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Finestrella di Via Piella: a glimpse at Bologna's "Little Venice"

As well as famous landmarks such as its Due Torri, Bologna has a number of hidden gems. These range from the magnificent 13th century Il Collegio di Spagna to the intriguingly gruesome 17th century Teatro Anatomico, but perhaps most fascinating of all are the handful of spots where you can still catch glimpses of the city's extensive canal system.

It's a little known fact that Bologna has 60km of canals. Dating back to the Middle Ages, they provided drinking water as well as a means of transport for heavy goods; they also helped to power industries such as silk weaving and tanning that were the source of the city's wealth. In the early 1900's, as the age of the motor vehicle dawned, a large proportion of these canals were paved over to make way for an expanding road network. However, there are still several locations where they remain untouched, to the delight of visitors.

Turn north along the via Piella, and on your left you will find a small window looking down onto the Canale delle Moline. Once a busy industrial area, today it's a picturesque scene of glittering water and ancient walls. The same canal can also be spied from the via Oberdan, while the via Malconcenti has stunning views over the Canale di Reno.

For a more leisurely canalside experience, visit the Opera Caffe e Tupilani on the via Alessandrini. The tiny terrace of this quaint bistro overlooks a series of gushing drops and sluices, a great place to linger over breakfast or enjoy an afternoon coffee and pastry.

And if the beautiful vistas from the via Piella pique your interest, you might also like to take the short car or bus ride to the Chiusa di Casalecchio. Constructed in 1864, this lock is an imposing example of 19th century hydraulics, responsible for cleaning the city's canal water of gravel and stopping chunks of winter ice from causing blockages.

Full of striking reminders of the past, a tour of the city's forgotten canals should rank highly on any list of what to do in Bologna.