Things to do in Bologna: top 6 must-to-see landmarks
Etruscan city, then Celtic, Roman, then Ostrogothic, Byzantine, Lombard, then belonging to the papacy. A melting pot of civilizations, cultures and traditions that still persists today and gives to the capital of Emilia-Romagna region a peculiar charm: discover the top things to do in Bologna with Fairbnb.coop.
Things to do in Bologna: Montagnola Park
Pincio Staircase leading to Montagnola Park – Credits: Sailko / CC BY-SA
If you too are part of the many tourists who reach the center of Bologna by train, you will surely start down Via dell’Indipendenza. The latter is one of the main arteries of the tourist city heart, which runs alongside the vast Montagnola public park, considered as a family member to be simply called “La Montagnola“.
Wheelchair users can access from the entrance located in Via Irnerio, as befits an accessible tourism destination. The inner footpaths are not flat, but it is possible to roll down a part of them while breathing the local multi-ethnic atmosphere. A wonderful district which to search for holiday lettings in, with a great view of ancient trees.
La Montagnola is the largest public park in the historic center. It was born on the rubble of Galliera Gate fortress, partially destined for public use in 1662. To achieve its current appearance, we have to wait for the arrival of Napoleon, who wanted to leave a French style symbol to the city.
In 1848 the Montagnola Park was the scene of the battle to expel Austrians from Bologna, won by the forces of popular insurrection. At the end of the XIX century the monumental entrance Pincio Staircase was built.
Maggiore Square (Piazza Maggiore)
Piazza Maggiore is the main town square where the Fountain of Neptune stands out, the fourteenth-century City Hall on the west side, the sixteenth-century Palazzo dei Banchi to the east and the imposing Basilica of San Petronio with its unfinished facade to the south. Opposite side it is placed Palazzo del Podestà to complete the buildings that serve the community, starting from the 1400s when the Municipality created the square as we can see nowdays.
The medieval pavement is the original one, rather well preserved and despite the vibrations it deserves to be visited far and wide.
St. Petronius’ basilica (Basilica di San Petronio)
The unfinished south facade of the St. Petronius’ basilica
This basilica deserves a special mention for its architectural and religious importance. It is still one of the best examples of Italian Gothic. Moreover it is one of the greatest monuments in the city, as well as being the fifth largest Gothic style basilica around the world.
132 meters long, 60 meters wide, 45 meters high for the vault and a facade that culminates in 51 meters. The basilica can host about 28,000 people, embracing 4 people per square meter.
It is a wheelchair-friendly landmark, despite the inner floor has different levels among its different areas. Anyway it meets the accessible tourism expectations.
Construction began in 1390. The Guelphs, supporters of the Pope, defeated the Ghibellines, supporters of the Holy Roman Empire. The Pope ends up bricking up the old church for 60 years to divert faithfuls’ money towards the new building. The construction had been finalizing just 268 years later, with the facade unfinished due to lack of money.
The Towers: Garisenda and Asinelli
View of Garisenda Tower from the Tower of the Asinelli
The medieval towers built in Bologna during the XII and XIII centuries that have reached present day are almost 30, but the existing ones that can technically be defined as towers are 9 only.
They had a defensive function, to observe from above the possible threats outside surrounding walls. They were also built by the most important families, as a symbol of prestige.
The two most famous towers are Garisenda and Asinelli, but only the second one can be visited: 498 steps to climb its 97 meters high. Garisenda is about half the height.
There is no lift so Asinelli tower is not a true accessible tourism landmark, but it deserves a close stop to see the artisan shops at its base.
St. Stephen Church (Chiesa di Santo Stefano)
St. Stephen Church – Credits: Paolobon140 / CC BY-SA
The St. Stephen Church is a set of sacred buildings that form the best known complex of “Seven Churches”. An exciting and unique architectural combination, together with the adjoining medieval cloister and the Museum of St. Stephen.
All very ancient buildings which, even if they date back to different eras, maintain a certain stylistic homogeneity, making the complex the most interesting and best preserved Romanesque monument in Bologna.
The church is not accessible by wheelchair, but visible through an access from its cloister.
It is likely the original project dates back to V century when Bishop Petronius, after a trip to the Holy Land, wanted to reproduce the sacred places of Jerusalem in the Emilian capital. Over the years, the modification and restoration work has changed the ancient appearance, reducing the number of the original seven churches to four.
Things to do in Bologna: Four-side Middle Market (Quadrilatero e mercato di mezzo)
Bologna’s Quadrilatero – Credits: https://amilanopuoi.com
Crossing the façade of the Palazzo dei Banchi in the main square, you enter into a quadrilateral middle market district. It is so-called “Quadrilateral” due to the geometry of its Roman plant, which most of the artistic and artisan workshops are placed within.
Currently this area is still full of traditional shops, takeaways and locals where eating. You cannot say you have been to Bologna without trying the local food, which has earned it the nickname of “Bologna the fat”.
The atmosphere is exciting. The immersion in those narrow streets, full of scents, sounds and people, makes you imagine that you have gone back in time.
Wheelchair users will have to be patient to roll down those crowded alleys. It worths definitely!
Things to do in Bologna: some historical notes
Bologna owes its current name to the Celtic name of Bona.
Romans placed Bononia along the Emilia route, or Emiliana route. This will determine the crossroads between Po river Valley, Turin, Milan, Venice on one side and Tuscany with Florence, Pisa and Siena on the other one.
When Western Roman Empire collapsed, Bologna became a stronghold of the Exarchate of Ravenna belonging to the Byzantine Empire. The Lombards invaded the city. Charlemagne took it back in 786, so Bologna became part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Around 1000 AD, Bologna acquired autonomy and obtained legal and economic concessions from the empire. Hence the birth of the oldest University in Europe, which earned the nickname of “Bologna the learned” that stands to day.
The city joined other northern Italy towns against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who felt compelled to bestow Lombard League cities various political and administrative prerogatives; he refrained from appointing the podestà, recognizing the full legitimacy of the consuls appointed by the municipalities.
They had to take an oath of dedication to the emperor and receive the mandate from him. In exchange, the emperor would receive compensation and food for imperial troops and horses, in case he would come down to Italy.
The city becomes an important commercial center. Its channels allow the transit of large quantities of goods and provide energy for development of the textile industry.
Around 1300, gov power was unstable: power passed to Visconti’s, then to the Pope, then to other high-ranking Bolognese families. Between 1445 and 1506 the Bentivoglio family ruled the city and opened the flourishing period of the Renaissance.
More recent history refers to the Anglo-American bombings in 1943, which partially destroyed Bologna and its infrastructures (especially its railway station). The city was freed from Nazis in April 1945 by Polish army: hence the deep left tradition, with a vivid memory of partisan activity.
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