Bologna's Tourist Office: better is the city one
Favorite thing: Given the size of the “office” Bologna’s tourist office has at the airport, I would have assumed that they would be able to supply visitors with loads of information. But ......
Well, maybe they had a bad day when I was there. One of the employees was very busy on her computer and didn’t even bother to look when I stood more or less in front of her. The other one was busy on the mobile phone for quite a while. But when she finished she offered at least help. Upon request for information material about Bologna I received a simple map, with list of sights to see and some rough information. More was not available. I asked for a bus map of the city, but none was available. At least she was helpful enough to tell me that most museums are closed on Mondays, so purchase of the y”Bologna Welcome Card” for 20 Euro (18 Euro when purchased online), valid for 48 hours, would not have made sense.
If I compare this service and the availability of information at an airport with the ones at other airports, Bologna’s service is very sad. Ireland’s tourist organisation for example provided me with booklets (each more than 100 pages) about each region, maps, bus schedules and more. In Munich and Frankfurt service is also much better.
But, as to make up for a lousy service at the airport, Bologna’s main tourist office in town is excellent. They not only have all kinds of information, maps and schedules but also sell tickets for any kinds of events in the city and its surroundings. So yes, here I could finally receive the bus map :-)
Opening hours of Bologna’s tourist office:
At the airport:
Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 19:00, Sundays and holidays: 10:00 – 16:00. Closed December 25 + 26, January 1st and Easter Sunday.
In the city centre (at Piazza Maggiore, in Palazzo del Podestà):
Monday – Saturday: 09:00 – 19:00, Sundays and holidays: 10:00 – 17:00. Closed December 25 + 26, January 1st and Easter Sunday.
Website Bologna Tourist Information
Location of Bologna’s Tourist Office in the city centre on Bing Maps.
© Ingrid D., September 2014 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)Related to:
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
A city of details
Favorite thing: As in many old cities, one of the joys of exploring Bologna with your camera lies in searching out all the little details of the buildings. While you will find these all over the city, the best areas I found were the former Jewish ghetto a little to the north of the Piazza Maggiore, and the streets to its south and west. I will write more about these areas in due course, but for now, here are some of my favourite “finds”:
Photo one – one of two small images of the Virgin on a wall in Via dell' Inferno, the main artery of the former ghetto. I’ve not been able to find out any information about the age of these (this one looks to be the newer of the two) nor the reason for their presence here – a plaque below this one says only that it is the Madonna dell’ Olmo and was restored by Ada Masotti. The other image nearby is labelled as Beata Virgine de San Luca (she of the sanctuary up on a hill on the outskirts of the city) and also restored by Ada Masotti – see my travelogue, linked below, for a photo of this one
Photo two – a little tile depicting a saint (San Petronio perhaps?) on a wall in Via Pielle on the northern fringes of the old town
Photo three – a fragment of old archway exposed on the wall of a building in Via Marsala
Photo four – one of many lovely examples of door furniture (knockers, handles, even key holes) that I spotted – this one is in Via del Carro
Photo five – another great example of door furniture, this time in Via Marsala
For anyone interested I have put more photos of these wonderful details in a travelogue.
But if you have seen enough let us now investigate one of Bologna’s more surprising secrets – like Venice it is a city built on water.Related to:
- Historical Travel
A city built on water
Favorite thing: Yes, you have read my tip title correctly! Everyone knows that Venice is a city built on water, floating on the waters of its lagoon, but in a different way so is Bologna, with many of its streets following the paths of now-buried waterways. In medieval times the city was the main centre of textile production for Italy and water was essential for the operation of its silk mills. There were grain mills too which also needed water, and canals were also needed to transport goods to the nearby Po river and thence to the sea. While the city did have one natural river, the Aposa, more waterways were constructed between the 12th to 16th centuries in order to meet these needs. The Navile inked Bologna to the Po, the Reno and the Savena brought water to the city and to the other canals, and the Cavaticcio and Moline powered the mills. The canals also helped to prevent flooding and the humidity they created was ideal for the growth of silk worms.
The waterways are now largely hidden, but from Via Piella you can get a glimpse as one surfaces briefly here – the Canale do Reno. The road bridges the canal and you can easily see how the houses on either side sit directly on its banks. My first two photos were taken here.
