What to see and what to do in Bologna
A welcoming city, pleasant by day with its marvellous architecture waiting to be explored, and bustling by night, thanks to the city's lively nightlife and cultural attractions.
Bologna was one of the largest Italian cities in medieval times, the era that gave the city its walls, gates, towers and numerous buildings of great architectural interest.
History blends seamlessly with modern life and the cultural fervour in the city which is home to one of the most prestigious Universities in Italy, Alma Mater Studiorum. Each year, Bologna attracts Italian and overseas students maintaining its very active role as a cultural hub open to new creative and cultural ideas.
The city was built around Piazza Maggiore, famous for the Fountain of Neptune by Giambologna and for the numerous buildings that overlook it such as 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 Piazza della Mercanzia is one of the most enchanting walks in the whole Bologna: the complex of Santo Stefano, also known as the Seven Churches of Bologna, a system of courtyards and porticos from seven different churches built over goddess Isis temple by Saint Petronius, patron saint of Bologna and inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Finally, Bolognese cuisine is renowned worldwide and is capable of conquering even the choosiest of gourmets. The pasta specialities fully deserve to be tried and savoured just as the city's cultural attractions deserve to be explored and enjoyed.