We know a lot of things of Bologna’s historic district. We know that with its 400,000 inhabitants, Bologna is the capital of the Emilia Romagna region. We know that its university is the oldest in the world, founded in 1088. And we know the goodness of its cuisine, the genuineness of its recipes and the charming climate that blows through its streets. Bologna is a city with a profound identity and, at the same time, open to change and to the international scene, and, for this reason, a favorite destination for tourists and students from all over the world.
Bologna’s historic district has a lot to offer; to those who love art and history, the city proposes a real treasure hunt.
Therefore, leave behind you the crowded squares and shopping streets and head to the most hidden corners in search of rare and authentic beauty. It is the same beauty that the citizens of Bologna love, know and have been passing down from generation to generation for centuries. The reward is that you won’t feel like any tourist who stumbled on an Italian city, but like a special citizen, even if only for one day.
As with any treasure hunt worthy of respect, there is always a map for the game. In this case, the path to finding the seven secrets of Bologna starts from via Piella, with a truly unexpected surprise, and continues along via Zamboni, near the University District, where you can see the last of these wonders with your own eyes.
You just left Trattoria Biassonot, on via Piella. You can still taste in your mouth the spicy flavors of tagliatelle with meat sauce and wish to take a walk to stretch your legs and help your digestion.
Well, the best thing you can do is head to house number 16 and, from there, look out the tiny window overlooking … a canal. That’s right: Bologna’s underground is traversed by several small rivers which in ancient times were used to power mills. And that is how via Piella unearths for a moment the Moline canal, which turns this spot into a little Venice of sorts.
GRAFFITIS FROM PAST TIMES
The second point of interest concerns the Scappi Tower, whose construction started in 1220. Under this noble tower, on the vault of the Canton de’ Fiori, a Latin inscription reads: “panis life, canabis protectio, vinum Laetita” which roughly means: “Bread is life, hemp is protection, and wine is joy”, bearing witness to the great commercial importance that the cultivation of hemp had for the city of Bologna in ancient times.
POINTS OF VIEW
Once arrived on Piazza Maggiore, you can catch your breath in front of the Neptune Fountain, built in 1565 by the Flemish sculptor Giambologna.
The feature that distinguishes this work is that its elements vary depending upon the point of view from which you admire it. Viewed from the front, for example, it appears as a beautiful monumental fountain. But seen from the entrance of Sala Borsa (where there is also a special placeholder) the statue suddenly acquires … more vigor!
It is up to you to discover what it is with your own eyes…
After the Scappi Tower, it’s time to visit another historic building. In this case, it is the Palazzo del Podestà, on Piazza Maggiore.
The building was built around 1200 as a venue for the public functions of the mayor. It seems that under the broad arches of the Arengo Tower, the sounds are transmitted from one corner as if by magic. Again, our dispassionate advice is to follow the adage “seeing is believing” … and be amazed.
A MATTER OF AIM...
…which probably lacked the three robbers, protagonists of the homonymous legend. History has it that these three bandits were under the wooden porch of Via Santo Stefano to get rid of a local squire.
And, when the time came to shoot arrows, a naked girl appeared by a window. She distracted them from their main target. To this day, it is possible to see the three arrows stuck into the porch … provided that you sharpen your sight and do not give up at the first sign of difficulty.
THE ASINELLI VASE
The Asinelli Tower, one of the symbols of the Romagna coast, houses the penultimate secret of this exciting treasure hunt, right at the top of its staircase.
Once you reach the top, and after soaking up the breathtaking views you can admire from this location, you will see a broken vase that to this day bears witness to Bologna’s demonstrated ability to solve conflicts throughout its illustrious history.
TO THE SOURCE OF KNOWLEDGE
The last stop, before taking advantage of the via Zamboni catering facilites to enjoy a providential aperitif, concerns a new inscription, engraved on a table of the university building.
The sign reads “panum reis” which, in its original meaning, stands for “knowledge as a source of every decision.” True or not, it seems almost a reward for the enchanting journey you completed today.
It reminds you that you will leave Bologna with a basket full of stories, and a broken heart, just as when you say “goodbye” to a lover who amazed and enchanted you.