Cross the road and almost opposite you will see a small window cut into the wall. You may have to wait your turn as this is a well-known spot and others will be here too. When you get your chance you’ll be able to look out westwards over the same canal to the point where the water disappears underground again (photo three). A sign nearby on the wall has a small map showing the extent of the waterways that run for the most part beneath the city’s streets (photo four).
There are other places too where you can see the canals, although this is the only point we visited. If you are interested to see more you can download a walking tour from the tourist office website ( www.bolognawelcome.com) or pick up a copy from their offices in the Piazza Maggiore.
Even where you don’t see the water you can be made aware of it. I spotted the sign in photo five on a wall in Via Francesco Rizzoli, near the two towers. It marks the spot where a Roman bridge once crossed the Aposa River (according to the sign its remains were found during 1918 building work). So we can be sure that somewhere beneath our feet that river still runs, and indeed you can see a photo of it on the tourist office website: Torrente Aposa.
The city has ambitions to open up more of its canals. This plan was announced by the mayor in 2010 though I don’t know to what extent it has since progressed:
”While Bologna is unlikely to ever rival Venice, said Delbono, more waterways will be uncovered if this first stage goes well, and Bologna could eventually join the ranks of Europe’s major rediscovered ‘canal cities’, such as Strasbourg, Bruges and Birmingham. He said the waterways would not only make the historic centre more pleasant for Bolognesi, they would also boost tourism and could even be used for commercial activities.” (from HistoryBlog website)
But let us move on to see what Bologna has to offer in respect of another aspect of city streets that I love to seek out and photograph, its street art and graffiti.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Street art and graffiti
Favorite thing: I love to look for and photograph street art whenever I explore a city, and I was keen to see what Bologna could show me. I found that it was perhaps not such a big deal as it has become in some cities in recent years, with much of the graffiti here being more scrawl than art, but I did spot some good examples. Many of these were on shop shutters, only visible when the shop was shut, so Sunday proved a particularly good day on which to search them out. My first two photos are examples of these, the first taken on Via Zamboni and the second on Via Marsala – both beautifully executed!
Photos three and four were taken on the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, in the university district, and the banners draped nearby are part of a student protest that was going on at the time (the sort of protest that involves only banners, from what we observed, not marches and speeches etc.)
I spotted the chimp in photo five on Via de Musei, just at the point where it bends to meet Via Clavature near the Santuario di Santa Maria da Vita. The scribbled words over and around him are more typical of Bologna’s graffiti but a lot less photogenic!
Next let us meet some of the people of BolognaRelated to:
- Arts and Culture
A city to live in
Favorite thing: If you look at my photos you will soon see that one of things I enjoy is street photography, and especially capturing candid shots of people going about their daily lives on a city’s street. I found Bologna a great place for this, as is most of Italy. The temperate climate means that much of life is lived on the streets; people are generally relaxed rather than rushing around (though of course that is a huge generalisation!); and also, there are a lot of photogenic faces – by which I don’t mean so much beautiful (though many are) but interesting. So here are just a few of my favourite images from our time here:
Photo one is of a young ‘living statue’ who was taking a break over a cup of coffee in the covered area between the Re Enzo and Podestà Palazzi
Photo two was taken one early evening in Via Sampieri which seemed to be a regular parking place for the ubiquitous scooters
Photo three is where two cultures meet – an Irish bar on Via Zamboni with its tables set out under one of Bologna’s typical porticos, and a local guy enjoying a pint of Guinness
Photo four was taken on Via Marsala – a local lady enjoying a coffee and a quiet read of the newspaper
And photo five – well, it is obvious who we have here! It was taken one evening in front of the church complex of Santo Stefano which seems to be a popular place for wedding couples to pose, as we had seen another pair there the previous afternoon. As it happens, this was the evening of our own wedding anniversary (34 years!!) so it seemed fitting to photograph another couple setting out on that journey
For anyone else interested in street photography I have put more similar photos in a travelogue.
But if you have seen enough let us now check out a group of rather different inhabitants, the city’s dogsRelated to:
A city of dog lovers
Favorite thing: As cat lovers we were surprised to see almost none on the streets of Bologna (in contrast to other Italian cities we have visited, such as Venice). We were told that the reason is not that the Bolognesi dislike cats, but that they prefer to keep them indoors. In contrast we did see very many dogs, many of them rather cute and all well cared-for and clearly much loved, even pampered. No need for a dog here to fear that his legs may get tired on the daily walk, a ride in a bike or scooter basket will surely be offered.
