Warning! This article has nothing to do with the horrible sandwich meat.
After fighting rush-hour congestion, some GPS misinformation, tiny crowded streets and a retail strip thronged with groups strolling on a Saturday evening – There is something immediately soothing to hear “buonasera signora”!
That is how the visit to Bologna began. Arrival on a Saturday, at the height of late-day shopping and the start of the “apero” (cocktail) time, was an adventure. However, once settled in the very centrally located Hotel Metropolitan, a city map in hand and some restaurants suggestions, we ventured out into the crowded streets. Bologna is located in Northern Italy, it is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. Bologna was called Felsina in the time of the Etuscans and later renamed Bononia under the Romans. Bologna is home to the oldest university in the world, which dates back to the 1088. Today Bologna continues to have a strong student population.
We walked the short distance along Via del l’Independenza to the famous Piazza Maggiore. This street is wide and lined with inexpensive retail stores and a mix of snack bars and fast-food chains – it is not that impressive. Piazza Maggiore is a beautiful medieval square, surrounded by several palazzos and the Basilica di San Petronio. The buildings were constructed in Romanesque and Gothic style between twelve hundred and fourteen hundred. Piazza Maggiore and the Fontana del Nettuno are beautiful during the day and at night, however the area is also very crowded (even in March). Continuing along to Piazza Galvani, the shopping moves distinctly upscale and the crowds thin out.
The next morning after some fortification from the hotel’s buffet breakfast and a decent cappuccino, it was time to explore. Bologna has a well-preserved historical centre, despite heavy bombing damage in World War II. There are old towers, churches, large squares and 37km of porticoes. This very photogenic city, make sure to take your camera along to capture changes in light and shadows along your way. The historical centre can easily be visited on foot as most of the sights are fairly concentrated together. There are countless museums that appeal to all tastes and fetishes; such as the Museum of Human Anatomy, Museum of Physics, Museum of Military Architecture etc.. Given a time constraints with only a single day we ruled out museums.
Here is a short “must-do” list:
- Piazza Maggiore – for the sheer size and bustling level of activity
- Basilica di San Petronio – although not the most beautiful, it is one of the largest of medieval construction
- Due Torri – constructed in the 12th century, there used to be 100 towers forming a defensive system – only 20 remain today. You can climb to the top of Torre degli Asinelli – the view is worth it!
- Porticoes – there are 37km of arcades offering protection from the elements and summer heat. Some of the porticoes are in better condition that others but most offer some unique photo-opportunities
- University Area – worth a walk through although it is not the biggest attraction
- Old Streets – Via Santo Stefano, Via San Vitale, Strada Maggiore – walk these streets and the small lanes in between to get a sense of Bologna ‘then and now”
- Tamburini – a classic Bologna deli, restaurant and cafe – to get a taste for typical Bolognese ingredients
- Cafe Zanarini – lively cocktail scene and great coffee
- View from San Luca – located at the top of a hill, this cathedral is joined to the old town by a long series of 666 porticoes (we suggest you drive up the hill)
Bologna is well-known as a city with a strong culinary reputation. This is not light cuisine; there is a heavy focus on meat, cheese and pasta. There is a near addiction to cured pork meat; such as prosciutto, salami and mortadella. Pasta comes in every variety, with the ragù alla bolognese as the most famous. The local region is also well-known for Parmesan cheese, Modena balsamic vinegar and of course some great wines.
So an early morning visit to the Mercato delle Erbe is a treat for foodies. This indoor market is easily missed, the signage is far from obvious, and the building is setback from the bustling Via Ugo Bassi, a retail and fast-food strip. Once you find the enter market you know immediately that you are in another world; the smells are fresh, the variety of colours inviting and there is a sense that you really are closer to the source of your food. There are about 70 stalls; the centre core of the market is mostly dedicated to fruit and vegetables. The outer walls and two wings are where you find more of the specialty items; cheeses, pastas, cured meats, bread, fish, meat etc. If you decide to go to the market check the hours, as it is “generally” open early morning, early evening and closed Sundays (although there is some flexibility in the schedule).
Bologna is a city that is worth visiting and ideally with more time than we allowed.