• Ankitha Prakash

Beauty of Bologna: Bologna, Italy, 2015-18

This city has given me memories which are very close to my heart as it was my home for 3 years. I could write a book on it but I'd prefer to give you a touristic perspective of this city. I came here for my masters in Civil Engineering at the prestigious University of Bologna and fell in love with it eventually. Once you stay in Bologna, you understand how the city revolves around what Italy really stands for. Bologna has a rich history and it did rub a bit of that onto me as well. Although Bologna does not attract a lot of tourism, it still has many sights which would take you back in time. Also let me tell you that I found the bolognese are extremely attached to their city emotionally and take pride in its beauty.

So it's time to tell you about the various tourist spots in Bologna!! 

📍 Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

Being in the city and not visiting this "Symbol of Bologna" is definitely not happening! Sitting atop the Monte della Guardia is the Sanctuary of the blessed virgin of San Luca or St. Luke, a basilica church which is often considered as the symbol of Bologna. The church was completed by the mid 18th century after its construction began in the late 12th century. Legend has it that relic of the blessed virgin with infant Jesus was painted by evangelist Luke himself and hence the name, San Luca. The portico with 666 arches, leading to the hilltop, is quite a sight spanning 3.8 kilometres in length is the longest in the world.

There are stories associated with the number of arches as 666 symbolizes the Devil and the shape in which the porticos were constructed also formed the shape of a snake. However, the roof depicts the holy virgin who is the protector of the pilgrims from the attack of evil. When you get to the top and look at the view, you will feel all your efforts have paid off since it is so relaxing. To read more on how to get there, do read my other blog in the hiking section!

This was the first thing I have seen the very next day I landed in Bologna and could definitely feel the warmth of the city from the hilltop!

I have been blessed with good friends in Bologna and two of them were Gloria and Francesca. Francesca (Fra) was from Bologna and we got a major share of information about this beautiful city from her. One day (almost a month after the semester starting at the University), I was in a deep conversation with both of them on sharing some memories about my first visit to Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. And that's when Fra decides to show Glo and me around the city, like a "local". Even though the tour was for a day, I will be writing about all the places we went eventually in all the years I stayed at Bologna (also with my other friends). After the tour, I felt that I wouldn't find a better guide than her. If you are thinking how can you find a friend like Fra when you visit the place for a few days as a tourist 😜, for that I would suggest the website "Bologna Welcome" for some amazing tour itineraries they have.

📍 Piazza Santo Stefano: Basilica di Santo Stefano

Piazza Santo Stefano also known as Piazza delle Sette Chiese (Seven churches square) is a piazza (a square) of Bologna, Italy. It is a pedestrian zone, in a triangular space near the beginning of Via Santo Stefano, both of which are named after the Basilica of Santo Stefano which is located on the piazza.The square is famous for its cultural events, flea-markets and the concerts.

We started off the tour by having a sip of coffee at this famous pastry shop, Bar Pasticceria Santo Stefano located in Piazza Santo Stefano. Of course with some pastries as they are my favourite.

The next plan was to discover some of the secrets of bologna!

📍 La Piccola Venezia or The Little Venice

Piccola Venezia is a window that takes you into the past of Bologna. Bologna too had canals and these were covered with roads and buildings while these channels got lost under them. So this secret window or 'Canal Window' at Via Piella gives you a glimpse of one of the few remaining sections of the historic canals.

📍 La Tre Frecce or The Three Arrows

Bologna is also called the city of porticoes for it has many impressive porticoes in the city and the one at Strada Maggiore is a fine example of that. The high wooden oak beams supporting the Casa Isolani, a civil home of the middle ages is a fine example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture of Bologna. You'll find tourists often staring upward as though they are in search of something. Legend has it that three assassins were hired to execute a nobleman who was supposed to pass from there. They were distracted by a naked woman on the opposite side and ended up shooting the arrows into the ceiling. Try to spot them, its fun!

Time for a small gelato break!

📍 Cremeria Funivia (Ice cream shop)

There is a place which sells heavenly gelatos, Cremeria Funivia near Via Porrettana and if you are new here, you should try either Alice or San Luca flavor (I had both 😁 ). From the time Fra introduced me to this place, I turned out as a huge addict! There is usually a very long line in summers as it is the first place that any local would suggest and it is also worth the wait. 

📍 Archiginnasio of Bologna

Now let's talk about the oldest university in the world. Yes, University of Bologna! Established 932 years ago in the year 1088 by an organized guild of students, it is one most prestigious Italian universities and leading academic institutions in Europe. 

