Bologna – the university capital of Italy, the city that is home to the first medical university in the Western world, the city that is synonymous with architecture, art, music, creativity, history and culture, the city that is famous as the gastronomic capital of Italy and housed in the most renowned gastronomic region of Italy – Emilia-Romagna, the city of arcades, the city of towers, the city that is famous for it’s nightlife owning to the young university and culturally diverse crowd, the city that is the birthplace of Maserati and Lasagna Bolognese … and much more!
The enchanting city of Bologna is most often overlooked by it’s more famous Italian counterparts like Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan; however – ask a local what’s Bologna famous for and you may be surprised to hear one or more of the above answers. There are very few cities in the world where history and modernity coexist in a symbiotic relationship and blend into each other so effortlessly, and Bologna epitomises that coexistence effortlessly! So here I am, writing about Bologna, wishing that my fellow readers and travellers to Italy visit Bologna to experience the many charms of this enchanting city.
Bologna is city that has something to offer for everyone! And if the description above hasn’t yet convinced you about it, read on to know more as I virtually teleport you to Bologna and arouse your curiosities – be it for art, fine-arts, history, music, cars, nightlife, medicine, food or fashion. And since Bologna has so much to offer, one single article on it won’t do it justice. Thus, I’ll take you through Bologna over a couple of articles, this one and the next few coming up soon!
Bologna for foodies and food enthusiasts: Quadrilatero Market
If you’re a foodie visiting Bologna, look no further than Quadrilatero – the oldest market in Bologna. Bologna is a gastronomic heaven and this medieval market is at the centre of Bologna’s gastronomic circuit.
The medieval market gets its name “Quadrilatero” from a quadrilateral market area bounded by the four streets of the Via Rizzoli, Via Castiglione, Via Farini, Piazza Galvani and Via dell’Archiginnasio. There are a few places in the world where history and modernity seamlessly blend into each other, and Quadrilatero is a place that carries off that image with élan. In some parts, the buildings look exactly the way they did in the Middle Ages. As you picture yourself witnessing the Middle Ages walking through these tiny cobbled streets, the modern marketing signs and decor will remind of today’s times. It was here that the major craft guilds of the city formed including the painters, furriers, goldsmiths, butchers, fish mongers, meat processors, and barbers. Today you’ll find jewelers, butchers, delis, fish markets, produce stands, bakeries, and high end apparel stores nestled into a lively social scene with wine bars and eateries where people enjoy an evening Aperitivo with friends – locals and tourists alike.
I absolutely love exploring areas like these, where a leisurely stroll takes you back in time and the vibe of it makes you lose track of time. You can easily spend an entire day browsing and shopping for local foods at the series of indoor markets, food halls, and vendors lining the streets of the market. From meat and cheese purveyors, to fish mongers, small cafes, and food halls, you’ll never be at a loss of interesting things to see. By then it’s late afternoon and time for an Aperitivo, and you’d certainly not want to miss that experience since it is the most social time of day, when the chatty, cheerful Italians finish off their day’s work and gather here not only to socialise but also to truly celebrate life.
Whether you’re a foodie looking to try the iconic food in Bologna like the ever-popular tortellini in brodo or a hearty Spaghetti alla Bolognese, or the world famous Parmesan cheese from Reggio Parmigiano to take back home as a souvenir, or a traveller simply looking to wander around, window shop and people-watch over a glass of Aperitivo, you’ll find it all right here.
As you stroll through the Quadrilatero, not only are you in the oldest commercial center of medieval Bologna, you’re also steps from one of the oldest pubs in the world – Osteria del Sole – in existence continually since 1465 to date! Do stop by to hang out with friends and/or grab a glass of beer, wine, lunch or dinner.
And so, this sums up the Quadrilatero – not only a foodie’s paradise but also an area that every visitor to Bologna finds themselves entering in and feeling instantly feeling at home in!
