San Petronio, Bologna

4.5 out of 5 stars 32 Reviews

Piazza Galvani, 5 051 231415

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    San Petronio

    by Kathrin_E Written Jan 9, 2015

    San Petronio is the main parish church of the city. Its façade occupies the southern side of Piazza Maggiore. It is not the cathedral, though – the Duomo is located round the corner in Via dell’Independenza and has a majestic façade, but hardly any impressive effect due to its location in a rather narrow street. It is San Petronio that has got the most prominent location. The huge gothic church was a project of the city, not the Bishop. It was begun in 1390 and has in fact never been finished. Look at the façade: only the bottom third has incrustations in white, grey and pink marble. Further up we see the underconstruction in ugly bricks that was to be hidden behind a layer of marble. We can only imagine how the façade was intended to be, and how beautiful it would have been, all in light colours decorated with sculptures.

    The church is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Petronius, who was its bishop in the 5th century. The vast interior is a fine example of Italian gothic with a combination of red brick pillars, white plaster and white stone.

    The interior has one particular feature, namely a meridian or sun calendar (photos 4 and 5). Through a hole in the vaults, a single sunray falls in. At (astronomical) noon it hits the brass line inserted in the floor, and the point where the light meets the calendar line shows the date.

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    There's something about this church........

    by leics Written Nov 20, 2014

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    San Petronio is a vast edifice...supposedly the fifteenth largest in the world...and is a church with early Medieval roots. It lies on Piazza Maggiore, behind the Palazzo Re Enzo and, from that point of view is unmissable.

    In common with other churches in Bologna, San Petronio allows no photography inside so you'll have to make do with my written description.

    Work on the church began in 1390 and, as is common with ancient churches when they were intended to be great and glorious, took several centuries to complete. Oddly, its facade was never completed: it is half marble-faced (completed during the early 1500s) and half not, which looks rather odd. But it's worth a close look at the beautifully-carved portal of the main entrance, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments. It is the work of Jacopo della Quercia and dates from the 1400s.

    Inside you'll find a truly huge space but, for me, it is a space lacking the imposing atmosphere or even the light and airiness of other churches of similar size and date. I don't know why that should be; perhaps it is simply too vast a a space, too apparently empty? There are 22 small side-chapels, a few of which date back to the 1400s, but most of those (at least when I visited) were viewable only from a distance.

    The church also houses the four ancient stone crosses which, according to legend, San Petronio himself once placed at the perimeter of what was then the historical heart of the city.

    I believe that there is an entrance fee but I must have just walked past the desk. Or maybe, because it was late on a Sunday afternoon, they just weren't bothering to charge visitors. Opening times are in the photo above.

    It's worth a wander round the back of the church, into Piazza Galvani, just to see the evidence of architectural change over the centuries.

    If you have the time then San Petronio is worth a look but, imo, it is nothing in comparison with the magnificent complex of San Stefano. Both San Domenico and San Francesco had more to interest me and perhaps might have more to interest you?

    Round the back 1 Round the back 2
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    Bologna's main basilica San Petronio

    by Trekki Updated Nov 8, 2014

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    Surely, Bologna’s Basilica San Petronio, named after San Petronio, an early bishop of town, is an impressive building, at the southern end of Piazza Maggiore. According to the officials it is the fifth largest basilica in the world (and caution: English Wikipedia is wrong saying it would be the fifteenth largest one, maybe translation error), after San Pietro in Roma, St. Paul’s in London, Santa Maria del Fiore in Firenze and Duomo Santa Maria Nascente in Milano. It is said to have been intended to be larger than San Pietro in Roma, but this plan was terminated by Pope Pio IV. Beginning in 1390, the various building phases lasted until almost recently and it was never really finished. This is quite obvious in the facade, with its upper part of old date and the white and pink marble in the lower part of “newer” date (from 1538 and later). It seems that several niches in the marble structure were intended to hold statues, but either they were never made or they are somewhere for restoration.

