Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Visit to Bologna, Italy

Bologna is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy known primarily for its cuisine… Spaghetti Bolognese anyone? Though the food is incredible, Italy's 7th largest city has a lot more to offer…. Once known for its towers, Bologna is a very old city with a fascinating history. Home to the oldest continuously operating university in the world founded in 1088, the city provides a wealth of culture and history alongside modern shopping and amenities for the perfect holiday.

Markets & Food Stores

If food is your thing, you will be in heaven in Bologna! It seems that everywhere you turn there's a market or a little shop selling delicious charcuterie, fresh produce, bread warm from the oven or pasta in every imaginable shape & size. It's impossible to ignore and for some, rather difficult to resist coming home with a few things.

Due Torri - The Two Towers

It is believed that between the 12th & 13th centuries, there may have been up to 180 towers in the city of Bologna. Only 21 towers remain today, the most famous of which are known simply as The Two Towers, believed to have been constructed between 1109 and 1119The tallest of the two is the Asinelli Tower, which is open to the public. For €3, you can climb to the top of this structure for the most incredible view of the city. The shorter, more leaning tower is called Garisenda.

The Asinelli Tower
At the top of the Asinelli Tower

A view of the Garisenda Tower from the top of the Asinelli Tower
A view from the top...
Bologna has three nicknames and each one seems quite fitting: The Red One, The Fat One and The Learned One. The beautiful red color of The Red One can be seen from the top of the Asinelli Tower for those who are brave enough to make it to the top. I'm fine with admitting that it took me two tries - I freaked out half-way up the first time and made it the second time with quite shaky legs. It's rather daunting and scary for those with a fear of heights, but if you can make it, it is totally worth it. 498 wooden, worn, crooked, sometimes wobbly steps wind inside the tower to the top. I'd recommend bringing a bottle of water and wearing comfortable, non-slip shoes. While it may not seem like it, many people bring their children, so if you're little ones are brave, they can join you on the climb.

 Piazzas in Bologna

A prominent feature in many Italian cities, piazzas are all over Bologna and seem to be where locals congregate at all times during the day for meals or picnics, drinks or just catching up. It's amazing to see so many people having congenial conversations surrounded by such incredible scenery. Often there are musicians playing in the piazzas of Bologna and while I was there I enjoyed everything from jazz to bluegrass, including a brass band that played film theme songs.

Most notable in Bologna is the Piazza Maggiore and it's nearby Piazza Nettuno. This is the center of the city and standing in the middle of the Piazza Maggiore is breathtaking… It actually made me feel small, tiny even. At night, these two piazzas are beautifully lit and a cool place to relax after a hot day. The musicians perform, children play near the fountains and there's a real sense of community… It certainly beats sitting in front of a television all evening!

Fountain of Neptune
At the Piazza Nettuno is the Fountain of Neptune, built around 1565.

Close-up of the Fountain of Neptune

Public water fountain in the Piazza Nettune

Art installation just off the town center
Brass Band near the Piazza

Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
Inside the Madonna di San Luca
Resting on top of Colle della Guardia, a beautiful hill 300 meters above Bologna lies the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. There is a road so you could drive if you liked, but we took the daunting hike up 666 porticos and I'd venture to say it's the best way to reach the top. It's a grueling walk with lots of stairs and inclines, so anyone who's not particularly fit might want to choose a drive up the hill instead. It's advised to take some water and wear comfortable walking shoes for the climb. If you're coming from the city center, you can easily access the site by bus or taxi.

The steep porticos leading up to the Maddona di San Luca
The porticos keep you cooler than the alternative of walking in the blazing sun, however they were built to protect the icon as it's brought up the hill to the sanctuary. Every year there's a procession from the Cathedral of San Pietro to the Sanctuary. Along the porticos there are scattered icons and, for lack of a better word, shrines. As you're walking, you'll probably see many locals walking or running up and down the porticos - it seems to be rather popular with those interested in fitness in Bologna.

There isn't much in the way of food or drink at the top of the Colle della Guardia, so bringing water and a snack is advisable. Several people were having picnics when we arrived at the top and it certainly is a beautiful place to spend an hour or two enjoying the scenery in the garden.

View from the top of Colle della Guardia

The views of the city from the Madonna di San Luca are indescribable… It's worth the effort for sure!

View from the top of Colle della Guardia

View from the steps of the Madonna di San Luca
Candles at the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Candles at the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Alfonso Lombardi
Lamentation of the Dead Christ
Located in the Bologna Cathedral also known as San Pietro, is Lamentation of the Dead Christ by Alfonso Lombardi, an artist who created several works that are still present in Bologna today. The detail of the piece is incredible, with every character in the sculpture having expressive faces that convey so much emotion - it's hard not to have a response of some kind to this amazing work. It's definitely worth checking out if you're in the area. There is also an ancient tower structure within the newer tower in San Pietro that is sometimes open to the public. The climb is a bit easier and a little less scary than that of the Asinelli Tower and the views are no less spectacular. It's also amazing to stand on the glass floor and look down if you have the nerve and should you arrive at the top at the right time, you might be there when the bells ring.

Lamentation of the Dead Christ

Lamentation of the Dead Christ

Lamentation of the Dead Christ

Lamentation of the Dead Christ
Whether you're a history buff, a foodie, an adventurer or a sun-seeker, Bologna has a lot to offer. We stayed for a whole week and had plenty to do. For some, a weekend or even a day might suffice. It really depends on what you're going for and what you plan to get out of your trip. Besides being a beautiful city, the food and the people are quite possibly the greatest assets of Bologna and if you're visiting Florence or Venice, it's just a train journey away. I would definitely recommend visiting Bologna and I look forward to returning sometime in the future.

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