Art & culture
European Culture Capital in the year 2000 and UNESCO City of Music in 2006, Bologna has another claim to fame: the oldest university in the Western world, Alma Mater Studiorum.
This journey of discovery begins at Già Baglioni Grand Hotel Majestic and specifically from its new 800 & 900 rooms where a varied buffet breakfast awaits you every day to the tune of gentle music, adjoining the original Winter Garden, whose name derives from its characteristic early 20th century Trompe l’oeil and a solarium roof open in the warmer months.
From Già Baglioni you are in Piazza Maggiore in a few minutes, the meeting place par excellence for the people of Bologna, aptly named ‘Bologna’s living room’ with its beautiful Fontana del Nettuno.
In addition to this statue of the Greek god Neptune the square also contains some of the Romagna capital’s most important historic palaces: Palazzo d’Accursio or Comunale, Palazzo dei Banchi and, in the middle, Palazzo del Podestà, seat of the first town hall and built especially for this purpose, it still contains various local government offices.
Our first stop in this journey through Bologna’s beauties is inside Palazzo d’Accursio which contains Biblioteca Salaborsa with transparent flooring giving visitors a glimpse of archaeological remains belonging to various civilisations and including Basilica Civile di Bononia. Moving on to adjoining Piazza Maggiore takes us to one of the largest churches in the world and Bologna’s main church, Basilica di San Petronio.
Here, in addition to visiting the Basilica, immerse yourself in Ancient Egyptian culture at the Museo Civico Archaeologico with its around 35,000 artefacts, one of the largest Egyptian collections in Europe. It also holds finds from other periods including Greek and Italic-Etruscan, underlining the city’s multi-ethnic character.
Another townhouse worth visiting is Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, seat of the town library and built at the behest of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo in 1560 which, with its portico, is one of Bologna’s most attractive historic buildings. You’ll be enchanted by the profusion of frescoes on the walls, all preserved in the finest detail. Sala dello Stabat Mater’s frescoes and marvellous decorations are spectacular and the building also contains the not-to-be-missed Teatro Anatomico built entirely in spruce wood and venue for anatomy lessons in the 1600s. Next door to Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio you’ll find the perfect place for relaxation and leisure after lunch - Galleria Cavour, luxury shopping centre since 1959. With thirty or so shops selling the most exclusive fashion, jewellery, watch, beauty, car and furniture products and services.
When you have finished with the shopping centre, continue on Via Farini, site of a truly singular church, Basilica Santo Stefano. Its history is a truly curious one. Built on an ancient pagan temple, it was intended to be a copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and for this reason it was continually enlarged over the years with a grand total of seven different churches.
Today only four of the original seven churches have survived, including the oldest and, it is believed, closest copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which was built according to information brought back by the crusading knights and to the same proportions and forms. Continuing our tour of this magnificent city we continue along Via Santo Stefano to Bologna’s symbol monuments:
Torre Garisenda and Torre degli Asinelli. Bologna is the city of towers. In the past there were around one hundred but only 24 have survived. You cannot claim to have seen all Bologna’s attractions and appreciated the city’s appeal without having climbed at least one of its two most famous towers.
The history of these two towers is a curious one. The first, Torre Garisenda, was the city’s tallest but its increasingly tilt led to its being shortened and this is why its nickname is Torre Mozza - the cut-off tower. The second, Torre degli Asinelli, is certainly the most famous but its history is still suffused with mystery. It is said that a peasant’s son built it out of love as he wanted to marry a Bologna aristocrat’s daughter and thanks to a treasure trove found by his father’s donkeys - asinelli.
A grand total of 498 steps take you to the top of Italy’s most leaning tower. The best way to finish off this tour around Bologna’s art and culture is a gourmet dinner tasting Emilia’s flavours at one of Bologna’s most beautiful and famous restaurants, Ristorante I Caracci, inside the Già Baglioni Grand Hotel Majestic.