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  • Janet Radley

Off the Beaten Path - Bologna, Italy

Bologna Italy

“La dotta, the learned, la grassa, the fat, la rossa, the red”

The Learned is for the University of Bologna, the fat is for the food of Bologna and the red is for the wine.

Bologna is the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region and is located in northern Italy. The city is located just a short 40 minutes by train from Florence.

The city of Bologna can trace its history back to the Bronze Age 3000 years ago. During the Iron Age skilled blacksmiths and potters traded with the Greeks and the Phoenicians creating a unique culture. By the 6th century the Etruscans ruled the area and their rule lasted until the 4th century BCE when the Gallic Boii conquered them. After a period of aggression, they created a civilization which modern historians call Gaul-Etruscan. After the Battle of Telamon they reluctantly accepted the rule of the Roman Republic but later joined forces with Hannibal’s army against the Romans but lost. The Romans destroyed many of the settlements and villages and founded the colony of Bononia in 189 BCE. In 88 BCE the city of Bononia became a municipality. Under the Romans the population varied between 12,000 to 30,000 people and at its peak was the 2nd largest city and 5th richest city in Italy. After the fall of the Roman Empire Bologna went into a decline and was sacked and occupied a number of times by the Byzantines, Visigoths and the Lombards. The city was reborn in the 5th century CE under Bishop Petronius. The city was a frontier stronghold for the Exarchate of Ravenna until it was captured by the Lombard King Liutprand in 728 becoming part of the Lombard Kingdom. In 1088 the University of Bologna was founded and it is considered by many to be the world’s oldest university. Among its students are Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca. In the 11th century Bologna began to grow again as a free commune and joined with the Lombard League to fight against Frederick Barbarossa the Holy Roman Emperor in 1164. In 1256 the city of Bologna proclaimed the Legge del Paradiso (“Paradise Law”) which abolished feudal serfdom and freed the slaves, using public money. In 1294 Bologna was one of the largest cities in Europe with a population of between 60,000 to 70,000 people. After the Battle of Zappolino in 1325 Bologna began to decline again and they asked for the protection of the Pope. During the Black Plague in 1348 about 30,000 people in the city died. For the next several hundreds years the city went between being ruled by powerful families or the church. In the 16th century the plague visited the city twice more and reduced the population from 72,000 to 47,000. Under Napoleon Bologna became the capital of the Cispadane Republic and later became the 2nd most important centre after Milan in the Cispadane R­­­­­epublic. After the fall of Napoleon Bologna again fell under the control of the Papal States. In 1857 after a visit by Pope Pius IX Bologna voted for annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia. On 12 June 1859 it became part of the united Italy. During the 2nd World War Bologna was a key transportation point for the Germans. The liberation of Bologna happened on 21 April 1945 when the city was captured by the Polish Infantry. In 2000 Bologna was named the European capital of culture and in 2006 it was named a UNESCO “city of music”.

The Piazza Maggiore is an important historical square and is located in the heart of Bologna. The square dates back to 1200 and has a number important buildings located there such as the Basilica of San Petronio, the Palazzo de Notai (the ancient site of the Notary order), the Palazzo del Podesta (the first site of the city government) and the Palazzo dei Banchi (its spectacular facade was intended to hide the alleys of the rear market).

The towers Garisenda and degli Asinelli are 2 of the remain 20 towers found in Bologna today. During the Middle Ages Bologna had over 180 towers built by Bologna’s leading families to show off their wealth but also to spy on each other. These 2 towers are now commonly recognized as symbols of Bologna. They are located in the centre of the city but only the newly restored degli Asinelli tower is open to the public.

The degli Asinelli is 97 metres and is the world’s tallest medieval leaning tower in the world. It leans 1.3 degrees off center and you will need to climb 498 steps to reach the top. The world’s most famous leaning tower is the Leaning Tower of Pisa which leans 4 degrees off centre and has 297 steps.

Another tower to see is the Torre Prendiparte also known as Coronata Tower. It was built in the 12th century and is 60 metres tall. The tower has been restored so the 12 floors are now accessible. At the top is a terrace where you can get wonderful views. During the day the tower is open to the public but at night it is a guest house - but there is no elevator if you want to stay there.

