Buongiorno! We kicked off our summer 2023 European adventures in Bologna, Italy. Bologna is world-famous for its immense cultural, historical and artistic heritage. Breathtaking churches, museums and gardens, the famous porticoes and medieval squares, not to mention the delicious Bolognese cuisine which is known and acclaimed worldwide. It’s one of the lesser touristy cities, but I’ll share soon why we added Bologna to our Italian adventures. On our first full day in Bologna we did a free walking tour. Below is a recap of what we learned.
Over 100 towers were built in Bologna during the Middle Ages, but only 22 survived. Families used the towers as a symbol of wealth and status, as well as for defensive purposes to guard their land. Of the towers that remain today, the most famous are the “Two Towers”: the 320-foot Asinelli Tower and the truncated Garisenda Tower, both of which are leaning due to high water content and soft soil.
Over a thousand centuries old, the porticos (also a UNESCO World Heritage site) have spanned centuries and centuries of history and are now one of the most iconic tourist destinations in the city, but the reality is that they were born out of a pure need for the inhabitants of Bologna. During the High Middle Ages for the citizens of the city has arisen the need to “enlarge” their living spaces as their families grew and it was common practice to increase the size of the lodgings in height, one floor above the other. At some point it was necessary to build columns to support the houses and these urban engineering work consequently created long arcades that soon became ideal places for outdoor craft stores or covered walkways where you can shelter from the summer heat or winter cold.
Did you know Bologna has canals? 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 for grinding flour. Evidently, Bologna managed to become one of the main commercial trade centers of the Middle Ages thanks to this 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. (Due to the recent landslides and debris blockages the water wasn’t flowing during our visit.)
UNIVERSITY OF BOLOGNA
Founded in 1088, it is the oldest university in continuous operation in the world! It was here that the first lessons in Justinian law, one of the cornerstones of the Roman Empire, were held, and starting from the 14th century onwards the schools of jurists were supplemented by studies in rhetoric, grammar, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic and logic.
BASILICA DI SAN PETRONIO
Construction began in 1390 yet never finished, Bologna’s Gothic basilica is Europe’s sixth-largest church. The building was dedicated to Petronio, the city’s patron saint with Greek origins who was Bologna’s bishop in the 5th century. San Petronio 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, while the one on the left dates back to the sixteenth century. You can also see a “Cassini Meridian Line” in the basilica. This line is produced by recording the position of sunlight on the floor at midday each day (from a small hole high in the wall of the church) – each day of the year the position is slightly different, and together they create the Cassini line.
ANCIENT RUINS UNDER BIBLIOTECA SALABORSA
Under the magnificent Salaborsa Library are ancient ruins designed by the Romans between the 2nd and the 3rd century BC. The excavations of the 90’s have uncovered ruins of ancient buildings, three wells and a sewage system. There are also Etruscan ruins on site that predate the Roman ones.