, and bollito. Finally, it is “red” from the warm tones of its roofs, facades, and terra cotta bricks which decorate a medieval centre that has remained largely intact, a quality which renders it one of the most extensive historical centres in Italy.
But these labels don’t even begin to truly define our city: rather, Bologna is more than anything a way of life. It’s the ritual of eating a delicious meal in a trattoria and enjoying good company in the osterie beloved by biassanot. It’s the love of music of all kinds, from the opera performed in the Teatro Comunale to the jazz played in taverns. It’s the people who constantly fill the markets and the famous thirty-seven kilometres of arcades and porticos that feature the best shops of Bologna. (By the way, in case you were wondering, “biassanot” in the Bolognese dialect means “he who chews the night.”
And if you should happen to get lost, try asking for “l’albêrg di comerzianti nti Pignatèri,” or the “Albergo Commercianti in via de Pignattari” in the local dialect.)