The fabulous city of Bologna!

It was a grey, November Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t raining during my visit!

Yesterday, Saturday, I did one of my favorite things in Italy! I hopped on a train and went from Florence to Bologna. Just in time for lunch. It’s a 30 minute train ride. I marvel. I love. I want more!

Most of the train ride is underground, inside tunnels.

I’ve been to Bologna before and visited the major art museums. But, that was a long time ago and I decided it was high-time to go there again.

Let’s talk about the city:

BOLOGNA is the Capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and it’s located between the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the heart of the Po Valley. The train ride from Florence is almost all underground in a vast system of tunnels.


City of art, culture and commerce, with a streamlined trade-fair organization and a well-known manufacturing and motor tradition, Bologna is famous for its almost 40 km (nearly 25 miles) of arcades, the longest in the world.

Also called “The Learned” for its old University, and “The Fat” for its food tradition, the city is also a “UNESCO creative City of Music” and has one of the largest and most well-preserved medieval historical centres, full of restaurants, taverns, theatres and shops.

Home of many famous artists such as Giorgio Morandi, Guido Reni, the Carraccis, Guercino, Aspertini, it has charmed notable people like Mozart, Carducci, Dante, Rossini and Guglielmo Marconi, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

Basilica of Saint Petronius


Rich in art and history, Bologna will amaze the visitor in all seasons, with its enjoyable and lively summer atmosphere or with the magic of Christmas illuminations.

A first look at the city is from the beautiful Piazza Maggiore where medieval palaces look down upon an intense public life and economic activity. They perfectly combine with modernity, while preserving their antique charm. For instance Palazzo d’Accursio, seat of the municipal administration, houses inside its ancient walls the Art Nouveau-style Salaborsa multimedia Library as well as Roman archaeological excavations, visible from a modern glass floor.

Among the symbols of Bologna is the Neptune Fountain by Giambologna:

Also, the medieval towers, particularly the magnificent Two Towers: Asinelli tower (98 m) and its neighbouring “twin” Garisenda (48 m, also mentioned in Dante’s Inferno). Take in the incredible views from the tallest leaning medieval tower in the world, built between 1109 and 1119. The panoramic view from the Torre degli Asinelli will take your breath away. 

The iconic Due Torri

Walking along the ancient streets and the never-ending porticoes, canals are an unexpected surprise. They date back to the 12th century and can be visited underground too.

A rich heritage of art is housed in the numerous museums and galleries, as well as in the multitude of religious buildings. Among them, a special mention should be made to the complex of Santo Stefano, the one of San Domenico with the Saint’s marble tomb by Nicolò dall’Arca and decorated with Michelangelo’s sculptures, and the church of Santa Maria della Vita which houses another Nicolò dall’Arca’s masterpiece, the Pietà sculpture (Lamentation over the Dead Christ).

Bologna in 1640


Bologna is synonym for food & wine tradition. Mortadella, “ragù alla Bolognese,” handmade pastas such as tortellini, lasagne and tagliatelle, boiled meat, certosino cake: these are only some of the foods that have made Bologna’s gastronomy famous throughout the world, together with the fabulous “sfogline” (women making handmade pastas) whose lessons are attended by visitors from every country in the world. Colli Bolognesi DOC wines are famous too, like the typical Pignoletto.


The city is full of life both during the day and at night, with its many taverns, theatres, book-stores, squares and shops. In the charming small streets close to Piazza Maggiore, there is the lively and picturesque market of the Quadrilatero with shops of typical products. The most gluttonous visitors cannot miss the city’s oldest and most renowned chocolate laboratory, or an aperitif in an old wine bar.


The city cultural programme, is rich in exhibitions, theatre events and festival of jazz and contemporary music. A particular mention should be made of the Opera and Ballet season of Teatro Comunale, the Concerts of Orchestra Mozart, Bologna Festival and Cinema Festivals (Cinema Ritrovato, Future Film Festival), as well as of other important events like the International Comics Festival BilBolBul, the Children’s Book Fair, ArteFiera, Arte Libro and Cioccoshow.

This post is a work in progress. I’ll be back in Bologna soon to visit some more places and will update this then. :-)

Still to do:

canals, Apparently, Bologna managed to become one of the main commercial trade centres of the Middle Ages thanks to a hydraulic system of canals and locks that produced energy for the trades, allowed large ships to come and go and improved sanitation with a number of public wash houses.

Starting in the 12th century, a total of 60 km canals were dug to connect the city with the rivers Reno and Savena. The canals were used to drive water mills eg. for grinding flour. In Via Capo di Lucca, the Moline Canal is supposed to have driven 15 big grain mills that were operated through a series of artificial drops and movable sluice gates.