    Inside? Yes, I was inside on my first evening, a few minutes before they closed. I just wanted to peek inside to see if I would be back for more. But at the end I was so busy with Santo Stefano and the museums in Achiginnasio and Palazzo Poggi and of course the food that there was simply no more time. However, this brief visit did not give me the feeling that I desperately need to come back. No, that’s not correct; I was impressed by its dimensions, 132 x 60 metres and 45 metres high, and also with its 22 side chapels and the various structures and decorations. But I also felt quite clobbered from its appearance, especially when I compared it with the Rococo churches of southern Bavaria I came to like a lot in the meantime, Wieskirche and the church in Rottenbuch, just to name a few. Yes, I think I missed the lightness and airiness in Bologna’s duomo.

    But it is surely a place to visit, for several reasons: first of all the 22 side chapels, decorated by various masters, each by a different one. Especially the fourth chapel to the left must be interesting: called “Capella dei Re Magi” (sometimes called Capella Bolognini) with frescoes showing San Petronio’s life, the story of the Three Magi and a Heaven and Hell fresco based on Dante’s books. It costs a small entrance fee (2,50 Euro when I was there, including an audioguide, English available). And then there is another interesting specialty inside: a sundial and meridian line in the marble pavement, which one crosses just after entering. It is said to be the longest in the world with almost 68 metres. It is work of one of Bologna’s famous astronomers, Giovanni Domenico Cassini.
    So yes, I should be back.

    The bells of the basilica are still being rung by campanari, but different than the Campanone in Gubbio, my favourite bell. I found a short video on youtube, showing their technique.

    For those who like to see more of the interior of San Petronio – photography is not allowed inside – here is an interesting video about the interior, 26 minutes in length (Italian spoken):

    Location of Duomo San Petronio on Bing Maps.

    © Ingrid D., October 2014 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)

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    Basilica di San Petronio

    by croisbeauty Updated Feb 19, 2013

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    The huge Basilica was built to honour Petronius, bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. it is reckoned to be one of the greatest Catholic churches throughout Italy and features a length of 132 metres, a width of 60 metres, a facade of 51 metres and finally a central vault of 41 metres. Basilica is the main church of the city, dominating the Piazza Maggiore, and is the fifteenth largest church in the world.
    The construction was a communal project of the city and the property was a symbol of communal power. It was transfered from the city to a diocese only in 1929 and finally consecrated in 1954.
    The three naves basilica was designed in a Gothic style by a local architect Antonio di Vicenzo, in June 1390, and completed only in 1479. The designed construction was never completed because of the great disapproval of the Roman Church. In 1514 Arduino degli Arriguzzi proposed a revision of the design with intention to outdo even the Basilica di San Pietro of Rome but Pope Pius IV halted such a project.
    The facing of the main facade remains unfinished even though many celebrated architects were commissioned to propose the solutions for it, among them Vignola, Baldassare Peruzzi and Andrea Palladio. The main doorway was enriched by Jacopo della Quercia of Siena. Jacopo Barozzi, better known as Vignola was chief architect of the magnificent interiors which is enriched by great number of side chapels.
    There were a several plans of Muslim terrorists, mostly connected to Al Qaeda, to blow up the building. They claimed, after being arested, that a 15th century fresco inside was insulting to Islam. It is fresco by Giovanni da Modena representing a scene from Dante Alighieri's "Inferno", depicting Muhammad in hell being devoured by demons.

    Basilica di San Petronio Basilica di San Petronio
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    Part III, The Interior

    by von.otter Updated Apr 26, 2011

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    “San Petronio contains a chapel of the Baciocchi family. Here lies the eldest of the sisters of Napoleon, the Princess Eliza Baciocchi, wisest, happiest, and least celebrated of the family.”
    — from ‘Parma and Bologna’ from “The Gallaxy” February 1876 by The Making of America Project

    SCIENTIFIC CELEBRATION Laid into the basilica’s floor is a sundial in the form of a meridian line. Astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, a teacher at Bologna’s university, designed it in 1655. I spotted my zodiac sign, Aquarius, along the meridian (see photo #2). Running more than 219 feet, it is the longest sundial in the world. In 1695, Cassini and Domenico Guglielmini published an illustrated book about the meridian when it was made.