Only once though did we meet a cat, or in fact two, who wandered out of a florist’s shop on Via dè Carbonesi to greet us as we passed – see photo five if you too are a cat lover!
And now we will explore Bologna by night.
A city by night
Favorite thing: As in many cities with beautiful old architecture, it is well worth taking your camera with you when you go out in the evenings in Bologna. A lot of the historic buildings are nicely illuminated and you can capture them in a different light from their day-time appearance. And while a tripod would be a real benefit, personally I prefer not to carry one on trips and usually find I can manage by steadying my camera on a convenient wall. In Bologna I had the useful bonus of the steps that lift many pavements well above street level beneath the porticos – photo three, in the Piazza Santo Stefano, was taken in this way.
Here is a selection of my favourite night-time spots:
Photo one – the Fountain of Neptune
Photo two – Via de Pignattari along the western side of the Basilica of San Petronio, just off the Piazza Maggiore (our hotel was located here so this was our bedtime walk each evening)
Photo three – the Piazza Santo Stefano in front of the church complex of the same name
Photo four – the same location but looking towards Via Santo Stefano from in front of the church (what looks like a cannon ball is one of a semi-circle of stone balls that serve as bollards)
Photo five – the Piazza Maggiore and Palazzo del Podestà, with the Torre dell'Arengo visible behind
And it is to the Piazza Maggiore, the heart of Bologna, that we will go next.Related to:
Jewish Ghetto district
Favorite thing: While there are a number of specific attractions in this part of the city, including the Jewish museum, for us the main appeal here was in simply wandering the narrow streets and spotting the interesting details to photograph.
The ghetto was established in 1556 when a Papal order decreed that Jews must live in a specific part of the city. In 1569 they were expelled from Bologna, but were allowed to return in 1586, living again in the ghetto until 1593, when they were expelled again, this time more permanently: 900 left the city then and no Jewish community was allowed back into the city for more than two centuries.
When the ghetto was active it was sealed off at night. The entrances would be opened in the morning, sealed at dusk and constantly watched. There were just three – one at the beginning of Via de’ Giudei, a second at the intersection of Via del Carro and Via Zamboni, and a third in Via Oberdan, where an arch looks onto vicolo Mandria. Today of course you can enter anywhere but if you want to take one of the old entrances look for the one near the church of San Donato on Via Zamboni, where a stone arch with a mask of Pan (photo five) leads to Via del Carro – the second of the three entrances listed above.
Many of the photos in my tip and travelogue about the city’s little details were taken in this area, along Via dell’Inferno and others. Although a Jewish ghetto there are several churches here, including San Nicolo deli Albari (photo four) which dates from 1680, and Christian statues etc. Look out too for the little maps and plaques that point out spots of interest. The former show the ghetto in the shape of a hand, as a visual reminder of the importance of crafts in this part of the city.
Let’s now visit a couple of specific sights here, starting with the former church of San Giobbe.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Tourist Information Office
Favorite thing: This is not my favourite thing about Bologna but until VT has a "Practical info" category I have nowhere else to put this!
Bologna’s Tourist Information Office is very conveniently located on the north side of the Piazza Maggiore. From our experience the staff speak good English and there are usually several on duty, although there seemed to be a slightly confusing system whereby some were responsible for selling (tours for example) and others for giving out information, but with neither function labelled.
You can pick up a good free map of the city which marks all the main sights and proposes a walking tour, "Three hours in the heart of our city". We followed part of this on our first day and found that, with numerous photo stops, visits inside some churches and other buildings such as the Archiginnasio, and of course refreshments, it took considerably longer than three hours! They also have other leaflets suggesting walks and trips further afield, some of which, like the "Three hours in the heart of our city", can also be downloaded from their excellent website Bologna Welcome.
They also offer several escorted tours – walking tours in the city and trips by bus to places such as the Ferrari factory and regional food producers. It was here that we booked our “Enjoy Bologna” food and drink walking tour at €25 per person, and here that we met up with our guide the next day.
