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8 hours in Bologna

Basilica of San Petronio and Piazza Maggiore

Bologna is old and grand. Step into Piazza Maggiore and take in the immense open square surrounded by palaces and the Basilica di San Petronio. The ambitious plan to construct a basilica larger than St. Peter's in Rome was effectively quashed by Pope Pius IV. Note its unfinished façade, half marble and half brick.  

Bologna has been nicknamed, La Dotta, or the Learned One as the home of the oldest university in the Western world. Founded in 1088 by students, the University of Bologna has an enrollment figure approximating 80,000. It's roster of famous students include Thomas Beckett, Erasmus, Copernicus, and Albrecht Dürer.

Quadrilatro District

There are many things to like about Bologna, their tortellini en brodo for one. In the Quadrilatro District just steps from the Basilica, one can find a bustling market with a tempting array of fruit and fresh produce, bread and pastries, cheese from Parma, fish and mortadella, and a host of restaurants and cafés for savoring famous Bolognese dishes like tagliatelle al ragú. Bologna is aptly nicknamed, La Grassa or the "Fat One", for its culinary offerings. Mario Batali has this to say about La Grassa: "Bologna is the best city in Italy for food and has the least number of tourists. With its medieval beauty, it has it all."

Link to the recipe for Tortellini en Brodo (tortellini in broth) by Mario Battali. 

This alley off Via Castiliogne shows a common architectural feature of medieval Bologna, an arched extension above street level. And cobblestone streets. Motorcycles are ubiquitous in Italy perhaps for the ease it provides in navigating some of these narrow passageways.

Asinelli and Garisenda

The Due Torri or the Two Towers are two of 20 surviving towers from the late 12th century. There used to be more than a hundred medieval skyscrapers in Bologna. They were a symbol of power and wealth. The tallest one at 97.2 meters (318 feet) is the Asinelli Tower from which there's a panoramic view of La Rossa (the Red One), the third nickname given to Bologna for its red brick buildings and terra cotta roofs. There are 498 steps to get to the top. 

Church of the Holy Trinity or Martyrium
There used to be seven churches in the Santo Stefano complex. Today there are only four left. Each of the churches are unique in its own way. The entrance to Santo Stefano is through the Church of the Crucifix. It has a raised altar with stairs leading up to it. Below the altar is the crypt with the relics of the Abbot Martino. A narrow side door leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which is the octagonal shaped building with a beautiful exterior decorated with brick mosaics. The sepulcher inside is a replica of the one in Jerusalem though it has changed over centuries. The remains of San Petronio was kept here until it was transferred to the Basilica where it was reunited with its head. The simple Church of Santi Vitale and Agricola houses the relics of these two martyrs. Vitale was the slave of Agricola and as Christians, they were persecuted during the reign of Diocletian. Vitale was first to be martyred at the amphitheater. Agricola was tortured then crucified for his unwavering faith.

My favorite church in the complex is the Holy Trinity. There is beauty, harmony and peace in these surroundings. Note the capitals of the columns with its mermaids, the graceful flow of the red brick walls against a pale vaulted ceiling, and the patterned floor. St. Peter sits in a quiet niche holding the keys to heaven. 

I'm most impressed by Bologna's 25-mile stretch of porticoes that crisscross the city. There's every reason to walk and discover the rich history of this medieval town, rain or shine. And when you need to take a break, cafés can also be found under its storied arches.

The Kiss by Guy Lydster
It's an interesting juxtaposition, modern art in the medieval center of Bologna. But that's to be expected in a city with a large population of university students. Music, film, art and food are all celebrated at the piazza.

How to get to Bologna:
Travel time by train from Milan to Bologna Centrale takes an hour and a half. From the train station to Piazza Maggiore, follow Via dell'Indipendenza which leads to Piazza Nettuno (Neptune's Fountain) in the center of town.

The walk from the train station to the center passes by what remains of the fortifications that once protected the medieval city. The Porta Galliera faces the ramparts and the Parco della Montagnola. There are reminders everywhere of how old Bologna is.

Where to Eat
Via Orefici (in the Quadrilatro District)
This branch is much smaller than in Milan and the restaurant is quite busy. A new and mega Eataly is in the works in Bologna. 


Images by TravelswithCharie 


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