Things to Do in Bologna
Bologna’s beating heart is Piazza Maggiore, in the city’s old center. A classic example of Renaissance town planning, it is one of the most graceful public squares in Italy.
The pedestrianised square is surrounded by the Basilica di San Petronio, the Palazzo Communale (city hall), palatial public buildings and Bologna’s trademark covered walkways ringed by arches.
Sit at an outdoor cafe to enjoy people watching in the sunshine during the day, and visit in the early evening to see the beautifully floodlit Fountain of Neptune, sculpted in 1566.
The most evocative name in Italian sports cars is Ferrari, and this dedicated museum in Maranello, Italy, focuses on the auto manufacturer’s history and production. It features 25 cars, including road cars and prototypes, a section devoted to the historic Formula 1 racing team, and fascinating automotive artifacts and memorabilia.
Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, and the city owes much of its youthful vibrancy and thriving cultural life to the formidable student population, concentrated in the lively University Quarter. Tour this area to discover its cache of cafes and clubs, along with fascinating historic museums and university buildings.
Dedicated to the fifth-century bishop Petronius, who became Bologna’s patron saint, the San Petronio Basilica (Basilica di San Petronio) dominates Piazza Maggiore in the heart of the city. One of the largest churches in the world and a soaring example of Gothic grandeur, the basilica Is a highlight of any Bologna city tour.
More than 100 towers pierced the sky above Bologna in the Middle Ages, but only 20 still stand today. The most famous are the city center’s Two Towers (Due Torri), which lean at a gravity-defying angle that rivals Pisa’s Leaning Tower. Climb to the top of the taller one for fabulous views over the city and surrounding countryside.
Perched on Colle della Guardia 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Bologna’s historic center, the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca (Santuario della Madonna di San Luca) was built to house a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary. Its portico, running from the city’s Porta Saragozza to the hilltop sanctuary, is the longest covered arcade in the world.
Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university, and one of the city’s most remarkable sights is part of the university’s medical school: the 17th-century Anatomical Theater in Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio. Visit this richly paneled and decorated hall to see where students once heard lectures and observed surgical procedures.
The Lamborghini Museum (Museo Lamborghini) is a tribute to the passion and life’s work of founder Ferruccio Lamborghini. It showcases Italy’s most famous luxury vehicles in a journey through the past, present, and future of the coveted car brand.
More than 100 towers stood guard over Bologna in the Middle Ages, but only 20 survive today. One of the few left standing is Torre Prendiparte, the second-highest in the city, soaring almost 200 feet (60 meters) above street level. Climb the internal staircase to the panoramic rooftop for bird’s-eye views over the historic center.
Only four churches of the original seven that once made up this stylistic jumble of buildings remain, but a visit to the Bologna’s Basilica of Santo Stefano (Basilica di Santo Stefano) is still a fascinating stroll through centuries of religious architecture. With winding passageways linking chapels and cloisters, this is one of the city’s most captivating churches.
More Things to Do in Bologna
Giambologna’s 16th-century Fountain of Neptune (Fontana del Nettuno), also known as Il Zigànt, or The Giant, is one of the most famous landmarks in Bologna. A bronze Neptune stands watch from atop the ornate Renaissance fountain in Piazza Maggiore, a popular and picturesque gathering spot for locals and visitors.
In the center of Modena, a historical brick factory building is dwarfed by the adjacent contemporary glass-and-steel hangar topped with a bright yellow car hood–shaped roof. Together, these two structures and their contents tell the story of Enzo Ferrari, race car driver and founder of one of the most famous car brands in the world.
Behind its understated Romanesque façade and distinctive rose window, the Basilica of San Domenico (Basilica di San Domenico) is teeming with Renaissance treasures, as well as ranking among Bologna’s most important churches. The church was built in 1221 to house the tomb of San Domenico, Founder of the Dominican Order of Preachers, and the Ark of St. Dominic remains the church’s grand centerpiece – a magnificent marble shrine created by Nicola Pisano and Niccolò dell’Arca.
The church’s elaborate interiors also include colorful frescoes and paintings by Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi, Guido Reni, Ludovico Carracci, and il Guercino, while one of its three grand organs was once played by Mozart. Other priceless artifacts are on display in the basilica’s small museum, including a terracotta bust of St. Dominic by Niccolò dell’Arca and a gothic-style reliquary once belonging to French King Louis IX.
Tucked away in Via Zamboni Portico, just moments from the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore, the Oratory of Santa Cecilia (Oratorio Di Santa Cecilia) hides a wealth of artistic treasures behind its simple façade.
The Romanesque church was built as a family chapel for Bologna Lord Giovanni II Bentivoglio, and is most renowned for its exquisite series of frescos. Dating back to 1505, the frescos showcase the mastery of some of Bologna’s most important Renaissance artists, including Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia, Amico Aspertini and Raffaello Sanzio. Stretching over ten panels, the elaborate scenes depict the life of Saint Cecilia and her husband Valentine, while the church’s main altarpiece was so impressive, it’s now on display in the National Art Gallery of Bologna.
Emilia-Romagna’s Motor Valley is legendary among fans of luxury Italian cars and motorcycles, and the Ducati Museum (Museo Ducati) is one of the area’s most impressive attractions. Housed in the Ducati factory headquarters outside of Bologna, this museum is a must for motorcycle enthusiasts.
Step into the world of Nobel Prize winner and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi at Bologna’s fascinating Marconi Museum (Museo Marconi). Housed in the imposing Villa Griffone, Marconi’s former home and the site of many of his scientific experiments and discoveries, the museum is devoted to Marconi’s life and works.
Inside the museum, a series of interactive, multi-media exhibitions allow visitors to discover the physicist’s groundbreaking work in electricity and radio communication, which included early experiments in wireless telegraphy and the first transmission of radio signals across the Atlantic Ocean. Highlights include film clips, a notable collection of historic equipment and scientific instruments (including a working spark gap transmitter), and a recreation of Marconi’s laboratory. Visitors can also stroll the villa grounds and beautiful gardens, where Marconi’s tomb and memorial can be seen.
The elegant 16th-century Palazzo Albergati, believed to have been designed by Baldassarre Peruzzi, dominates Bologna’s Via Saragozza. The inner courtyard and the richly frescoed, stuccoed interiors are perfect backdrops for the cultural events hosted there.
Many of Bologna’s most important works of art are gathered at city’s the National Gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna). The lion’s share of the collection comprises works by painters from the early Renaissance and baroque periods from the surrounding region and rest of Italy, including Giotto, El Greco, Titian, Raphael, and Tintoretto.
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