You can book accommodation with the tourist office, either here in person or online. We didn’t use this service but their prices look competitive and there is no booking fee.
This is my final tip on this tour of Bologna. If you’d like to return to my intro page and leave me a comment (please do!) you can click here.
Favorite thing: Cities have typical colours, and Bologna's predominant colour is that of bricks, terracotta in various reddish and brownish shades. Then add more terracotta, ochre, orange and warm yellow on painted plaster surfaces, and you have the range of colours in the old town. The brick facades give the streets and squares a warm atmosphere.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Piazza San Stefano
Favorite thing: Many visitors would agree with me, relatively small square of San Stefano is probably the most charming place in whole of historic center of Bologna. It has irregular trapezoid shape and is closed from all sides by the fine looking houses, palaces and the complex of seven small churches. It is where one would get full impression why this city is called Red.
The square is often used for concerts and other cultural events. Every first Sunday of the month in the square held flea market with selected items to suit every pocket. The square is a popular meeting place for young people but also a place where tourists usually make a break. In the summer, during the heat of the day, the temperature in the square is slightly lower than in the other parts of the city and Bolognesi know it well. It is good to know, there is always some refreshing breeze around the square, especially under the porticoes.
Favorite thing: What is a town without a people, "The Day after" has shown it well, even the most beautiful places looking ugly if no living creatures there. But on the other hand, some very beautiful places looking less attractive to us if locals have left kind of bad impressions.
I was like ten times so far in Bologna and can't remember any bad imporession about the Bolognesi people........
gente per bene
Piazza Malpighi - Tombe dei Glossatori
Favorite thing: Piazza Malpighi doesn't look alike an sity square, it is atypical in its shape reminds to an extended section of a street. The square is named after Marcello Malpighi (1628-1694), Bolognese doctor who is wide world known for his researchs in anatomy and developing methods in using of mcroscopes.
In the central part of the square stands an column with the statue of Immaculate on its top. Opposite to the column is huge complex of Basilica di San Francesco with Glossatori tombs in its garden. Glossatori were Bolognese lawyers to whom the foundation of the Alma Mater Studiorum is owed. The locals called them Glossatori because they used to add "glosses", notes and postscripts to the legal texts and manuscripts from which they completed their studies. Each student of roman Law studies should know their names; Bulgaro, Martino, Jacopo and Ugo.
In their honour the sity keeps their remains inside an important funeral monument in the shadow of the Basilica San Francesco. These are 13th cntury monumental arches covered with shrines, supported by columns decorated with enamelled tiles, within which are the coffins of famous schlars from the studium.
Favorite thing: Piazza Verdi is important city square dedicated to great Italian musician Giuseppe Verdi. It is located in the old core of Bologna, right in the heart of the university area. This square is specific public space of the city, often represented by the local and national media as a symbol place of the deterioration of the capital Emiliano (Bologna is the capital of the Italian province of Emilia Romagna). For the huge student population of Bologna Piazza Verdi is the symbol of the university.
Piazza Verdi is the seat of magnificent Teatro Comunale, while on its western side it is bounded by the only surviving section of Bologna's 11th century city walls.
The square, especially in summer, is used for numerous opeair cultural events. From recently there is promotion of "Almawinteraction" by Alma Mater, proposing different activities in the winer, such as; exhibitions, debates, workshops even "tornei di briscola" (tournaments in card game).
Fondest memory: Piazza Verdi definatelly isn't the most beautiful square in the city of Bologna but it is probably the most charming one, especially in the evenings.
Exploring the streets
Favorite thing: Bologna is a beautiful town and very laid back place. You wont see here much of those hysterical busy individuals who rushing from the point A to the point B, angry because you happened to be caught on their way. Here you can stop a local businessmen and ask him, even a silly question, and yet he wont ignoring you but will patiently respond with a smile. Do not be surprised if some youngster, friendly and kindly, take you to the spot that you are looking for.
Bologna is "citta di arte e cultura" (the city of arts and culture) and the visitor would notice it at every turn when strolling around. These are the reasons why exploring of Bologna and its streets is such casual, comfortable and enjoyable.
Fondest memory: Population makes the integral part in the beauty of an place, the citizens of Bologna are very polite, helpful and very friendly towards the visitors.
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