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If you’ve left Bologna out of your travel itinerary in northern Italy because you think Florence, Siena or Venice have more to offer… Well you might be doing a big mistake! Bologna has served as an important cultural and economic center throughout the country’s history. It was ruled by the Etruscans, Celts and Roman’s. And it is definitely worth the detour. Manufacturing industry and a robust financial sector are two of Bologna’s main economic activities. But the city, which is also known for being a major university center, offers a diverse range of cultural attractions. In this article, we have listed the 10 must-see things in Bologna if you want your visit to be unforgettable.
The twin towers of Bologna
Bologna has two Leaning Towers – take that Pisa! Asinelli and Garisenda are two large towers located next to each other, each named after a prominent Italian family. La Garisenda is only 48 meters high, but it has a slope and an overhang of 3.2 meters. The principle was somewhat the same as the one that exists today for business towers in New York: the height of a building determined the wealth and power of its owners. You only have to read the glowing reviews of visitors on the Tripadvisor site to be convinced that this is, of course, one of the must-see places in Bologna.
The Archiginnasio Palace
Built in the 16th century, this majestic Renaissance-style structure stands in Piazza Galvani and houses the University of Bologna. Inside, you can find an anatomical theater. It is a small room made entirely out of wood, with exquisite woodwork and sculpted statues of renowned doctors. It was here that students learned human anatomy and attended dissections and surgical demonstrations, among other things.
The National Gallery of Bologna
This museum, which is housed within the grounds of the old university complex, is ideally located near the city center and Piazza Maggiore. The National Pinacoteca includes, among other collections, a large number of works from the 13th to the 18th century Bolognese school. In particular, The Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia by Raphael and Christ and the Good Thief by Titian are two remarkable works that you can admire in the National Gallery of Bologna.
The old Quadrilatero market
You can plunge back in the medieval atmosphere of the city of Bologna in the Quadrilatero market. From the elegant Piazza Maggiore, enter its narrow streets flanked by arcades. In here, let yourself be carried away by the scents of the stalls and the fresh air of the neighborhood. The name of the market comes from the word quadrilateral, referring to a defense system. It is here, in the heart of the city, that the main unions of local craftsmen (butchers, barbers, furriers, fishmongers, etc.) were forged. You can still find these craftsmen here these days as it is a bit of the soul of Bologna.
Monte Guardia and the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
This 300-meter-high wooded hill offers a nice getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. To reach the top, there is a road you can borrow. But that would mean missing a much nicer view! Instead, you can walk a long (3.5 km) monumental path with covered arcades and their 666 arches. It was built from 1674 to 1793. Its unique design was created to protect the icon during the procession to the top of the hill. Why processions, you may wonder? Because at the top of Monte Guardia, there is the pretty sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. Built in 1723 to house a miraculous icon of the virgin, this shrine is definitely worth a visit. And the walk is an experience in itself!
La Torre Prendiparte
This particular tower was built in the 12th century, on behalf of Cardinal Paleotti. It stands proudly at a height of 59.5 meters. Initially, it was built as an extension of the archdiocesan seminary, and then an archdiocesan prison for crimes against religion. The Torre Prendiparte now houses a bed and breakfast that offers a unique experience to its guests. Nevertheless, some levels of the tower are still open. So climb to the top and explore this magnificent structure!
The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica
In 1980, a Douglas DC-9 aircraft carrying 81 passengers en route to Palermo crashed, killing everyone on board. The Museo per la Memoria di Ustica shows reconstructed remains of the plane, which probably fell victim of an attack. Furthermore, it exhibits a collection of photos and personal belongings of the victims.
The Oratory, built in 1604 next to the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, is the work of Floriano Ambrosini. If you look up, you will find a beautiful depiction of the Ascension of Our Lady on the ceiling. Look around and you will see religious iconography on the walls. A beautiful moment of grace.
Santo Stefano Square
Piazza Santo Stefano is perhaps the most beautiful square in Bologna, and a must-see in the city for sure. In particular, it is a triangle-shaped widening of Via Santo Stefano. Why is precision important? Because in fact, the name Piazza Santo Stefano does not appear in the address book, although it is commonly used by the locals. Coming from the Two Towers, on the opposite side of the square you will see the complex of the Basilica of Santo Stefano. It is also known as of the Seven Churches. A quick glance to the right, and you can admire the Palazzo Bolognini Amorini Salina. The palazzo is famous for its frieze with terracotta heads, and a row of 15th century merchant houses. On the left is the Isolani palace complex. In short, you’ll be surrounded by beauty wherever you look.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
We come precisely to the Basilica of Saint-Etienne, or Santo Stefano (official site). At first, you might think that the church is just a simple building as you walk through it. However, once you enter the arched main courtyard you can see a beautiful set of churches backing onto each other: chapels, cloisters, courtyards. A small religious complex whose construction took place between the 4th and 13th centuries.
Bonus: where to eat the best tortellini in Bologna?
Tortellini are ring-shaped pasta that are traditionally filled with various fillings such as pork, prosciutto, and cheese and served in chicken or beef broth. Consider dining at one of the restaurants in the Piazza Maggoire area, or explore the side streets for a local restaurant, for added authenticity. Here are a few suggestions:
Bottega Portici | Piazza Porta Ravegnana 2, Bologna
Oltre. | Via Augusto Majani 1, Bologna
Trattoria Bertozzi | Via Andrea Costa 84, Bologna
Bologna is an Italian city that has a lot of personality and charm. It is not only one of the country’s culinary capitals, but also a medieval town bustling with activities for people of all ages. We hope that this small selection of the ten must-see things in Bologna has served you well. Do not hesitate to share your favorites with us in the comments, because this list is not exhaustive! (All photos in this article are property of Destination(s) Europe)