The Archiginnasio of Bologna is one of the most important buildings of Bologna and it was once the main building of the University of Bologna. Legend says that this building was built under the orders of Pope Pius IV to divert the plans of making Basilica of Petronio the largest church in the world. However, The Archiginnasio was built to host all the schools of various trades to be under one roof and this was called Studium, like the way it was called in the beginning. Do take a tour around this building as you admire the sandstone arches.

Make sure you visit the Anatomical Theater at the upper level where anatomy was taught. It's in the shape of an amphitheatre so that students could get a good view of the specimen. 

📍 Basilica di San Petronio

The Basilica di San Petronio at Piazza Maggiore is the most important and famous church in Bologna. It is the fourth largest church in Italy and it also takes up a major part of the piazza. The church is dedicated to St. Petronius who was a patron of Bologna and also its bishop in the fifth century.

Due to its university (University of Bologna), Bologna was one of the richest and important cities in Europe. The coronation of Charles V who was the Holy Roman Emperor in 1530 took place here. And therefore, they decided to design San Petronio to be the largest in the world.

But, when you look at the church you can notice that it is unfinished because half of its facade is in marble and the rest is constructed with bricks. This happened due to prolonged discussions about architectural styles and financial problems. The original design of the church shows that the church was going to be the largest in the world, even larger than the St. Peters Basilica in Vatican. The then pope, Pope Pius IV halted this for obvious reasons, that's because it would take away the fame of St. Peters Basilica.

The organs present in this church are the most ancient ones in Italy and work even now. The one on the right side of the altar is the oldest in the world and dates back to the mid 15th century.  Make sure you do visit this church as it is an integral part of Bologna.

📍 The Fountain of Neptune

The Fountain of Neptune was erected in Bologna's Piazza Maggiore. The then pope, Pope Pius IV decided to give Bologna something it never had before, a water fountain. The truth is that the pope wanted to mark his arrival and show who is in charge, therefore he got the monument built in such a way that it symbolizes his power. The god of seas, Neptune and the ruler of the world, Pope Pius IV. It is a common meeting point for many students and locals and when you're here, you can see many street performances which are mainly inclined towards music.

It is said that for students of the University of Bologna to pass an important exam, they have to take two rounds of the fountain in an anti-clockwise direction. The trident in the left hand of Neptune is the basis of the famous luxury sports car company Maserati that was founded in Bologna in 1914. 

📍 Le Due Torri or The Two Towers (Garisenda e degli Asinelli)

Le Due Torri or the two towers have been an integral part of Bologna for the past 900 years and it is often a symbol of pride for the people of Bologna. Asinelli (The longer one) and Garisenda are the names of the towers. I would not bore you with its history here but I would surely suggest you get on top of it and enjoy the mesmerizing view of Bologna.

The two towers can be seen from various points in the city and it looks as though they are here and looking over us and assuring the people of Bologna that the city is safe under their watch (emotional but true). Legend has it that if you ascend this tower before you graduate, you are likely not going to get your degree. So if you are superstitious (like me 😁) I'd suggest you wait till you graduate. 

📍 Tombe dei Glossatori or Graves of the Glossatori

Graves of the Glossatori in Piazza Malpighi are the remains of the first and most important teachers of the University of Bologna. These graves are not just normal ones, but they are elevated and given a roof in the form of a pyramid. The pedestal signifies that these graves are meant to be seen by everyone and respect the teaching profession. Bologna is the only city in the world that has put its teachers at the pinnacle by building these great graves for them.

I still remember when Gloria showed these tombs to me and said, "This is Bologna". So when you are here, admire how much emphasis was given to education in Bologna (this is a matter of pride!!). 

📍 Piazza Maggiore (New Year's Eve in Bologna)

If you happen to be in Bologna during the new year, the best place to be is, yes, you guessed it right, Piazza Maggiore!! Try to be here before 10 PM as there is a limit of people that can be allowed. Do not expect fireworks as we would not risk the roofs of any of the buildings to catch fire as many of them have wood in them. You could always enjoy the light shows before the main ceremony. The main ceremony is called "Burning the Old Man", where at the stroke of midnight, the puppet of an old man or Vechhione is burned to signify the passing of the previous year. It also means to burn your past and get ready for a new beginning. 