For the history buffs, art enthusiasts, fitness freaks, city explorers and lovers of panoramic views
Bologna – the city of towers: Two Towers of Bologna or Le Due Torri
Bologna is fondly known as “the city of towers”. This is because back in the 12th and the 13th century, Bologna was a city full of towers, with upto 180 towers standing tall in the city. While the reasons for the construction of so many towers are not clear, a popular hypothesis claims that the richest families built them to display their wealth and affluence in the society and used them for offensive/defensive purposes back in the day.
Over the centuries that followed many of these towers were either demolished for a rather unfortunate restructuring plan of the city or simply collapsed due to the wear and tear. Less than 20 towers have withstood the test of time and can be seen in the city of Bologna today. Of these, the two most popular towers that are symbolic to the city are the Asinelli Tower (97 m, the tallest tower standing in the old city) and the Garisenda Tower (48 m) – the leaning tower, or popularly known as Le Due Torri. While both the towers are tilted, the Garisenda Tower (48 m) is the more leaning one, so much so that it had to be reduced to its present height in order to prevent its fall. Today, the tallest tower of the town – the Asinelli tower, is accessible to the public for a nominal fee and offers captivating panoramic views of the old city centre.
As I waited outside in the long queue to start my ascend up the tower, on a rather sunny April noon, looking up in the sky I wondered, “While the Leaning Tower of Pisa may be the most famous leaning tower of Italy and the world, these lesser known leaning towers of Italy are an architectural marvel and unarguably my favourite!”. And here’s why…
I loved the Asinelli Tower and the climb up for more reasons than one. For starts, the sheer backdrop of Bologna in which you find Le Due Torri is a sight for sore eyes. It makes for a prettier picture compared to the ever crowded Leaning Tower of Pisa, where it’s almost impossible to get a perfect picture without being photobombed by the touristic crowds that flow in round the clock. Having said that, Le Due Torri happens to be in the heart of the Centro Storico (old town centre) of Bologna, so if you want that perfect #gram without any traffic and cars photobombing your pictures, make sure to visit early in the morning before 8 a.m. or past midnight. I’d reached the tower just after 1200 in the noon, which happens to be the rush hour for visitors, leading me to wait for about 30-45 minutes before I could get in and start my ascend.
Though ~500 steps worth of ascend to the top of the tower may not sound like one of the most challenging climbs you may have done, as the Asinelli Tower is a rather thin/narrow one only a limited number of people are allowed to climb up and down at any given time of the day. This is to ensure that the treacherous winding stairway made up of age-old wooden stairs is safe to be climbed up and down even today. The exhilarating experience of climbing up ~500 steps of this winding, rather poor lit narrow tower can make an adrenaline junky’s heart beat faster – when you neither know how far you’ve reached in your climb nor how far you still have to go to make it to the top! And to do all this while making way for somebody who is climbing down the tower at the same time as you climb up, through the same narrow stairway that’s just broad enough for one person to stand on – now that’s one hell of an experience! And that’s exactly what made it my favourite tower to climb, ever! And when I did finally reach the top of the tower – oh, the beautiful panoramic views of Bologna were the icing onthe cake! What a rewarding experience it was to climb up the narrow tower and be gifted with those picture-postcard views of Bologna’s skyline 😍!
Climbing to the top of Asinelli tower is one of the most quintessential activities to take on in Bologna. Whether it’s for the panoramic views from the top of the tower, the adrenaline rush of the climb up or simply for burning off those calories from the previous night’s delicious Lasagna Bolognese – give this one a go!
So here I am rounding up my first Bologna article, gearing up to write the next one and already dreaming about visiting this ever interesting city again. And if you’re wondering how to burn off all those calories from the delicious Bolognese cuisine that I’ve tempted you with or if you’re wondering why I called Bologna the city of arcades, then keep watching this space for my next blog on Bologna. And while you do so, enjoy the photo gallery below that is bound to tempt you to put Bologna on your Italy bucket list!