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The city was built around Piazza Maggiore, famous for the Fountain of Neptune by Giambologna and for the numerous buildings that overlook it: the Basilica of San Petronio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo del Podestà and Palazzo dei Banchi.
But before embarking on the traditional tour of the sights it is worth visiting the Salaborsa, or former stock exchange. In the 19th century it was the hub of the town’s economic life, but today it has been converted into a cultural space and multimedia library, one of the town’s most popular meeting places.
The Basilica of San Petronio, built between the 14th and 17th centuries, is the largest church in Bologna and the fifth largest in Italy. There is a meridian dating to 1655 on its façade, while inside it houses paintings by Giovanni da Modena, Jacopo di Paolo, Lorenzo Costa and Amico Aspertini.
After visiting San Petronio, walk along the porticos lining Via Dell’Archiginnasio to Piazza Galvani, where you find the Archiginnasio of Bologna, part of the University of Bologna.
Returning to Piazza Maggiore, you can see Palazzo d’Accursio, the Town Hall, which takes its name from the Accursio family from Bologna who once lived there. Its façade features the beautiful Madonna with Child, a gilded and polychrome terracotta sculpture dating to 1478, and the Arch of Galeazzo Alessi, built in the mid-16th century, with its bronze statue of Pope Gregory XIII.
On the north side of Piazza Maggiore are three buildings symbolising the city's era of self-government: Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo Re Enzo and Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo.
Other things to see in Bologna include Piazza della Mercanzia, with its Palazzo, a Gothic building which historically housed the Chamber of Commerce. The open gallery where goods were unloaded dates back to 1384 and is still visible today.
Just a stone’s throw from the Piazza della Mercanzia is one of the most enchanting walks in the whole of Bologna: the complex of Santo Stefano, also known as the Seven Churches of Bologna. It is a complex of courtyards and porticos of seven churches built over the temple of the goddess Isis by Saint Petronius, patron saint of the city of Bologna, inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.