    Jacopo Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573) designed the ciborium, or canopy (see photo #3) supported by columns, over the altar.

    Once leaving Bologna, our journey would be made by car. I was happy to see St. Christopher, patron saint of travelers, (see photo #4) frescoed on a column of the basilica’s interior.

    In 2002, the basilica was the target of an unsuccessful terrorist attack. Five men, believed to have connections to Al-Qaeda, were arrested in connection with a plot to blow up the building. Another attempt, this time in 2006, was foiled by Italian police. Their reason for their destructive intent centers on an interior, 15th-century fresco by Giovanni da Modena. It depicts a scene from Dante’ Inferno where Muhammad is shown in Hell being devoured by demons.

    Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010
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    Part II, Exterior

    by von.otter Updated Oct 18, 2010

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    “The Basilica of San Petronio, the largest in Bologna, and, though unfinished, one of the most interesting and remarkable, is a fine monument of the religious munificence which characterised the period of Italian freedom.”
    — from “A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy: Southern Tuscany and the Papal States” 1857 by John Murray

    The three entrance doors are topped by lunettes. Above the right-hand lunette is the Resurrection (see photo #1); the left-hand one shows the Deposition from the Cross (see photo #3). Over the center door the Virgin is flanked by San Petronio and San Ambrogio (see photo #2).

    Surrounding each entry door are a number of low-relief sculptures depicting scenes from the Old Testement, including Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (see photo #4). Jacopo della Quercia uses dramatic and forceful gestures in this composition. The angel pushes the resisting Adam from the gates of Paradise while Eve is shown in the pose of the classical modest Venus covering her nudity.

    Basilica di San Petronio, Bolgona, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bolgona, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bolgona, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bolgona, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bolgona, May 2010
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    Part 1, Exterior

    by von.otter Written Oct 18, 2010

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    “On the south side of this Piazza is the Church of San Petronio, which covers more ground than St. Peter’s in Rome, but is unfinished, externally, and fails in height and proportions; having been commenced in the Gothic style. On the floor of this church, commencing at the left of the central door, is a meridian, traced in brass and marble, by Cassini the astronomer.”
    — from “A Hand-Book for American Travellers in Europe” 1853 by Rev. Roswell Park, president, Racine College, Racine, WI

    CHURCH AS BASILICA This church is a basilica, which means it is a place of pilgrimage. Dominating the south side of Piazza Maggiore, Basilica di San Petronio was begun in 1390 as a civic project to compete with Constantine’s St. Peter’s in Rome. It has a Roman basilica floor plan; its Gothic rib vaulting shows Northern European influences. When the ducats stopped flowing, work halted; I love the lopsided marble facing. There are some who say that the façade was not finished to keep it simple, less grand, more of a people’s church.

    Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di San Petronio, Bologna, May 2010
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    Watch what you're wearing

    by Bunsch Written Oct 12, 2010

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    The Basilica San Petronio is justly listed amongst the treasures of Bologna. Only...you have to be appropriately dressed to be permitted inside. Apparently my bare arms (on a day with temperatures in the mid-nineties) were an affront to the Diety, so despite the heat, I was required to purchase and wear a coat of synthetic (that is, non-breathable) material whilst within the church precincts. I noticed that others wearing shorts were similarly attired, but girls wearing even very short skirts -- as long as they had some sort of sleeves on top -- weren't required to suit up! (I am told that in Pisa they require them to wear aprons, but perhaps that is just rumor.)

    Once you meet the dress code, you are free to wander this immense, light-filled space (the fifth largest church in the world, apparently). What struck me most was the marriage of theology and science. I'm reasonably certain there was a Foucault pendulum in one of the chapels, and a "linea longitudinale" crosses the nave, part of the astronomer Cassini's creation of an internal sundial with zodiac signs in the 17th century.

    Begun in 1390, San Petronio was not consecrated until 1954.

