Bologna: City of Culture
By Cindy Bigras
History and Piazza Maggiore As early as 3000 years ago Bologna was a settled community located at the edge of a sea which no longer exists. The Romans subsequently conquered "Bononia" in 189 b.c. and a period of growth and prosperity began. The remains of Roman street layouts and aqueducts are visible from some spots in the city.
The sea eventually disappeared and the canals connecting medieval Bologna to Venice were covered over in the 1800s but are still visible from Via Piella and help today's visitor understand why there is a statue of Neptune (by Giambologna) near Piazza Maggiore, the central and most important piazza located in the heart of the city. It is the historic and cultural soul of Bologna, surrounded by buildings representing the city's economic, cultural and religious power.
The grand and imposing Basilica of San Petronio -- Bologna's patron saint -- runs along one side.
Begun in 1390 and intended to rival St. Peter's in Rome, it is large and imposing but retains a rustic look because the Bolognese coffers ran dry and the facade has remained unfinished. Today it is the fourth largest basilica in the world.
Palazzo Comunale, also in Piazza Maggiore, was built in the 13th century and houses a modern municipal library where visitors can check email and view Roman ruins found during renovations.
The 40 kilometres of beautiful porticos lining Bologna's buildings originated in the middle ages as a way to provide extra lodging for the growing population. They create a wonderful sense of unity and have come to distinguish the city's architecture. Most buildings are faced not of marble, as in other parts of Italy, but of clay, sandstone and red brick, giving the city a welcoming warmth.
A short distance from Piazza Maggiore you'll find The Due Torri in Piazza Ravegnana -- the two towers erected in the twelfth century by the noble Asinelli and the Garisenda families as a testament to their wealth and power. They are the most famous of the many medieval towers found in Bologna.
Bologna's university is the oldest in Europe dating to 1088 and today is the choice for approximately 100,000 Italian and foreign students. Dante, Boccacio, and Petrarca studied here. Politically active and vibrant, Bologna is known for its communist policies and positions.
Breadbasket of Italy
Bologna is considered the culinary capital of Italy and that's quite a statement. Local specialties include tagliatelle al ragu (meat sauce), tortellini in brodo, lasagna, and salami of all types. The best known salami is mortadella which has a delicate flavor unlike its namesake boloney known in the rest of the world.
Tamburini's, around the corner from the Piazza Maggiore, is a self-serve bistro specializing in meals and condiments typical of the region. Don't reserve ahead... just show up.
If you're up for a day trip to Modena you will surely sample the best vinegars of your life. Don't think all vinegars are created equal! These are vinegars aged in oak barrels for up to 75+ years and some are served from an eyedropper. The Ristorante/Acetaia La Noce is owned by 5th generation oxologo (master of vinegar making) Giorgio Muzzarelli.
He produces, sells, and serves the vinegars in his restaurant across the street. For starters you'll be served Pignoletto frizzante, the local wine, with grissini and gnocci fritti. Then for the meal how about a San Giovese, accompanied by a large Raviolo filled with ricotta and parmigiano topped with sour black cherry sauce?
City of Culture
In 2000 the European Union assigned to Bologna, along with eight other cities, the designation "city of culture" and in 2006 UNESCO appointed Bologna a "City of Music" citing its long and rich music tradition. This recognition has given Bologna the opportunity to develop and showcase its cultural offerings and each year so that young and old enjoy theatre, dance, film and music performances in and around the city.
Bologna offers an unbelievable number of summer dance, theatre, and music performances through its Be' (Bologna Estate) program. Many are free and some are performed outside in the town squares.
Bolognas's newest museum, MAMbo, (Museo d'art Moderna) opened at its new location in May, 2007 with a special exhibit, Vertigo. As of this writing, the museum's permanent collection is being moved to the new location and will be open to the public in December, 2007. The new site is a former bakery building, tastefully renovated, filled with light and large open spaces. From December, 2007 until February, 2008, you'll be able to see work of Adam Chodzko, Eva Marisaldi, Diego Perrone and Bojan Sarcevic.
The Morandi Museum exhibits works of local son Giorgio Morandi, one of the best known Italian painters of the 20th century. It is located in the Palazzo Comunale where you'll also find the Museo Comunale -- the municipal art collection.
Because the Emilia Romagna region is home to many luxury car manufacturers, you'll find museums for Ferrari, Ducati, and Lamborghini. This can be a great diversion if you're traveling with children but even adults will enjoy the museum display; I'm no car connoisseur -- I drive a basic, practical Japanese vehicle. But I discovered that Ferraris are sexy, beautiful, sleek, and you cannot but marvel at the design. The original Ferrari, designed by Enzo himself was yellow, the color of Modena. Red was the first racing Ferrari's color.
Fly direct to Bologna from a number of departures places. From the US, Eurofly provides direct service from New York's JFK airport during the summer months; numerous European airlines will offer direct flights from various locations.
Thinking of moving there? Bologna Inside is directed at English speaking expat residents of Bologna but provides such a wealth of information that I've included it here. Look at the Tempo Libero section to get suggestions of things to do in and around the city.
Like this on Facebook: