Always one to jump at the chance of experiencing a new city, especially an Italian one we decided to stay over in Bologna for one night on our way south to Puglia.
First impressions of the city are of a busy, university city with history at every corner. There is a real authentic Italian feel here more so then your usual Italian tourist spots. A very affordable city for a short break Lonely Planet have named a visit to Bologna as one of it’s top things to do in Italy.
What to see and do
- Go for a stroll
Drop the bags and head out for a walk among the streets to help you to get a feel for the city. So pack your most comfy shoes as you’ll find yourself enjoying relaxing walks through the twisted streets. Rain or shine you are sorted as Bologna is one long covered portico. These link the majority of the streets and shade the lucky tourists. Known for its porticoes it is hard not to appreciate them. A booming city due to its thriving university, it needed extra housing to accommodate all of these students. Instead of building outside of the city they built onto the front of existing buildings into the streets. This was allowed as long as they were wide enough and high enough to allow for horse carts to pass. This lead to the 45km of archways seen today throughout the city.
- Two Towers- le Due Torri
Bologna famous for its towers, once had 180 towers spread throughout the city. Having been used for both military and prestigious aims they were a symbols of the families power and wealth. Today only a couple of these towers survive. One of the most iconic activities in Bologna is to climb the Asinelli tower along with the Garisenda (they were temporarily connected to each other in the 14th century) that rises beside it which have stood in the heart of Bologna for centuries. Built from 1109 and 1119 by the Asinelli family, it served as a defensive lookout.
Unfortunately when we visited this year the Asinelli and its 48 steps climb was closed due to renovations to straighten its access and stairs. A symbol of the city it offers you an amazing chance to see the red rooftops of the city and surrounding area. I loved walking around the city and seeing the towers and finding it peaking out from different angles of the buildings surrounding it. Before you would have seen queues to access the climb however now you must book tickets in advance at €5 or €3 for reduced rates.
- Neptune’s Fountain
Neptune’s Fountain was designed by the Palermo architect Tommaso Laureti in 1560s. Almost four meters tall the fountain was given to the people of Bologna by Pope Pius IV. Like the towers Neptune was under renovation when we visited however he is expected to be free from his scaffolding in September 2017.
- Basilica of San Petronio
The main plaza of Bologna is Piazza Construction started on the church in 1390 the church isn’t actually finished as you can see from the front it was halted by the Pope of all people. The front facade has red and white marble where as the top half is just plain bricks. Planned to be the largest church in the world the Vatican put a stop to this once they found out. One of the world’s largest churches it took centuries to build. It is only when you enter the church (for free) you appreciate the actual size of it.
- Pay a visit to the QuadrilateroMarkets can often be the most unexpected delights of a city and the Quadilatero certainly provides this. An excellent place to wander around this warren of back streets truly has the essence of an Italian city. From the noise and smells to the language and locals. It is something you can’t really explain. The atmosphere is wonderful here and comes alive at different times of the day. Even for a non foodie its hard not to get excited about all of the huslte and bustle that is part of the whole experience.
- Visit Archiginnasio
This is the first seat of the University of Bologna which is the oldest university in the world. A beautiful building on the outside but even more wonderful inside. Wonderful frescoes on the walls as far as you can see. There is a real sense if the age of the university. From the large hall you can get a glimpse of endless rows of books that are shelved into the distance. One of the most fascinating rooms of the building is the anatomical theater or Teatro Anatomico. This was where bodies were dissected to teach students about human anatomy. Due to an obvious lack of refrigerators back then the bodies had to be freshly dissected as the students watched from the sides.
Keep an eye out for the coats of arms of students and professors that adorn the walls. There are apparently over 6,000.
- Bologna’s hidden canals
Venice isn’t the only Italian with canals you know. Not an obvious sight unless you know about it or accidentally come across it but if you head to via Piella keep an eye out for a small window on the wall. Peak though and you will find the Canale delle Moline, proof of Bologna old water ways and almost 60km of hidden waterways. The colourful houses beside the canal only make it all the prettier.
- Enjoy an aperitivo
I am sure after a long day of pacing the city and sightseeing a bit of food is more then welcome. One of my favourite Italian dining habits is the aperitivo hour. Choose a bar…order a drink…and you automatically allowed to eat from their varying buffet selections of bites and nibbles to accompany your well earned prosecco, aperol spritz or in my case cool peroni. As long as you kept a full glass, you could keep on eating.