Bologna university city
The University of Bologna was founded almost a thousand years ago, in the year 1088. The faculties of law, medicine, and natural sciences enjoy worldwide fame.
For centuries, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region has been a draw for traders, students and tourists by having one of the largest and best-preserved medieval historical centres in Europe. Most of the buildings have an atmospheric pink-red colour.
Indulge yourself as a Catholic and/or religious art and architecture lover here. For the number of churches here is vast. One can even find seven churches behind one door.
Below the galleries, you’ll find plenty of terraces and shops.
Bologna is world-famous for its porticoes. In 2021, UNESCO recognised them as World Heritage Sites for their artistic and socio-cultural value.
With a total length of 62 kilometres (including 42 kilometres in the historic centre), Bologna’s porticoes, together with the ‘two towers’ Garisenda and Asinelli, symbolise the city.
The porticoes date back to medieval Bologna when the university began to attract students and academics from all over Italy and the world. This strong population growth made it necessary to create living space and space for businesses without using precious land.
Porches proved to be the ideal solution. Existing buildings were given an arcade, which at the same time provided shade and shelter from the weather. The portico of San Luca is a whopping 3.8 kilometres long.
The seven churches of Bologna
The Basilica of St Stefan is also known as the ‘seven churches complex’. It is one of the most intriguing places in Bologna. The complex consists of, you guessed it, seven churches built in different styles and periods.
According to tradition, St Petronius, the bishop of Bologna in the 5th century, built the basilica on a temple of the goddess Isis. The saint wanted a building reminiscent of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The different parts of the complex include:
- Church of St Stephen, from the 8th century, with a crypt;
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre, from the 5th century, according to tradition;
- Church of Saints Vitale and Agricola from the 4th century, rebuilt in the 12th century;
- Courtyard of Pilate (13th century);
- Church of the Trinity (13th century);
- Chapel of the Covenant (Cappella della Benda) dedicated to the strip of cloth the Virgin Mary wore around her head as a sign of mourning;
- Pilate’s courtyard a reminder of where Jesus was condemned; it leads to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Admission is free.
Bologna has several medieval canals, which you can only see in a few places. One location is on ‘Via Piella 18‘, where you can look at the channel and the surrounding colourful houses through a window in the wall.
For those who think it’s a good idea to lock love and throw away the key to your heart, go to the other side of the canal, where you will find a fence with ‘love locks’.
Piazza Maggiore Bologna
Bologna’s main square is piazza Maggiore, with medieval buildings, the cathedral and the Neptune fountain.
The cathedral is primarily large. As for the rest, you can confidently skip a visit. Instead, walk a few hundred metres to the Palazzo dell’ Archiginnasio for one of the city’s highlights.
The Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, the medieval seat of the University of Bologna, has a beautiful wooden anatomical hall and one of Europe’s most beautiful and rich libraries.
The library is the largest in Emilia-Romagna, with around 850,000 books and pamphlets, medieval manuscripts, pamphlets, periodicals and engravings.
Bologna anatomical theatre
The top floor of the building still houses the anatomical theatre, built in 1636. It was the hall used for lectures and performances on anatomy. It is shaped like an amphitheatre and is made of spruce with a coffered ceiling decorated with statues.
A ticket costs €3 (February 2023) at the entrance. Or combine your visit with a listening tour and tasting of typical dishes.
The towers of Bologna
Bologna’s most famous towers, Garisenda and Torre degli Asinelli, stand at the intersection of roads leading to the five gates of the city walls (mura dei torresotti).
The Asinelli is the tallest tower, while the leaning tower is called the Garisenda.
To enjoy the view of the city, climb the 498 steps of the Asinelle tower.
Santuario Madonna di San Luca
The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca is a basilica in Bologna on a wooded hill, the Colle or Monte della Guardia, about 300 metres above the city.
Portico of San Luca
The most famous and longest portico in Bologna is the Portico of San Luca, with 3,796 metres and 666 arches.
While a paved road leads to the sanctuary, it is also possible to reach it by walking the inside the 3.8-km-long monumental covered arcade built in 1674-1793. This was made to protect the saint’s statue as it was carried up the hill. An annual procession from San Pietro Cathedral in central Bologna to the shrine passes along this path.
It is a steep climb to the church. But you are protected from the elements. The sun and rain don’t stand a chance under the arches. You can also go by car, but you have to park before reaching the top, and the car park is small. During holidays and in summer, chances of finding space to park are slim. There is also a bus; you must walk the last part.
From the top, you have a great view of the city.
Practical information Bologna
Bologna is easily reached by train from other cities in northern Italy, such as Verona, Padova, Vicenza and Venice. You can get to Milan in an hour and fifteen minutes by high-speed train and travel to Rome in two hours.
Staying overnight in Bologna is not cheap. But deals can always be found. Check here for rooms and B&Bs. If you come as a tourist, try to book something in the old town. Then you can see everything within walking distance.
Bologna’s traffic office is located at Piazza Maggiore. Pick up a free city map, get information and buy tickets to, for example, the two towers.
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