The starting point is Piazza Maggiore
, the centre stage of public life in the city. Turn a full circle in the piazza and you’ll take in an impressive sequence of palazzi and monuments. First there’s the Basilica di San Petronio
with its celebrated unfinished façade. The church, the building of which was begun in 1390 and never completed, is the oldest Gothic monument in Italy and Europe, and houses authentic masterpieces. In addition to paintings by the Bolognese School, it is possible to admire Giovanni da Modena’s Cappella Bolognini. Also looking onto the piazza are Palazzo d’Accursio and Palazzo del Podestà, as well as Palazzo Re Enzo, where the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Sweden was imprisoned. Piazza del Nettuno, opposite, is graced by the Fountain of Neptune, executed by Giambologna. To the east of the piazza are Bologna’s very own leaning towers, the Garisenda and the Torre degli Asinelli, both city landmarks. Further on, in the piazza of the same name is the Church of Santo Stefano
, actually seven churches in one, all from different eras. Returning to Piazza Maggiore, to the left of San Petronio is Palazzo dei Banchi, once the workplace of Bolognese money changers, and the Portico del Pavaglione, which leads to another place not to be missed, the Quadrilatero
. This is the oldest part of the centre, a warren of narrow lanes whose names evoke the old trade guilds: Pescherie (Fishmongers), Calzolerie (Cobblers), Caprarie (Butchers), Orefici (Goldsmiths), Clavature (Locksmiths), and so on. Here as you walk among stalls laden with every sort of delicacy and past craft workshops and food shops, you’ll note how, in Bologna, the boundary between gourmet cooking and street food is very fine indeed. One must-see work of art in Via Clavature is Niccolò Dell’Arca’s Compianto sul Cristo morto
, a group of seven terracotta figures of great dramatic pathos in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita. Produced in the second half of the 15th century, it is a life-sized rendering in the old French style of the lamenting of the dead Christ.
If you want to find out more about the Bologna food world, you can book on one of the Five Senses Tours
in which the hotel’s Executive Chef Cristian Mometti
guides guests around the old medieval markets of the city centre. Back at the hotel after their morning’s shopping, they then don aprons as he teaches them how to create recipes with the fresh ingredients from the market. After which they sit down to enjoy the ad hoc menu with wines specially selected by the maître sommelier.
Sacred and profane: the Cathedral and Palazzo Fava
Returning to Via Rizzoli and walking down Via Indipendenza, you come to the Cattedrale di San Pietro
, directly opposite the hotel. The proximity of the two – cathedral and hotel – can be explained historically by the fact that the building that houses the Majestic was originally a seminary, founded by the cardinal who was later to become Pope Benedict XIV. The façade is adorned by the statues of Saints Peter and Paul, the portal by a fine “Pietà”. It is impossible to date the original nucleus precisely – according to some, it may have been built as early as the 5th century – though most of what survives today goes back to the 18th century. The seventy-metre campanile, the second highest in Bologna, contains one 16th-century bell, “La Nonna” (the Grandmother), weighing three and a half tonnes, and another three smaller ones: it takes 23 people to ring them all at once. Inside, the cathedral houses paintings by the likes of Prospero Fontana, Ludovico Carracci and Donato Creti. Walking past the hotel entrance and turning left into Via Manzoni, you’ll find another of the city’s gems, Palazzo Fava
. This building took shape in the Renaissance and was owned in the 16th century by the Fava family, who commissioned the young Carracci brothers (and cousin) to decorate the piano nobile, the first floor. Their frescoes are now split between the two buildings: the Camerino d’Europa
cycle is inside the Majestic and the scenes from the lives of Jason and Medea and that of Aeneas are in Palazzo Fava, now an important exhibition venue in its own right. Adjacent to Palazzo Fava, Palazzo Ghisilardi-Fava is the site of the Museo Civico Medievale, with its interesting collections of miscellaneous historical items and more paintings by the Carraccis.
The tour comes to an end inside the Grand Hotel Majestic “già Baglioni” itself, which houses still more art treasures (it’s no coincidence that it’s popularly known as a “Hotel-Museum”). Entering from Via Manzoni, at its Ristorante I Carracci
it’s possible not only to enjoy typically Bolognese food but also, raising one’s gaze, to admire a series of 16th-century frescoes. Having dinner at the restaurant is tantamount to a continuation of your journey into Bolognese history and culture. Not that it ends here: another final surprise inside the hotel building is the perfectly preserved section of the Flaminia Militare, built by the Romans in 187 BC, in the basement. What better conclusion to your exploration of the immediate environs?