Ok, so 2016 has been a good year for me so far. January started out with Bologna, February – Thailand, April – Rome and June – Sicily. Hopefully I have a couple of more trips left in me this year, but I’m still happy with what I’ve done so far.
Bologna got me off to a good start. I had ended 2015 poorly with a bad break up and lots of emotional trauma so I wanted to start off 2016 on a clean slate. What better way to do so than visit beautiful Italy with one of my extra favourite persons on earth, my sister!!! You’ll be seeing some photos of her and me in this post – she’s the one with the curly hair!
Once again, I have to emphasise my extreme love for Ryanair here. Tickets to Bologna were dirt cheap in January, and right in time for the sale season too! I’m not a big shopper, but my sister loves it, especially the fancy Italian stuff, so Bologna was ideal! Some great shoe (and bag!) shopping, amazing food and wine (Italy – DUH), and goooorgeous terracotta coloured architecture for me to stare at! Score!!! 😀 Known as La Rossa, this gorgeous burnt orange coloured city was just a great experience. We were limited in time, having only three days to explore, but this proved to be very enjoyable and just perfect for the short break we were both looking for.
We stayed at the Hotel Cavour (http://www.cavour-hotel.com/en/index.html) – nothing too fancy, but clean and generally comfy with a nice continental breakfast included in the package. The location was perfect, which is why I chose the hotel – right off Via Indipendenza (one of the main shopping streets in Bologna) and about one minute away from the beautiful Piazza Maggiore! It was also relatively close to the central station, being a 10 to 15 minute walk away!
First of all, some information about the city.
Nicknamed the “Old Lady”, Bologna has very ancient origins, which date to about 1000B.C. Even so, the city has remained vibrant and young in spirit, being the centre of university life since 1088 when the first university of the west was founded here (another nickname for this wonderful city is “Bologna the Learned”). Old prints of the city show it as a forest of towers (there were more than 100 in the city!!!), the Asinelli Tower and Garisenda Tower (two of the only 17 surviving towers seen today), being the symbols of the city, having stood firm since the 12th century, in spite of their characteristic inclination – believe me they are CROOKED! The Asinelli Tower is the highest leaning tower in Italy and reaches up to 90 metres, but it is the Garisenda which leans more; incomplete and 48 metres high (before the top was removed it measured 60 metres), it was so well known that even Dante Alighieri mentioned it in his Divine Comedy. Another special feature of Bologna is its Porticos!! There are about 38 kilometres of these which make a picture-frame for all the old town centre. They were created in the Middle Ages when the city had grown to a very large size. The citizens needed to make their houses bigger without taking up space from the streets. So they were given permission by the local governing body at the time project their buildings from the first floor, giving rise to picturesque walks beneath which formed a private space, owned by the artisans, but used as a public right of way!
In the 1300s the city became famous for it hostelries, and Bologna once again acquired a new nickname, this time being “La Grassa” (Bologna the FAT!!!). And for good reason too! The food in Bologna is absolutely divine with delicious home made tortellini, created in the image of the goddess Venus’ navel (hihihi), delectable mortadella (Bologna sausage) and the famous and absolutely mouth watering Ragu’ (Bologna’s typical meaty sauce, usually served on tagliatelle. NOMNOMNOM!!!!). Be prepared to EAT in Bologna! With a great array of dining venues as well as a fantastic food market, even if you’re not a foodie, you’re in for a treat! As I just said, watch out for the home made pasta and pastries as well as the famous Italian cured meats and sausages, cheese and last but not least, the WINE!!
Our first day in Bologna was basically spent walking around the old centre, just taking in the pretty colours and admiring the porticoed architecture of this beautiful place. Whilst in the old city there are a number of places you have to visit to truly get the most of your Bologna experience.
- The Asinelli and Garisenda Towers (Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda) – Both towers are leaning, both in opposite directions!! The Garisenda Tower has a larger incline (although less than that of the tower of Pisa) and is closed to the public do you cannot climb up into it, but the Asinelli Tower is, and if you’re willing to make the 500 step climb, you’re in for some great bird’s eye views of this red city! The stairwell is narrow and not exactly comfortable, but the end result is just beautiful, even on a cloudy day! From here you can see Cattedrale of San Pietro as well as Piazza Maggiore, the Basilica of San Petronio, the ancient medieval streets criss-crossing the city, and off in the distance a picturesque view of the Bologna hills. On clear days you can even see the Alps from here!
