Things not to miss in Bologna
Churches and religious buildings:
Basilica di San Petronio
The “Basilica of S. Petronio” is the most valuable church in the city and the 15th largest church in the world by volume. Construction on this vast cathedral began in 1390; and the work, as it can be seen, still isn’t finished more than 600 years later. It houses an invaluable number of treasures such as the sundial by Cassini and Guglielmini, which indicates the exact period of the current year at all times, the “S. Rocco” by Parmigianino and the marvelous Bolognini Chapel. From the left nave of the basilica, the visitor can gain access to the Museum where many bas-reliefs are collected. The Museo di San Petronio contains models showing how it was originally supposed to look.
Basilica di Santo Stefano
This splendid and unusual basilica actually contains between four and seven connected churches (authorities differ). A 4th-century temple dedicated to Isis was originally on this site, though much of what you see dates from the 10th through the 12th centuries. The oldest existing building is Santi Vitale e Agricola, parts of which date from the 5th century. Also in the building is a museum displaying various medieval religious works with a shop selling honey, shampoos, and jams made by the monks.
Cattedrale di San Pietro
The Cathedral of Bologna, dedicated to San Pietro, is the seat and the metropolitan cathedral of the Archbishop of Bologna. Most of the present building dates from the 17th century, with a few parts from the late 16th century.
Basilica di San Domenico
The tomb of St. Dominic, who died here in 1221, is called the Arca di San Domenico. Many artists participated in its decoration, notably Niccolò dell’Arca. The young Michelangelo (1475-1564) carved the angel on the right. The attached museum contains religious relics.
The name of this museum stands for Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna, or Bologna’s Museum of Modern Art. It houses a permanent collection of modern art (defined as post-World War II up until nowadays) and stages a revolving series of temporary exhibitions by cutting-edge artists.From 18 November 2012 Mambo is temporarily hosting the Museo Morandi, dedicated to the 20th-century still-life artist Giorgio Morandi (www.museomorandi.it). The transfer is due to works of restoration of the damages at the original structure of Palazzo d’Accursio, occurred during the earthquake of May 2012.
Museo Internazionale della Musica
The music museum in the spectacular Palazzo Aldini Sanguinetti, with its 17th- and 18th-century frescoes, offers among its exhibits a 1606 harpsichord and a collection of beautiful music manuscripts dating from the 1500s.
Bologna’s principal art gallery contains many works by the immortals of Italian painting spanning the 13th to the 19th centuries. Its prize possession is the famous Ecstasy of St. Cecilia by Raphael (1483-1520). There’s also a beautiful polyptych by Giotto (1267-1337), as well as Madonna and Child with Saints Margaret, Jerome, and Petronio by Parmigianino: note the rapt eye contact between St. Margaret and the Christ Child.
Museo della Storia di Bologna
The Museum of the History of Bologna ishoused inside Palazzo Pepoli, the old residence of one the most important families in medieval Bologna, this museum traces the entire history of Bologna, from the Etruscan settlement known as Felsina to Roman Bononia to the height of its power during the Middle Ages and on through modern times.
Museo Civico Archeologico
The Museum is located in the fifteenth-century Palazzo Galvani building, once known as the Hospital of Death. Founded in September 1881, it hosts a collection of well-documented Egyptian and Roman artefacts and one of Italy’s best Etruscan collections.
Monuments and Palaces:
Le Due Torri
Two landmark towers, mentioned by Dante in The Inferno, stand side by side in the compact Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. Once every family of importance had a tower as a symbol of prestige and power—and as a potential fortress. Now only 60 remain out of more than 200 that once presided over the city. Torre Garisenda (from the late 11th century), which tilts 10 feet off perpendicular, was shortened to 165 feet in the 1300s and is now closed to visitors. Torre degli Asinelli (circa 1109) is 320-feet tall and leans 7½ feet. If you’re up to a serious physical challenge—and not claustrophobic—you may want to climb its 500 narrow, wooden steps to get the view over Bologna.
Università di Bologna
Take a stroll through the streets of the university area: a jumble of buildings, some dating as far back as the 15th century and most to the 17th and 18th. The neighborhood, as befits a college town, is full of bookshops, coffee bars, and inexpensive restaurants. None of them are particularly distinguished, but they’re all characteristic of student life in the city. Among the university museums, the most interesting is the Museo di Palazzo Poggi, which displays scientific instruments plus paleontological, botanical, and university-related artifacts.
Fontana del Nettuno
A mélange of building styles and constant modifications characterize this huge palace dating from the 13th to 15th centuries. When Bologna was an independent city-state, this was the seat of government—a function it still serves today. The old stock exchange, part of the Palazzo Comunale which you enter from Piazza Nettuno, has been turned into a library: dubbed the Sala Borsa (www.bibliotecasalaborsa.it), it has an impressive interior courtyard. Within the palazzo there are also two museums. The Collezioni Comunali d’Arte exhibits paintings from the Middle Ages as well as some Renaissance works by Luca Signorelli (circa 1445-1523) and Tintoretto (1518-94). The Museo Giorgio Morandi, originally placed in this Palace, is now being hosted in Mambo.
Palazzo del Podestà
This classic Renaissance palace facing the Basilica di San Petronio was erected in 1484, and attached to it is the soaring Torre dell’Arengo. The bells in the tower have rung whenever the city has celebrated, mourned, or called its citizens to arms.
Palazzo Re Enzo
Built in 1244, this palace became home to King Enzo of Sardinia, who was imprisoned here in 1249 after he was captured during the fierce battle of Fossalta. He died here 23 years later. The palace has other macabre associations as well: common criminals received last rites in the tiny courtyard chapel before being executed in Piazza Maggiore. The courtyard is worth peeking into, but the palace merely houses government offices.
It is the result of Pope Pius IV’s project to curtail the “Basilica di San Petronio”. Seat of the city university from 1563 to 1805 (notice the professors’ coats of arms on the walls), it today houses Bologna’s 700,000-volume “Biblioteca Comunale” (Municipal Library) and the fascinating 17th-century “Teatro Anatomico” where public body dissections were held under the sinister gaze of an Inquisition priest, ready to intervene if proceedings became too spiritually compromising. Cedar-wood tiered seats surround a central marble-topped table while a sculptured Apollo looks down from the ceiling. The canopy above the lecturer’s chair is supported by two skinless figures carved into the wood. The theatre, and many of the building’s frescoes, was destroyed during WWII and subsequently rebuilt.
Food and Culture
Distance from Bologna to:
75 km (1 h 15 min by train)
120 km (35 min by train)
150 km (50 min by train)
160 km (1h 10 min by train)
220 km (1h by train)
400 km (2h 15 min by train)