Italy seems to have a monopoly over great old cities – quaint and steeped in history – with magnificent medieval buildings bearing the testimony of architectural excellence of a bygone era. Bologna has all these characteristics and is regarded as one of the most attractive European cities. Modernity and old world charm have blended delicately in this enchanting Renaissance city. Bologna is vibrant with a large student community studying in its 1000-year old university, the oldest in Europe.
Besides the ancient university, Bologna is also renowned worldwide for two other reasons. First are the tortellinis. Don’t rush for your dictionary; these are small pasta sculptures filled with meat; absolutely delicious, and available only here. The second are the extremely tall Asinelli and Garisenda Towers; the former is like a 30-storey skyscraper.
These Towers are symbols of aristocratic power and wealth of Bolognese nobility who ruled this area eight hundred years ago. There were some 200 such Towers at that time. The number has drastically dwindled since then and twenty still exist. Asinelli and Garisenda towers are great mind-boggling sights even for us who are used to seeing modern soulless skyscrapers made in steel, glass and concrete.
The city center being within the medieval walls, Bologna offers excellent opportunities to explore it on foot. It will help you to get a bird’s eye view of the city before setting out on a walking expedition. Climb up the Asinelli Tower, also leans drunkenly like the more famous one in Pisa, located near the old Jewish Ghetto.
Bologna’s famous porticoes line its streets as if they are welcoming you with a Guards of Honor! Wander around as you please. You will even enjoy getting lost in the city’s wonderful and winding medieval streets. The profusion of cafes, restaurants and bars here will provide the energy you need to keep you going.
It is the heart of Bologna, like all piazzas are in all old Italian cities. Arteries of medieval streets lined with still lived-in majestic buildings have kept this enchanting Piazza vibrating for centuries. The majestic palazzos you see here in Romanesque and Gothic style were built between 13th and 15th centuries. Also here there is a gorgeous mid 16th century Neptune Fountain, a grand basilica and an art gallery.
Palazzo del Commune
Built between 13th and 14th centuries this magnificent palace is now being used as the Town Hall. Its façade has three major art works including one by the inimitable Michelangelo.
San Petronio Church
The church dominates the Piazza. Its architect, Antonio di Vincenco, designed it to be bigger than the St Peter’s in Rome and the foundation stone was laid it in 1390. It, however, took centuries to complete it and remained smaller than its Roman model.
The great Piazza also offers great shopping opportunities. Big designers have their outlets in the four streets that start from here. Italian clothing and leather goods are usually of high quality, but a bit expensive perhaps. Many shops give huge discounts at ‘bargain sales’ during July/August and December/January. Antiques markets in Piazza Santo Stefano and the flea market at Parco della Montagnola are very interesting.
Bologna’s large student community keeps the city’s nightlife vibrant and varied. Venues called Osterias, resembling pubs, are the favored Bolognese watering holes for centuries. One such place is Osteria del Sole serving drinks since the 15th century. Popular nightlife areas are located in the student quarter, Old Town and the streets around the obiquitous Piazza Maggiore.
Bologna has a rich culinary tradition. The rich local cuisine is heavily dependant on meats and cheese. Cured pork meat products like prosciutto, mortadella and salame are very popular.
There are many good hotels in the city, tariff ranging from 50 to 100 Euros. Browse through websites and book a room or apartment on line.
Come to this enchanting city of wonderful visual ensemble of majestic palazzi, vibrant grand Piazza, Renaissance towers and amazing arcaded porticoes. Have exotic Bolognese cuisine and delectable wines as bonus. There aren’t many places on earth like Bologna.