A break in Bologna

A break in Bologna

Bologna has been called the “learned one“, the “fat one” and the “red one” but the turred capital city of Emilia is valued above all for being a metropolis “on a human scale”, a feature that does not elude even a passing tourist.

The University

It is true, there is the university. A thousandyear old institution that has drawn hosts od students and intellectuals to the city through the centuries and that has even left its mark on the architecture. An example? The incredible development of the porticoes (38 kilometres in the city centre and a further 15 km outside the ancient city walls, a national record) seems to have been due to the need to expand the overhanging dwellings outwards in order to house university students studying away from home.

The Food

And then there is the food: who in the world does not know tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce, tortellini or mortadella, known in many places simply as “Bologna” sausage?

Bologna Red

Then there are the towers, squares and palaces in the city centre: what sticks in the tourist’s memory. More that a single building, are the thousand nuances of “Bologna red”, the colour that envelops the walls, plaster and roofs of houses like a cloak.

Quality of life

But Bologna has always been known and, above all loved, for its quality of life: widespread architectural beauty, but as the same time concentrated in a historical centre seemingly created for pedestrians and that remains outside the mass tourist trail. The food and wine delicacies on sale in shops or to be tasted in traditional restaurants, the thousands of things to do, green areas – large parks but also small hidden gardens – and a populations of a friendly people, who are easy to chat to, maybe in an Osteria over a glass of good wine.

There are the thinds that even a passing tourist, “parked” in the city for a few hours, cant’t fail to perceive. The opportunities for a gratufying, but short, visit are manifold: below we have suggested some typical itineraries in the city centre lasting 2-4 hours, to be chosen according to your own inclination. Obviously without forgetting the chance to opt for a complete meal, flight times permitting!

The "Quadrilateral"

Rizzoli, Castiglione, Farini and the archiginnasio portico: if you want to exploit a lightning visit to Bologna to go shopping, these are the streets to look out for on the map. They are the boundaries of the “Quadrilateral“, the area that in the past centuries housed artisan shops and merchants (hence the name of certain street: via delle Calzolerie or Cobblers street, via degli Orefici or Goldsmiths street, etc.) and where there is currently the highest percentage of clothes shops and luxury bars in the city. 

You are spoilt for choice: you can swipe your credit card in the boutiques of great international designers, concentrated near Galleria Cavour, and perhaps take a break at the Zanarini cafè, the traditional salotto or “drawing room” of the upper middle class (on the corner of via Farini and Pavaglione).

Or taste the specialities: you could begin with bread from Atti (in via Caprarie), then go to tortellini and mortadella from Tamburini (in the same street).

Turn left into via Drapperie, you come across a myriad of stalls and shops selling fish, fruit and vegetables, flowers, sweets, meat and cured meats that make up the real beating heart of the local market full of colours and smells that has always been the “Quadrilateral”.

The "Sala Borsa"

If you are at all hungry, you can grab something at the Coop Ambassadori bookshop (entrance via Orefici), where you can find an interesting place to eat, run by the Eataly chain. 

But if you prefer to read a newspaper, flick through a magazine or read a book in your native language while sitting in a comfortable armchair, then the best place is the Sala Borsa (Stock Exchange) that rises in the city centre, in Piazza Re Enzo, behind the famous fountain of Neptune. It is the multimedia civic library and owes its name to the fact that the main room was used for commercial transactions at the beginning of the 1900s. Access is free during opening hours. For non-residents, some services are unavailable. (e.g. Internet access, book, DVD or CD loans), however it is possible to consult the vaste range in the catalogue at the numerous computerised workstations. Without forgetting that the Sala Borsa often hosts interesting photographic exhibitions and has a cafeteria.


The "Archiginnasio"

For the more curious bibliophiles who would like to consult old book, drawings and prints, the best place is the Archiginnasio civic library, in the street of the same name, which was the site of the university until 1803. Sitting at large wooden tables in silence except for the sound of turning pages, you can experience the pleasure of feeling like a student of the Alma mater studiorum for a few hours, founded in 1088.

But a visit to the Archiginnasio is also recommended for art enthusiasts, inasmuch as the building is one of the richest in the whole city for history and precious relics. Built around the middle of the 1500s, it was bombed during the Second World War but has recently been restored to its ancient splendour.

As well as the above-mentioned library, the Archiginnasio houses the splendid Anatomical Room, where generations of doctors were trained. The room is completely faced with inlaid wood and in the centre there is the white marble dissecting table, where corpes were laid out for anatomy lessons.

Wooden sculptures embellish the complex together with busts of great doctors from antiquity.

On the panelled ceiling Apollo is portrayed surrounded by 14 constellations, each one is attributed with powers of protection for as many parts of human body. 

The Stabat Mater room is also worth a visit, where the composer Gioacchino Rossini held his first opera, as well as the internal courtyard where concerts and conferences are organized during the summer.

Santa Maria della Vita

At this point, a visit to the near by church of Santa Maria della Vita is a must (via Clavature, inside the “Quadrilateral”), where the famous “Lamentation over the dead Christ” by Niccolo’ dell’Arca is kept, perhaps the most important Renaissance sculpture in terracotta.

International Museum of Music

Just as stimulating is the route that unravels the two Towers along the elegant Strada Maggiore. 

Here, at number 34, you will find the International Museum of Music, with a rich collection of librettos ahd historical instruments, amog them Vito Trasuntino’s omnitonum harpsichord with five keyboards (1606). 

But perhaps the most curious exhibit in the whole display is the class test written by the teenage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1770, when he sat the exam for the prestigious meeting at the Accademia Filarmonica in Bologna.