📍 Unipol Arena

As a teenager when I used to watch Triple H fight in the ring, I always wanted to be there in the crowd enjoying the atmosphere in Unipol Arena. A decade later that dream came true in a different way though but still beautiful. I got to attend the concert of Enrique Iglesias and when seeing Enrique sing so close to me is something I'd never forget. If you guys ever want to attend a concert while in Bologna and if Unipol Arena is the venue, just attend it guys!!

Exploring hilltops around Bologna

📍 San Michele in Bosco

Although the church has got a lot of history, I and my friends went there to enjoy the view. When you get to the top of the hill you will see some of the most picturesque views of Bologna and during the night times, the sky looks much more beautiful from up here. The stars light up the sky beautifully and gazing at them would make you forget the world. In fact, I was lucky enough to spot a shooting star while star-gazing.

📍 Sasso Marconi

Sasso Marconi is one of the places where you could go to enjoy the hillside. A short hike to Prati di Mugnano is worth taking as it promises a good view and a possibility of having a barbeque. I would also suggest you visit the Museum of Guglielmo Marconi, founder of wireless communication at Villa Griffone. This used to be the residence of Marconi himself and in the museum, you can find a detailed description of the events that marked his experiments. 

The Food in Bologna (Information Credits: Francesca Calligola)

Bologna being Italy's food capital, this section requires a main focus!

Bolognesi or the people of Bologna are very selective and orthodox when it comes to food. My friend Francesca is a valid proof of that as she taught and showed me how to dine like an Italian in Bologna!!

Let me begin by telling you about the pasta here. Tortellini is the typical pasta of Bologna and the most famous one. It is a kind of pasta that has a filling in it (Oh my mouth waters just with the nostalgia associated to it!!). The fillings can be of many types but the one associated with Bologna has pork and mortadella (ground heat-cured pork) which is usually eaten with broth. There are a lot of restaurants that offer this but if you want to grab something quick for a bite, I'd suggest Sfogliarina in via Castiglione. You could also have Tagliatelle al Ragu and Tagliatelle is made of pasta with eggs (the original recipe!!!), so please do not get confused and end up eating spaghetti alla Bolognese (it's like committing adultery for 😁). Let me give you a suggestion here, whenever you come across an Italian restaurant which says, Spaghetti with meatballs in its menu, please, do, not, eat, there (It is not at all Italian and is an Americanized version). Make sure you try the lasagna along with salsa Bolognese (another original dish from our beloved Bologna). I have tried it in Ristorante Osteria La Traviata located in via urbana (again Fra took Gloria and me there!) and must say that I enjoyed my first ever authentic lasagna!!!

Coming to the dolce (cakes and desserts) section, I loved everything everywhere in Bologna!

 I remained a huge huge fan of the dessert shop, "Pasticceria Bombocrep Bombo Due" located in via san felice. If you ever wanted to pamper your sweet tooth and were looking for a place, this is it! The staff here is very friendly and would give you recommendations too and don't worry, they would taste yum no matter what!! It is open until late night and the Bomboloni with crema pasticcera remains MY ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE!!! You could also try some crepes stuffed with nutella and strawberry toppings! Ahhhhh, I miss BOLOGNA!!

I would also strongly suggest you to eat at Impero in Via dell'Indipendenza, Pasticceria Neri in via saragozza and Pappare in Via De' Giudei. The ice cream shops, like mentioned before, Cremeria Funivia is my favourite but you can find many good stores in the city.

There are a lot of aperitifs you could go and enjoy some typical Italian food. One such is lab16 but I'd suggest that you try the local ones on the street of Piazza Maggiore as you could get to eat some local affettati (pre-cooked luncheon meat) and tigelle (a sort of bread made in Bologna).

One last thing out of the hundreds of things I learnt here, I would say one has to learn how to BOIL pasta after spending so much time in Italy. I learnt it the hard way after a lot of ruined pasta dishes. Even though I used to get the sauce right, there was always a sense of dissatisfaction since it did not taste like my friend Francesca's pasta. I couldn't resist and ended up asking her. She told me that my method of boiling the pasta was wrong. Being Indian we are used to boiling rice along with water and applied the same to pasta as well. This is when I learnt that water has to be boiled BEFORE and once it starts boiling, you can add your pasta and let it be in there for the amount of time written on the pasta cover. If you ever have a conversation with an Italian regarding pasta, at least you won't be embarrassed like me 😁. This blog is pretty much condensed as I have written everything in a tourist point of view (I tried 😁) but I hope you had fun reading.