    Candidly, I was so overheated in both body and temper that it was a struggle to pay sufficient attention to my surroundings. That doesn't mean YOU shouldn't, though. Read someone else's pages on the Basilica and I'm sure you'll be more motivated!

    The cathedral nave (not my pic)
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    Basilica di San Petronio

    by MM212 Updated Jul 4, 2009

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    Commissioned in the late 14th century, Bologna's largest church, la Basilica di San Petronio was meant to surpass Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. Although construction continued for centuries, the basilica was not finished and it never reached its intended size, for Pope Pius IV stopped the construction to prevent it from achieving its grandiose target. Yet, even as it stands uncompleted today, it is the fifth largest church in the world. The basilica is dedicated to Saint Petronius, the 5th century Bishop of Bologna, and dominates the city's main square, Piazza Maggiore. It was only consecrated in 1954 and the relics of its patron saint were only moved within it in the year 2000. One need not look hard to see the unfinished details, as the towering façade - all 51 metres in height and 60 metres in width - is only less than half covered in polychrome marble and Gothic decorations. The rest is naked in its bare dark bricks that should have been embossed in marble and covered forever. Nevertheless, the finished half is of exquisite beauty with sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia decorating the Porta Magna, the main doorway. The basilica's square campanile or bell tower, dates from 1492.

    Details of the fa��ade The unfinished fa��ade of San Petronio Sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia half marble, half brick Basilica di San Petronio & the bell tower
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    San Petronio - Interior

    by MM212 Updated Jun 28, 2009

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    Although minimally decorated, the interior of the Basilica di San Petronio is a beautiful example of Italian Gothic architecture. Most impressive is its sheer size and lofty ceilings. It consists of three naves, with numerous side and back chapels, only a few of which are adorned by stunning frescoes. The most famous chapel is the one depicting Dante's inferno (hell) in its frescoes by Giovanni da Modena. In its original plan, the church was to be cross-shaped, but when Pope Pius IV stopped the project, the two side wings completing the cross shape were never constructed. From the outside, the two sides of the Basilica seem oddly cropped as a result of the halted construction (see attached photo).

    Interior of Basilica di San Petronio, Apr 2009 The lofty interior, Apr 2009 The altar, Apr 2009 A frescoed chapel, Apr 2009 The Cropped wing, Apr 2009
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    Stunted ambition

    by Tijavi Updated Dec 21, 2008

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    The Basilica di San Petronio is Bologna's main cathedral. Compared with other churches in Italy (like those in Florence and Siena), it looks modest. But that was not the original plan. When construction began in 1390, the grand plan was to build Christendom's largest cathedral, even bigger than Vatican's San Pietro. Still unfinished until the mid-1500s, Pope Pius IV squashed the original builders' dreams when funds were rechanneled to building a university on the eastern side of the church (the Palazzao Archiginnasio). The result was the unfinished facade that we see now, and the church being "demoted" to only the 5th largest in the world.

    Despite the unfulfilled dream, San Petronio still boasts beautiful works by major Italian artists. The main doorway was carved by Jacopo della Querica in 1425 depicting the Madonna and Child and biblical scenes. The gothic interiors contain 22 chapels with some outstanding stained glass works by Jacopo of Ulm while Giovanni da Modena and Jacopo di Paolo painted the stunning frescoes.

    While entrance to the church is free, non-personal bags (for example, backpacks) are not allowed inside the church and this is strictly enforced. I had to leave my backpack at my hotel - but I was lucky since it was only a few meters from Piazza Maggiore.

