• Ankitha Prakash

🚶🏻‍♀️"666 " Arches to reach San Luca

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 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.

Since it is on the top of the mountain, getting there as you hike under the famous portico is always an option. Make sure you have your liquids stocked up in your backpack. Legend has it that you make a wish and reach the church on foot, your wish will come true. I'd suggest you take the hike as it is a very challenging and fun too. There are many points from where you can start your hike but the portico begins from Porta Saragozza while you can also take bus number 20 to Arco del Meloncello and start your hike from there with only 360 arches to cover. 

If you are not much of a hiker (like a few friends of mine), there is always an option of boarding the train, San Luca express. This train gives you a tour of a few notable sights in Bologna as we ascend the hill and also has an audio guide. The tickets for this ride can be bought at Piazza Maggiore and that is where it begins too. 

Another option is cycling to the top but I'd not suggest it because it is a very steep road and probably better for professional cyclists. 

The Hike:

Although, I did this a lot of times before. There was this one time when I decided to do from the beginning to the end of all the arches (Of course I made a wish!). It began with around a 20-25 minutes walk from Porta Saragozza (from the very first arch) until Arco del Meloncello. And from this point, you got to hike the rest of the arches trail until you reach the church's entrance (hilltop). On one side of the portico, you get to notice some of the beautiful views of the city while on the other side, you get to see around 15 chapels.

All along the hike, you will notice some openings as in the picture below, which you can use to sit back and relax for a water break.

Yes! That's the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara seen at a distance. You should definitely try attending the soccer matches that happen there. It is fun indeed!

You can always keep a note on which arch you are at, just by looking up at the number of the arch written for each of them. I was looking forward to see the arch numbered "666"! Yes, 187 more to go.

There is a small wall opening in between the hike where you should be stopping at, in order to get a nice picture of the city centre of Bologna. You can even see the Basilica of San Petronio and the Two Towers. In my picture I cropped to get the wall opening and the city view together but in reality there is small road that goes just beside the opening, where you can stand on the side to click some amazing panoramic pictures.

Another water break!

I could already see the dome. The last stretch of the arches.

Alright, so here I noticed the number "658" and that's the final one numbered, which got me thinking like where are the other 8?! But as you walk further until the church's entrance you see some more arches, not numbered though. So, I assumed the number should be 666 by the time we enter the church. Later after my visit, I did try to read some blogs on the same, but could not get any information. If you have something to tell me about it, then please write to me 😊

And then, I reached the entrance!

I thoroughly enjoyed this well defined hike up the hill, through the trail of arches making the longest portico in the world. I would totally recommend on doing this at least once, while you are in "Bella Bologna" 🔥