Bologna became the most technological advanced silk throwing town with filatoio driven by overhead shafts that were powered by water. That way they managed to industrialise the process, where silk that has been reeled into skeins is cleaned, twisted and wound onto bobbins. And over the centuries the water mills were put to a variety of other uses.

There were bark mills producing the tannin powder used in tanneries to produce leather from degreased and soaked skins and hides of animals. Mills cutting tobacco leaves in the tobacco factory, and mills running rice huskers, brick works and power stations for use at a hospital.

Fascinated by such industry based on the ingenious and innovative use of technology, I wanted to embark on a canal tour of Bologna, only to realize that the word ‘hidden’ in the headline was to be understood literally. The canals in Bologna are not ‘secret’ or ‘undiscovered’, they are concealed and therefore more or less invisible. In the old city centre, the water is mainly distributed through underground pipes, and the few and short stretches of open canals are locked in-between buildings. For a canal chaser, there’s nothing much to see in Bologna.

Outside the old city walls it becomes easier to follow the waterways. In Casalecchio, the Reno Canal starts from a big lock, and at north of the city the canals flow into the Navile, a 36 km navigable channel that connected Bologna with other cities. The start of the Navile Channel was known as Porto di Bologna or Quartiere Porto. From here, boats transported goods and people to Ferrara and Venice in about 40 hours, and it is estimated that the middle of the 18th century a fleet of fifty boats made a thousand trips a year, carrying almost 23.000 tons of goods.

Porto di Bologna was originally designed by the celebrated architect Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola, and it soon became the commercial centre of the town with factories, warehouses and shipyards.  Much of Bologna and in particular this area was sadly demolished by bombs in 1943 all that is left of the original buildings is the Salara salt warehouse.

Still, there are people in Bologna hoping to uncover the hidden canals, I did find an Insta-moment by the recently restore ‘window’ with a peak view of the Reno Canal in Via Piella, and perhaps there are more to come.


A lowland port, underground canals, monuments and Manifattura delle Arti.
The relationship between Bologna and water is centuries-old and in the period in which its maximum city power was in the making, it was not only its “Studio” (University) that served as a pole of attraction and distinction: starting from the twelfth century, the City created a series of artificial canals fed by the waters of the Aposa creek (on whose banks Etruscan Felsina was founded), which  intersected with the two canals connected to the Reno and Savena rivers, also built to carry waterways inside Bologna.


A lowland port, underground canals, monuments and Manifattura delle Arti.
The relationship between Bologna and water is centuries-old and in the period in which its maximum city power was in the making, it was not only its “Studio” (University) that served as a pole of attraction and distinction: starting from the twelfth century, the City created a series of artificial canals fed by the waters of the Aposa creek (on whose banks Etruscan Felsina was founded), which  intersected with the two canals connected to the Reno and Savena rivers, also built to carry waterways inside Bologna.

This abundant supply of water was used to create the energy needed to fuel craftsmanship activities: mills, grindstones, tanneries, spinning plants, knitting machines, fulling mills and, last but not least, all the activities for which a water source immediately available for energy and for processing made the difference between slow work and production of significant commercial importance. Of course, the canals were also used to transport goods and people and, when the dirt roads were slow and very bumpy, the ability to move about on boats was a viable alternative, and in some cases, also much more convenient and practical for long distances. In 1548, Bologna began construction of its port within city walls. replacing the existing ones outside the walls. It was designed by Jacopo Barozzi (Il Vignola) and remained in operation almost until 1930s, when the navigable canals were covered.

The whole area between the Via Irnerio, Via Dei Mille and Via Don Minzoni axis on one side, and the Via Riva di Reno, Via Righi and Via delle Moline axis on the other, still preserves the memory of Bologna surrounded by waters in some toponyms, starting from Via del Porto; in some places, we can still admire some glimpses of canals flowing through buildings and meadows, as in the case of the Cavaticcio canal, which gives its name to the park in which it flows, in the heart of Manifattura delle Arti, an area named in honour of shops once in operation there thanks to canal mills, and which today brings together some of Bologna’s cultural excellences, such as the Cineteca and the MAMbo (Museum of Modern Art of Bologna) on Via Don Minzoni 14, housing the permanent collection of the Morandi Museum along with regular periodic exhibitions, and immediately nearby, the Salara, the ancient port salt depot now transformed into exhibition hall and multipurpose venue of the Cassero. Right in the space between the MAMbo – Museum of Modern Art in Bologna and the Salara, Parco del Cavaticcio (Cavaticcio Park) was created recently, which takes its name from the canal showing off along a strip of green yielding a glimpse of impressive, yet peaceful urban landscape.