Mozart, the genius from Salzburg, had to transcribe the schema of a Gregorian chant, but his paper, full of mistakes, was secretly substituted with the one written by Father Martini, an esteemed member of the Accademy and the young Austrian tallent’s counterpoint master. The museum still has Mozart’s original creased copy.

The Sanguinetti Palace, the site of Museum of Music, also houses one of the most interesting internal courtyards in the city and, being in Strada Maggiore, you are handy for the “hidden” gardens in the Garagnani Palace (number 22) and the Hercolani Palace (number 45).

City of Water

But until the not too distant past, Bologna was above all a city of water, marked by a dense network of canals: The Reno, Navile, Aposa and Savena canals were used to transport goods, dispose of refuse, wash clothes and turn mills.

Today, after massive renovation in the city centre at the beginning of the 1900s, the canals mainly flow underground, although they are still navigable. Do not expect a romantic trip on a gondola, but rather mini-rafting in a dinghy. For information contact the tourist information office (IAT) in Bologna Marconi Airport or in Podestà Palace (Piazza Maggiore), or some of the associations in the city who will be able to tell you when and where to board.

But if you just want to get an idea, go to via Piella and look through the narrow space of the “little window” at the Moline canal from above.

It will not be like Venice, but the surprise is assured.

Little Window

The two towers: Garisenda and Asinelli

The two towers the traditional symbol of Bologna, stand at the strategic point where the old Aemilian way entered the town. Made in masonry work, as very few other buildings at that time, they had very important military functions (signalling and defence), beside representing with their imposing heights the social prestige of noble families.

Quite recently the statue of San Petronio made by Gabriele Brunelli in 1670 was again placed under the towers.

It is the most particular church complex in Bologna, the real city sanctuary and the cradle of the Fathers’ faith.

Rose around a first fifth-century settlement, wanted by Bishop Petronio, that after would have been joint by a reproduction of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Santo Stefano stands next to the chapel with protomartyrs of Bologna Vitale and Agricola’s mortal remains, and it comprises buildings made between the X and the XIII century by the Benedectines.

Santo Stefano complex represents a symbolic rebuilding of the Passion of Christ’s places, as the ancient denomination of the complex testifies: “Sacra Hierusalem”.

The facades of Crocifisso (right), Calvario (center) ad Ss. Vitale and Agricola (left) churches stand in the beautiful square.

Fountain of Neptune

Neptune Fountain was built between 1563 and 1566 by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna.

It is a symbol of the power of the Pope: he ruled the world like Neptune ruled the seas.

At the feet of the statue there are four little angels.

They represent the rivers of the four discovered continents at that time: Ganges, Nile, Amazon River and Danube.

Sanctuary of San Luca

A traditional place of worship for the presence of an image the Virgin of St. Luca as well as reassuring visual landmark for Bolognese approaching town, the shrine located on the top of Guardia hill is one of Bologna’s symbol.

An arcade with more than 600 vaults – unique for its length covering almost four kilometres (3796 m) – connects the shrine with the town and provide a shelter for the procession which every year since 1433 has brought the Byzantine Madonna with Child to the cathedral downtown during the Ascension week.


The Stationer’s shop of “Dottour Balanzon” settled in the building of Banca Nazionale, now Banca d’Italia, which has richly frescoed vaults and windows set in decorated frames. This shop sell stationery items, pens, notebooks and registers, run by the Alcione family under the name “Al Balanzone” since 1970.

Antica Aguzzeria del Cavallo was set up in 1783 by Antonio Bernagozzi, famous for tool grinding and the sale of cold weapons. The grinding of blades took place in the backyard, with a millstone that was operated by a horse. The centuries-old family tradition has been able to match the old goods with new proposals: scissors for all kinds of uses, household objects, traditional and special knives for the kitchen, for fishing and hunting.

Via Drapperie 12/b

Atti bakery is in the namesake building, that was built by the family in 1907. Paolo Atti took over the business in 1903, from Enrico Zambelli, who was already know for the production of tortellini and “luxury pasta”. The store in Via Caprarie, where illustrious people such as Giosuè Carducci, Giorgio Morandi and Alfredo Testoni used to hang out, is internally linked to the shop in via Drapperie, the first bakery opened by the Atti family in the town.

Galleria Cavour was designed in the 50’s to recover a part of the city that was destroyed by the war. It is the first commercial gallery in Bologna, home to some famous brand name and trademarks related to the trade and manufacturing of the town. It is a traditional place for luxury shopping.

The coffee shop “La Bottega del Caffè“, owned by the Filicori Family, has specialized in its own brand for three generations. They roast coffee and sell sweets, chocolate, liquor, tea and groceries.

Felsinea Stationers has a long family tradition. It opened in Bologna in 1894 and continues to sell traditional stationery products, specializing in pens, paper, greeting cards, wedding stationery and leather wallets and briefcases.

A glimpse of typical Parisian style stands of the 20’s, brings attention to Libreria Nanni, one of the oldest bookshops of Bologna. It has become the heir of Antica Stamperia della Colomba, which became an antiquarian bookshop in the nineteenth century. Relevant to: A glimpse of typical Parisian style stands of the 20’s.

On the corner with Drapperie, where there is a plaque in memory of Father Marella, who collected money for the poor at this point, there are inviting shops and the entrance to the ancient Tamburini salsamenteria (place where cold meats and cheese are sold). Since 1932, taking over an activity that began in 1860, the family has offered traditional cold meats and cheese and culinary specialities from Bologna, from the famous tortellini to the most refined and unique recipes. There is also a tasting room.


I suggest you to search an accomodation in the city center, in this way you can visit all the atttraction on foot.

If the accomodation in the city centre are too expensive for you, I suggest you to find an accomodation near the bus stop.


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