A Perfect Day in Bologna

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Bologna is a beautiful city where you can easily spend a week. It is lesser known than its industrial brother in the West, Milano, and its sexier sister in the South, Florence (Firenze). But if you ask me, I prefer Bologna. Make sure that you wake up early today because it is going to be a fulfilling day -- and don't forget that the city winds down during the early afternoon hours.

For breakfast we are off to a perfect little bar in Via Indipendenza, named Gugliemo. The make their own blend of coffee and it is said to be the best in the city. You have probably noticed that Italian do not have large breakfasts. But they do catch up with lunch and dinner. For breakfast a cappucino and a brioche will do. (By the way, a nice little detail is that Italians do NOT drink cappucino after breakfast -- the milk is too heavy, they say -- whereas they have no problem drinking strong coffee till 10 in the evening. If you order a cappucino after dinner, expect a little snicker...). We'll get more food soon anyway.

First stop on our route is immediately the highest points in Bologna: the two towers in Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, Torre Asinelli and Torre Garisenda. The highest of the two can be climbed. Goethe did it two hundred years ago, so why don't you? From the Tower you can see beautifully that Bologna was build on the edge of the Pianura Padana (plain of the river Po) right where the Appenines start. From here you can see the magnificent church on top on a mountain, called San Luca (cf. picture on main Bologna page). (Torre Asinelli is open from 9 till 5/6, 3000 lire).

From the tower we can see in the South East direction a church complex (cf. photo), called the Church of Santo Stefano (Via Santa Stefano 24, Open Mon-Sun 9-12, 3:30-6, entrance: free). This is our next stop on our way. We should make sure to get there before 12. In fact it is not one church, but seven churches built right next to each other. It is fascinating to move from one into the other and a great game is to see if you can discover all the seven churces.

Boy, are you getting hungry. Well, it is not really lunch time yet, but the Italians have a wonderful thing called: aperitivo starting at around about 11-11:30. Walk roughly in a West, North-West direction and you will run into a some bar or another that serves this light alcoholic drink (and you can also simply take something nonalcoholic, such as a popular Sanbitter). Sometimes, you will be served little pieces of pizza, olives, chips; enough to still your most urgent hunger. It would seem nice to stick around here for a little while longer, but hey, you have only one day!

So, off we go, back into the direction of Piazza Maggiore, the center of the city with the Basilica of San Petronio and the statue of Neptune on the square (about the statue: legend has that a church official complained the Neptune's penis was too large and that the sculptor should change it; he did so reluctantly, but instead he constructed the hand of Neptune in such a way that with a certain angle of the sun it seems that he has an enormous erection). The square is nice (we can come back to it in the evening when, on a Summer's day, it will be a pleasant place to get a drink), but we want to reach Palazzo dell' Archiginnasio before 1pm. It is on Piazza Galvani 1, a little bit South of the Basilica. It was donated to the university when finally the extension of the Basilica was cancelled. (The original plans of San Petronio indicated it was going to be bigger than the Saint Peter in Rome. The Pope didn't like this idea and became involved. After a lot of political fights, the Basilica remained unfinished and smaller than the Saint Peter; and this is its current state). The building immediately east of the basilica houses the Anatomical Theatre on the second floor that you can visit (Mon-Sat 9-1, entrance free, tel. 051-236 488).

Do you want to get some cheap lunch: a traditional way to do this is buy your own bread and cheese in one of the little streets that run East from Piazza Maggiore near the Palazzo dell' Archiginnasio. Then bring your food to a very old little restaurant, called Osteria del Sole. It is open only for lunch and it hasn't changed for 400 hundred years. The owner only expects you to buy something to drink and you just sit down at one of the tables and eat your food (he doesn't serve any); Old Bolognese man and people from some of the shops around come here every day for lunch. This is as close as you can get to the locals. (Vicolo de' Ranocchi 1, Open Mon-Sat 12-2, 6-9, closed Sun and Aug, but varies; Probably the oldest Osteria in Italy).

As you will notice quickly, life in the city quickly winds down after 1pm. Suddenly you notice that all the Bolognese have gone home for "pranzo" (lunch), and that only the foreigners are left on the street. Do not worry, now that the shops are closed we can still do a lot of other things.

Today we go for a look at Bologna's past. To prepare ourselves we quickly go to Medieval Museum that on weekdays closes at 2pm (Museo Civico Medievale, Via Manzoni 4, tel. 051-203 930, 9am-2pm Mon, Wed-Fri, 9am-1pm & 3:30pm-7pm Sat-Sun, closed Tuesday). This museum is interesting and not too big. The basement houses some University history. The rest includes illuminated manuscripts, arms, ivories, glass and bronzes. The building itself, the 15th century Palazzo Ghisilardi, includes 10th and 12th century predecessors.