The viewpoint on Via Don Minzoni allows a perspective view of both park and canal, as it was at the time of the port from the customs offices, which are long gone. The Manifattura centre also includes the DAMS laboratories of the University of Bologna, featuring an experimental theatre, film laboratory, auditorium for music, plus offices and services. There is also the new seat of the Cineteca di Bologna library, a true international documentation centre with over 40,000 volumes, 18,000 audiovisuals and hundreds of thousands of photographs and film posters.

The Cineteca and the DAMS area are close to Via Riva Reno, where we can visit the Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, built after the plague of 1527 to give homage to the averted danger: the Church stood surrounded by the waters of the now covered Reno canal. Along the same road, we come across Angolo della Pioggia (Rain Corner) at the intersection with Via Galliera: it is a very special corner which gives visitors the impression of being in a village rather than in the heart of the city, so suggestive is the enveloping feeling it yields.

The whole area revolves around rain; rather, it is a tribute to the Madonna della Pioggia, who, as tradition has it, saved Bologna from a drought, and gives its name to the Church of Santa Maria della Pioggia, built from the original thirteenthcentury complex and later dedicated to the Madonna after the procession that in 1561 brought the rain that put an end to a long heat spell.

The Church houses a painting of the Madonna that was carried in procession: a work by Michele di Matteo, a Bologna-native painter active in the mid-fifteenth century. From nearby Via Righi, we can see glimpses of Bologna waters that have not been covered, starting with the one near the big vault of Via Malcontenti, to continue with the lookout on Via Piella and then Via Oberdan, in addition to the view of nearby Via Capo di Lucca, at the corner with Via Delle Moline.

On Via Oberdan, near the canal waters in view, we arrive at the Church of San Martino (building number 25), built in the first half of the fourteenth century and worth a visit to admire the works by Paolo Uccello, Amico Aspertini and Ludovico Carracci, to cite a few, as well as the beautiful sixteenth-century organ, so precious for its decorations and sounds.

Almost in front of the Church, we find Via Marsala, where, at building number 12 stands Palazzo Grassi, one of the few residences that bear witness to the urban layout of medieval Bologna.

The portico is one of the few still standing with wooden beam columns in a typical crutch shape, and features an entrance door surmounted by a pointed ring. It is a typical example of thirteenth-century architecture in Bologna.

underground Bologna, cathedral, quadrilatero, San Pietro, Via dell Indipendenza, has the terra cotta figures

the 2 towers

Your tour starts from Piazza del Nettuno. You’ll discover the Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica of San Petronio and the Meridian. Next visit the oldest library in the world and Piazza Santo Stefano, where you’ll see the wonderful Basilica that overlooks the square. Then visit the Towers of Bologna, the Asinelli and the Garisenda, before you explore the historical market Quadrilatero to admire the historical shops and take in the scents of local food. Finally, visit Palazzo Re Enzo which overlooks the square and is the palace seat of the municipality.

Discover Bologna in comfort via an open top bus, enabling you to admire and photograph all the major attractions of the city.  Upon arriving at the meeting point, staff will welcome you onboard. Choose from an audioguide available in 10 different languages to learn more about the specific landmarks as well as the general history of the city. You will then journey across the city, capturing views of some of the most famous points of interest. Hop on and off at your leisure at some popular spots such as: • Basilica San Petronio • Palazzo dei Notai • Palazzo Comunale • Palazzo di Re Enzo • Palazzo del Podestà, • Tower of Asinelli and Garisenda • Museo Civico Archeologico • Archiginnasio • Palazzo Bevilacqua • Porta Saragozza • Palazzo Bentivoglio • Fontana del Nettuno • Teatro Comunale. After the tour, enjoy a food tour in a historical market in Bologna, where you will try local delicaci…

Start the tour at Archiginnasio Palace, which serves as the main office building for the oldest university in the world – the University of Bologna. After, walk to Piazza Maggiore, where the Basilica of San Petronio is located, known for its imposing facade. Continue to Piazza del Nettuno, which is surrounded by three important administrative buildings: Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo del Podestà, and Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo. Afterward, continue to the base of Bologna’s iconic towers, the Asinelli Tower and the Garisenda Tower. Learn about the history and features of these imposing structures. Next, continue to the wooden arch of Corte Isolani and see the Oratory of Santa Cecilia. Admire the exterior of the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, before concluding the tour in the area of Quadrilatero, which is home to many markets and shops.

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