The Basilica San Petronio is located in Piazza Maggiore and its first stone was laid in 1390. The church is one of the largest in Europe. The church was dedicated to the Saint Petronius who is the patron saint of Bologna. The front facade has never been completed - the lower half is covered in marble and the top half is exposed brown brickwork. It is worth a visit to see the interior of the church with its tall columns and decorations.

The Archiginnasio is an important building is Bologna and was once the main building of the University of Bologna from 1563 to 1805. Today the main attraction is the 17th century Teatro Anatomico, a well-preserved anatomical theatre where student surgeons once studied. During the 2nd World War many of the theatre and building’s frescoes were destroyed but they were subsequently rebuilt.

The Monte della Guardia is the longest portico in the world at 3.8 kms consisting of 666 arches. The 300 metre climb up the hill is worth the effort as you will have unparalleled views of Bologna and the surrounding area. You will also be able to visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. The church was founded in the 12th century and was modified and enlarged over the years. The church you will now see was built in 1723.

The city of Bologna is known for its extensive Porticos. It is said you can walk 40kms in their corridors. The most famous is Bonaccorsi Arch and the walkway to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca.

The Basilica of Santo Stefano (known as “Complex of the Seven Churches”) is a must see when you visit the city of Bologna. It is believed to have been built by Saint Petronius on the ruins of a pagan temple. It is a messy complex of different buildings which were built over a number of centuries.

The Fontana del Nettune (Fountain of Neptune) was built between 1563 and 1566 and is made of marble and bronze. It was built as a symbol of the power of the Pope who ruled the world like Neptune ruled the seas. At the bottom you will find 4 angels that represent the rivers the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon and the Danube. These were the largest rivers of the continents known at the time that the fountain was built.

The La Piazzola Market is located in the Piazza dell Agosto. There has been a market there since 1251 which started as a cattle market. It is open Friday and Saturday and has over 400 different stalls. You will find everything from food, spices, clothes, shoes, flowers, pottery and jewellery. There is something for everyone.

A few places to stay in Bologna:

Grand Hotel Majestic Baglioni -

Is oldest and most prestigious hotel in Bologna within waking distance of the Piazza Maggiore.

I Portici Hotel Bologna -

· A hotel in the heart of Bologna with a Michelin restaurant.

Hotel Al Cappello Rosso -

· A hotel located just few steps away from the Piazza Maggiore.

Time to Travel. Good News, Canadians can travel to Italy.

You can fly here. Upon return to Canada, you will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

Pinza Bolognese - Jam-filled specialty of Bologna

Pinza Bolognese, a shortbread dessert spread with a special jam was a traditional Christmas treat in Bologna, but is now available year-round. The jam, called Mostarda Bolognese, is made of quince, pears, orange peel and sugar, and is cooked for so long it becomes almost black. It is this mostarda that makes pinza Bolognese so special. Be sure to bring home a jar when you visit Bologna, but if you can’t, substitute good quality plum or sour cherry jam. Just be sure whatever jam you use is dense and thick.

The recipe first appears in 1633 in a book by Bolognese nobleman and agronomist Vicenzo Tanara. Pinza Bolognese is one of Italy’s torte da credenza “cupboard cakes,” which keep nicely out of the fridge for at least a week.


2 1/2 cups (500 grams) flour

3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

7 tablespoons (100 grams) cold unsalted butter

lemon zest of 1 lemon

3 large eggs

1 to 1 1/2 cups mostarda Bolognese (or use a dense plum jam, mixed with a heaping tablespoon of orange marmalade, or sour cherry jam mixed with ¼ cup of raisins)

¼ cup of whole milk

2 tablespoons of decorative sugar


Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, butter and lemon zest until crumbly and combined. Blend in the eggs, one at a time. Knead into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

On lightly buttered parchment paper roll out the dough into a rectangle a half-inch thick. Spread the jam generously on the dough, leaving a half-inch border along the edges. Carefully fold the right and left sides of the dough, overlapping at the center. Put onto the baking pan with the connecting section down. Using a pastry brush, brush the dough with the milk and sprinkle with decorative or granulated sugar. Bake for 30 minutes or until firm and cooked through.

JANET RADLEY // Helen Thompson Travel // telephone: 416 967 4404 ext. 134

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