The city of the porticoes.
Site of the most ancient University in the western world, Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna, is a city with an intense cultural life and a rather intriguing historical heritage. First an important urban center for the Etruscans, then for the Gauls and the Romans, Bologna was also a Medieval metropolis that was known around Europe. A European Capital of Culture in 2000, it was declared a UNESCO City of Music in 2006.
Among Bologna’s most important symbols are its characteristic porticoes, i.e. the covered galleries that unite practically all its streets and palazzi; the length of all the porticoes covers 38 kilometers in the center alone (23.6 miles). Built over a time period that spans from the 11th to the 20th Centuries, the porticoes of Bologna are considered an attribute of ‘outstanding’ universal value, reason for which the city is a candidate on UNESCO’s Tentative World Heritage List. Among the numerous porticoes worth noting, and among the oldest, are those under the Casa Isolani in Strada Maggiore – one of the eight wooden porticoes still extant today. The same street also boasts the city’s largest portico, the quadriportico (four galleries of colonnades surrounding a type of courtyard or square) at the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi. Then, the tallest is the loggia of the Archbishop’s Palace in Via Altabella, reaching to almost 10 meters, or 33 feet. Finally, the most famous and the longest portico begins in Via Saragozza and conducts to the Sanctuary della Madonna di San Luca.
Bologna’s towers also define this great city, offering tourists the opportunity to admire the beautiful panorama from above. The most famous are the Garisenda and Asinelli Towers, found at the city’s original entrance on the ancient Emilian Way. The two towers belonged to a series of approximately 100 others of their kind during the Medieval Age, of which only 20 or so remain today. Not only Garisenda and Asinelli, but the lovely Torre Accursi (also known as the Clock Tower, it dominates Piazza Maggiore with its giant mechanized clock) and the Torre Azzoguidi – on Via Altabella – are some of Bologna’s most significant structures. The Torre Azzoguidi makes up part of Bologna’s “Triad of Medieval Skyscrapers,” along with the Torre Prendiparte and Torre Galluzzi. Torre dell’Arengo is also rather particular; lies in the most central area of the city, right on top of the Palazzo del Podestà.
As for the palazzi and other historic buildings, Piazza Maggiore possesses three: the first is Palazzo del Podestà; erected around the year 1200, it was the city’s first seat of government. A curiosity: visitors can achieve a particular acoustic effect by speaking quietly from opposite corners of the tower’s supporting pilasters. The second, Palazzo Re Enzo (with the famous Fontana di Nettuno in front) was constructed next to the aforementioned palace, sometime between 1244-1246. In this structure, King Enzo of Sardinia, son of Frederick II, was kept prisoner for 23 years. Lastly, Palazzo Comunale (or d’Accursio) was the residence of the Anziani, the superior magistracy of the Communal Government; it currently houses Bologna’s Municipal Government. Be sure to visit the Pinacoteca Nazionale, or National Painting Gallery, with works from such high-caliber artists as Giotto, Raphael, and Carracci; and the Archiginnasio of Bologna, the ancient center of the University of Bologna.
Bologna is first and foremost a university city; in its streets and piazzas and under its porticoes, student and intellectual life is everywhere; with its international scene and ancient history, the city is in continuous cultural fermentation. The Salaborsa, beautiful city library (featuring all things multimedia and glass floors that reveal ancient ruins), and the numerous bars and cafès beneath its infinite porticoes are the lively stomping-grounds for the Bolognese and their visitors. Bologna is culinary, it is studious, and it knows how to intrigue, just as it did millennia ago, for those passing through on the ancient Emilian Way (Via Aemilia).