Seat of the most ancient university in the western world, the Alma Mater Studiorum, Bologna is a city with an intense cultural life and intriguing historical legacy.
City of art, culture and trade with excellent exhibition facilities and a renowned manufacturing and motoring tradition, Bologna is famous for its almost 40 km of porticoes, the longest in the world.
The first view of the city is best taken from the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, where medieval palaces, witnesses to a lively public life and intense economic activity, combine perfectly with modernity, preserving their ancient charm. Palazzo D’Accursio, for example, the seat of the town hall, houses both the modern Salaborsa multimedia library in liberty style and Roman archaeological finds that can be viewed through a modern glass floor.
The symbols of Bologna include the Neptune Fountain by Giambologna and the medieval towers. The majestic Two Towers – the Asinelli tower (98 metres) and its “twin” Garisenda (48 metres, mentioned in Dante’s Inferno) – rise above all the others.
Alongside its ancient roads and endless porticoes, an unexpected wonder are the 12th-century canals, which can also be visited underground.
Well worth a visit are Palazzo Poggi, seat of the University, the wonderful chapels of the Basilica of San Petronio, the portico and organ of Santa Maria dei Servi, the small window over the canal in Via Piella, and the Manufattura delle Arti district.
The Museums – among them the National Gallery, the Archaeological Museum, the Medieval Museum, the Morandi Museum and many others – display a rich heritage of artistic works, as do the many religious buildings, particularly the building complexes of Santo Stefano, San Domenico and Santa Maria della Vita.
Tortellini, tagliatelle, lasagne and
mortadella are just a few of the culinary delights that have made the city
world famous for its gastronomic tradition and have earned it the epithet
“Bologna the Fat”.
These culinary highlights would be no more than fine food if they were not served with the pride, passion and hospitality for which the city and its inhabitants are renowned.
Bologna’s gastronomic renown dates back to the Middle Ages, when wealthy noble families would employ the most celebrated chefs of the time. The city’s gastronomic tradition is closely linked to the history of the university: the presence of students and professors from different countries enriched the culinary culture and required careful organization of food supplies.
Founded in 1088, Bologna’s University is the oldest in the Western world and has earned the city the epithet “Bologna la Dotta” (Bologna the Learned).
time of the illustrious students Dante, Petrarca and Boccaccio, over the
centuries the University of Bologna has firmly established its role as a centre
of knowledge, while the large numbers of Italian and foreign students enrolled
at the university today enrich the city’s cultural and social life.
This lively cosmopolitan atmosphere has been a distinctive feature of the city ever since the Middle Ages and helped to earn it the title of European Capital of Culture for 2000. Alongside illustrious Bolognese natives such as Guglielmo Marconi, the Carracci family, Giorgio Morandi, Luigi Galvani and Lucio Dalla, Bologna has always attracted leading figures from the worlds of science and culture. Copernicus, Goldoni, Pascoli, Carducci and Pasolini are just a few examples.
Today the city’s cultural life is supported by numerous public and private institutions, including the Teatro Comunale (Municipal Theatre), the Cineteca (film archive), the MAMbo (Bologna Museum of Modern Art), the Genus Bononiae network of museums and buildings, and the Lamborghini and Ducati museums which pay tribute to the excellence of the local automotive and mechanical industries.
The city of
Bologna maintains traces of past civilisations. Founded by the Etruscans with
the name of Felsina, it later became a Roman colony called Bononia.
In the Middle Ages it was an important commercial and cultural centre. Alongside the founding of the university in 1088, another important date from this period was 1256 when the Commune of Bologna promulgated a law called “Liber Paradisus” freeing 5,855 slaves, affirming the city’s determination to fight for freedom and to abolish all forms of slavery.
In the 13th century Bologna enjoyed a period of great splendour and grew to become the fifth largest European city in terms of its population (after Cordova, Paris, Venice and Florence) and the largest textile production centre in Italy.
The city’s complex water system with its highly developed network of canals provided energy for its industry and served as an excellent means of freight transport. These waterways made a vital contribution to the city’s economic development and supported its flourishing silk industry, which at the time was adopting innovative spinning methods.
Today Bologna is a major industrial and commercial centre, the most important rail and motorway hub in the country, and after Venice the city with the best preserved old town centre in Italy. At the same time it is surrounded by modern buildings, state-of-the-art exhibition and conference centres and new residential districts.