Little Known Italy – BOLOGNA

Le Torri di Bologna

Le Due Torri

Bologna is without a doubt one of the most underrated cities in Italy. The capital of Emilia-Romagna, it is a city of about 1/3 million people, with ancient roots in pre-Roman Etruscan culture, a rich artistic heritage, a well-preserved historical center, and a coherent integration of the best that Italy has to offer in art, cuisine, architecture, and lifestyle. With a long tradition as a university city, probably the first in Europe, it is enlivened by the cultural and social contributions of young people who come from all over the world to study there. It is famous for its towers, its portici, and its centro storico, among the best-kept in Italy following a careful policy of preservation and restauration. Bologna has long enjoyed one of the most efficient and dedicated city administrations in all of Italy, and this is reflected in the efficiency of its services, the care with which the physical environment is maintained, and the smooth functioning of its civic institutions.

The relative obscurity of the city (compared to Florence and Venice, say), is perhaps due to the lack of an overarching artistic or architectural masterpiece to serve as a magnet for the attention of tourists and art aficionados, such as the David in Florence or the Sistine Chapel in Rome. And in fact the artistic importance of Bologna is due primarily to an homogeneous aggregation of first-class architectural and artistic masterpieces out of which it would be difficult to single out a distinct work for special recognition.

Few large Italian cities are as pedestrian-friendly as Bologna. A rewarding walking tour might start in Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Basilica of San Petronio, the fifth-largest church in the world. From here proceed to Piazza Re Enzo, in which you will find the homonymous palace, built in 1200. From 1249 to 1271 Re Enzo of Sardinia, natural son of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, was imprisoned in this palace following his defeat at the hands of a Bolognese army at the Battle of Fossalta. From the vicinity of Piazza Re Enzo you are within striking distance of the Museo di San Petronio, the Fontana di Nettuno, and the Palazzo del Podesta’. Walk a short block to via Rizzoli, proceed to the right, and in a trice you will be in the shadow of the Two Towers, both leaning, though not as much as the Torre di Pisa. They are named the Garisenda and the Asinello. and are recognized as the symbol of Bologna. Now veer right and left and make your way to via Santo Stefano. It is a few steps from here to Piazza Santo Stefano, also known as Piazza delle Sette Chiese, though only four remain. This is an enchanting square that will have you feeling as if you had dropped out of your own time and straight into the Middle Ages.

There is much, much more to Bologna, and the enterprising wanderer will be well-rewarded. But now it’s time for a well-deserved rest and cappuccino outside one of the many bars you will find along your route, ready to tempt you with all manner of piadine and other local specialties.

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