If you are still hungry, you can go for a good slice of pizza at Spizzico on Via Rizzoli 1/2d (closed on Mondays, tel. 051-223 601; Via Rizzoli is the street that runs between the two towers and Piazza Maggiore). Bologna is in many ways a medieval city. It grew up around the University that is the oldest, still existing university in the world (founded in 988). The University occupies the whole North West part of the inner city. From the two towers we can walk on Via Zamboni to Piazza Verdi straight into the university district. Piazza Verdi is also a good place to keep in mind for cheap food for lunch, since it is frequented by students. (Piazza Verdi is a bit infamous at night; constant police presence suggests that you'd better pay a bit of attention) On the way to Piazza Verdi on Via Zamboni, in Piazza Rossini, we pass by the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, a Romanesque structure begun in 1267 and expanded ever since then. The church is worth while to visit to see the Bentivoglio Chapel. It was funded by the Bentivoglio family who had won a local feud in 1488 and who had themselves painted into the frescoes by Lorenzo Costa

Bologna had the additional advantage that it was located along a small river, Il Reno (Italian also call the Rhine, the long river that runs through Europe, by that name, but this one is a contributory of the river Po). If you wonder where the river is today, then the answer is: below the city. The city has simply been build on top of the river and only on a few places you can still see it flow. One place is here we are walking to now. From Piazza Verdi you take Via de' Castagnoli West to Via A. Righi. Before you hit Via Indipendenza, you turn left on Via Piella for just some 30 meters. In the wall on your right you will see a window with a little wooden door. If you open the window (yes, you can, but be sure to close it), you can see a little hidden gem of Bologna: the hidden river Reno. Only very few people know about this and you can make yourself quite popular by showing this to other people.

Ah, you are still not saturated with museums and it is still early in the afternoon? Well, there are several choices:

Museo Ducati, Via Cavalieri Ducati 3, tel. 051-641.32.59 (Open 10am-5pm Sun-Thu, 10am-3:30pm Fri). For the lovers of the Ducati motercycles. Besides photos and films, there is also the real thing; and more than one! The museum is located outside the center of the city to the west on the continuation of Via S. Felice.

Museo Morandi, Palazzo D'Accursio, Piazza Maggiore 6, tel. 051-203 332 (Open 10am-6pm Tue-Sun, Monday Closed). This museum houses the largest collection of works by Giorgio Morandi, who was from Bologna. The reconstruction of the painter's studio, his library and his collection of antique art brings the artist and his art to life. The museum is very centrally located on Piazza Maggiore. The same palazzo also houses the Collezioni Comunali d'Arte (same address and opening hours as Museo Morandi, tel. 051-203 526), which is a rich heritage of furnishings and paintings from the 14th to the 19th century.

Or if it is just too warm, why don't you bring a book and walk on Via Castiglione to Giardini Margherita, a public park where you can spend some hours enjoying "il dolce far niente" (the pleasure of doing nothing). On the way, in Via Castiglione, just after going underneath an arch, you'll pass by a locally favorite gelateria La Cremeria. Try the ice cream here!

After the warmest hours of the day are gone, shops reopen in Bologna around 3:30pm-4pm. You can either go for a shopping spree (lots of great sales in August) or visit some more cultural things. I'll try keeping it light, so therefore make you're pick among the following two things. Since we are coming up from Giardini Margherita in the South, we can first stop by in the church of San Domenico, a marvellous church built in 1251 to house the relics of Saint Dominic, which were placed in the so-called Arca di San Domenico, a work by Nicola Pisano, but also a young Michelangelo helped out, as did Nicola dell'Arca, who was responsible for the canopy through which he deserved his name. Going further North in a little street, Via Clavature, off Piazza Maggiore to the East you could also choose to visit one of my favorites, the church of Santa Maria della Vita with the outstanding pieta' by Nicolo' dell'Arca. Spend L 500 to have the amazingly lively scene lit!

All this walking has made you quite thirsty and it is already 5:30pm, so why not go to have a nice cold beer in the Irish Pub, The Cluricaune, in Via Zamboni 18/5 that runs North East from the square with the two towers, Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. From 4pm to 8:30pm they have a happy hour with cheap Irish beer, from Harp to Guiness.

Evening has arrived and time has come to put something substantial in our stomach. If you would like to eat something very traditional Bolognese in a place practically made for tourists, you can try the slightly pricy restaurant Diana half way on Via Indipendenza. However, if you'd like to go for something more local, try the little Osteria Farfalla on Via Bertiera just off Via Indipendenza. In general, osterie are perfect places to get a bite to eat and a link to the list of recommended restaurants can be found on this page. Remember that Bologna is famous for good food and that trying out an osteria by yourself without a fancy menu or decor could be a very pleasant surprise.

December 23, 2004 change by giorgio

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