    Notice the unfinished facade The doorway by Jacopo della Querica Stunning frescoes inside San Petronio The gothic interiors Beautiful stained glass adorn the 22 chapels
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    Basillica di San Petronio

    by darkjedi Written Nov 1, 2008

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    Dedicated to the 5th century bishop and patron of the city. The building of San Petronio was begun in 1390 by the architect di Vincenzo. Construction was started as gothic architecture but changed to renaissance around a century later. However the designed construction was never completed because of the great disapproval of the Roman Church. It was suppose to be bigger the saint peters in Rome, but was made smaller when the church authorities diverted money to the nearby Plaazzo Archiginnasio and the new university. All masonry work stopped and was moved to the Palazzo, but when it was completed funds for the new cathedral were no longer available. Despite the papal sabotage the basilica is still the fifth largest in the world

    The doors feature sculptures by Tribolo, Lombardo, da Treviso and Aspertini. Inside you will find a museum with models and drawings of the original and modified plans for construction. Also the relicas of St. Petronius are in this church

    Rear view Facade main front San Petronio San Petronio from the Specola Tower roof
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    A Church that would be a Cathedral

    by mikey_e Written Aug 27, 2007

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    San Petronio was begun in 1390 by the then unknown architect di Vincenzo and was not "completed" until the middle of the 17th century. I say "completed" because the façade of this church that would be a cathedral (but never was) is quite obviously not finished, with only half of it covered in pink and white marble. By the three arched doors you can see the sculptures dell Quercia (when there is no construction), erected between 1425 and 1438. You can find bas-reliefs of stories from the Genesis on the pilasters as well as images of the prohets on the archivolts. The doors feature sculptures by Tribolo, Lombardo, da Treviso, Aspertini and other artists.
    The interior of the church defies description is such a small space, as it contains no less than 11 chapels (and the original plan called for a church twice this size!!!). Nevertheless, the rooms are not empty and will delight any visitor with the wealthy of the artistic heritage contained inside this church. The elevnth chapel has a high relief of the Assumption by Tribolo (16th Century) while the fourth chapel features primarily Gothic architecture. For those who are interested by the construction and history of the San Petronio, you will find a museum inside the church with models and drawings of the original and modified construction plans.

    San Petronio fa��ade Fa��ade with construction San Petronio from Piazza Galvani San Petronio from an angle
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    Basilica di San Petronio

    by sue_stone Written Nov 15, 2006

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    Located in a prime position on Piazza Maggiore, the Basilica di San Petronio is quite a sight. The intriguing thing about it is that its façade has never been finished, the bottom half is marble and the top half ugly bricks.

    Building commenced on the basilica back in 1390 and was never completed, although work continued for a few centuries. However, enough was built to make it the 5th largest church in the world....if construction had continued to plan it may well have been the largest. Rumour has it that construction was abandoned by order of the Pope, as he didn't want it to end up larger than St Peters (in Rome), which was Bologna's plan.

    The basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of the city, Saint Petronius, who was Bologna's bishop in the 5th century. The inside is a little sombre, though it has elegant arches adding more height to the already vast interior. There are 22 side chapels with interesting glass work, paintings and sculptures. Check out the Capella Bolognini with its frescoes depicting heaven and hell.

    Free admission

    Basilica di San Petronio inside Basilica di San Petronio Basilica di San Petronio
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    San Petronio Church - Basilica di San Petronio

    by Airpunk Written Oct 18, 2006

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    The Basilica of San Petronio was dedicated to a bolognan bishop of the 5th century who is also the patron of the city. It is the fourth largest catholic church in the world and could have been the largest, if funds were not rerouted to build a palace. So, the church remains unfinished with a couple of pillars intended for another church nave remaining next to it. Also, the pope opposed these plans, so that the largest catholic church remains St. Peter's in Rome.

    Building began in 1390 as a gothic cathedral, but the style was switched to renaissance around a century later. The interior is predominantly gothic while the facade is kept in a mixture with the lower half in renaissance style. This lower half of the church is decorated with white marmour, leaving only the upper half of the church with the bare dark brickstones (a kind of trademark in Bologna) to be seen. Some historical events took place in this church, including the coronation of Charles V. of the Holy Roman Empire in 1530. The sister of Napoleaon Bonaparte, Elisa Bonaparte, was buried here and since 2000, also the relicas of St. Petronius are in this church.

    Take a look at tzhe central portal, on which Jacopo della Quercia worked for thirteen years!

    Basicila di San Petronio Just to get an idea of this churche's size The main portal I'm talking about
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