- Piazza Maggiore – This piazza is surrounded by the city’s most important buildings, with the oldest being the Palazzo del Podesta’. To the west of the piazza is the Palazzo Comunale, known as the Palazzo d’Accursio and in front of the Palazzo del Podestà rises the famous, unfinished facade of the Basilica of San Petronio: an example of Italian Gothic begun at the end of the 14th century which was never completed. To the east is Palazzo dei Banchi, where the money changers and bankers worked. Make sure to have a look at the Fountain of Neptune whilst in the Piazza. It was built in 1566 and legend has it that in order to pass an important exam, uniersity students run two counter-clockwise laps around the fountain. Apparently this practice comes from Giambologna (the creator of this masterpiece) himself who continually circled the base of the fountain in thought whilst finishing the project! The trident the god is brandishing has become one of the world’s most well known symbols: that of Maserati, a Bologna based automobile manufacturer of course!!
- San Petronio Basilica – The basilica is unique and very impressive in its style and size, being the 6th largest church in Europe and measuring 132 metres long by 66 metres wide by 45 metres tall with the facade reaching a height of 51 metres. Construction began in 1390 and was commissioned to architect Antonio di Vincenzo. Site work began with the demolition of numerous medieval buildings adjacent to the Piazza Maggiore and construction began with the façade and worked its way back to the apse. Twenty-five years later, after the death of Di Vincenzo, the plan had evolved into a Latin cross and the church was supposed to reach almost 224 metres long and 150 metres wide. The basilica should have been the largest in the world, but the pope at the time wasn’t too keen of the idea of a church larger than St. Peters Basilica (aka. the Vatican). Because of this, the papal government began building the Archiginnasio on a site immediately adjacent to the Basilica, literally blocking the realization of its ambitious design (so they basically ruined all the plans for this beautiful building argh!). The construction of the Basilica was put on hold for a long time after this, partly due to lack of funding and the technical challenges of achieving the very high Gothic vaults, but mostly due to the sense of disappointment of no longer having enough space continue working on the original design. Work did eventually proceed with several famous architects taking part in the process. The basilica is still immensely huge in size and extremely impressive! It houses 22 side chapels within, and numerous works of art. It also contains two of the most important organs in Italy: the one on the right, from 1475, is one of the oldest organs in existence (WOW!!), while the one on the left dates back to the sixteenth century.
You can actually take a lift to the top of the basilica to admire more panoramic views of the “red city”, but be warned, the area is still under construction and we actually had to sign a form stating that any accidents, injury or even death, would not be the responsibility of the basilica of the commune of Bologna! I thought this was absolutely hilarious of course, so I happily signed the form and climbed into the industrial lift to see the views!! 😀 My sister wasn’t too pleased though!! HAHAHA!! When on top you can see some lovely views of the city. There’s a sweet old gentleman on the rooftop who is very happy to point out all the famous landmarks and give a quick explanation of what is where, etc. His English is inexistent though, so brush up on your Italian!!! 🙂
- Palazzo Comunale – This palace is the home of the Bologna city council and flanks the western part of Piazza Maggiore. On the second floor of this pretty building you will find the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte – an interesting collection of 13th- to 19th-century paintings, sculpture and furniture.
- The Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio – One of the most important buildings in Bologna, this palace was the seat of the city university from 1563 to 1805. Nowadays its chief attraction is the fascinating 17th-century Teatro Anatomico, a well-preserved anatomical theatre where trainee surgeons once studied. The building itself has two floors and, like most buildings in Bologna, is entered through a portico. It has an internal courtyard that incorporates the former church of Santa Maria dei Bulgari. On the upper floors are the old study halls for the law students and the artists (those studying other subjects). The building terminated its university function in 1803 and since 1839, is has been the seat of the Biblioteca Comunale dell’Archiginnasio, the largest library in Emilia-Romagna. It preserves important texts on history, philosophy, political science, literature, art, and a section on Bolognese culture. The Teatro Anatomico is a beautiful room! It is made completely in spruce wood, with cedar wood seats surrounding a central marble-topped table which, in the past, was used for public dissections! Make sure to look up! The ceiling is impressive with a sculpture of Apollo looking down on the theatre. Also take note of the canopy above the lecturer’s chair. It is supported by statues of two naked and skinless men, known as “gli spellati” (the skinned ones) – a beautiful combination of art and science! Venturing further down the hall from the theatre you can find the Aula Magna di Stabat Mater , a huge former classroom. In the adjacent wing is Bologna’s 700,000-volume Biblioteca Comunale. This place is definitely worth a visit!
We walked at a leisurely pace along the city centre and took in the sights and sounds, doing some window shopping in the mean time. We also walked to the train station to see whether we should visit a neighbouring city the following day (we did eventually decide to go to Parma), passing through the Parco della Montagnola, Bologna’s very first public garden and visiting the beautiful Fountain of the Nymph and Seahorse while in the area, which is right next to the bus station.
That was our first day done and dusted! Stick around for more of Bologna, Parma, and some tips of other places you can visit while in this lovely region of Italy! Will be updating the blog with more info and photos in the coming days! Enjoy your weekend! 😀