Bologna is the city of portici, the archways. It is said that Bologna has over 40 kms of these renaissance style architectural gems. But some of them are even from the middle ages and are mad out of wood. Some of the most impressive wooden structures can be seen at Casa Bolognini.
Bologna has more arcades (covered walkways) than I've come across in any other Italian city or town so far. It also has what is considered to be the longest arcade in the world, the 4km long Portico San Luca which starts at Porta Saragozza and leads uphill to Sanctuario Madonna di San Luca (see my tip).
There are almost 40km (25 miles) of arcades in Bologna. Why so many? Obviously they shelter townspeople from the sun and the rain (and the occasional snow) but why are there so many in Bologna? It took me a while to find out, but it seems it is all related to the establishment of the university in 1088. It's not that the property owners wanted to protect people from the weather; it's because they were encouraged to extend the second storeys of their buildings outward to provide accommodation for the hundreds of students who were arriving in the city. What we in the Uk might call a 'nice little earner'. :-)
That's how it all began and what started as a practicality seems to have become a local habit. There are modern arcades with concrete supports (horrid), there are brick supports, there are stone supports, there are even a (very) few wooden supports, although their construction dates are not very clear.
I haven't been able to find out which is the oldest arcade still in existence (it may be impossible to properly date them) but, if nothing else, you'll enjoy seeing all the different variations on this theme. Some have lovely ceiling decoration, some are plain and purely functional...all are enjoyable as well as thoroughly useful. I think it would be very easy to wander most of central Bologna in heavy rain without getting too wet at all. :-)
You obviously can't miss the arcades,...that would be entirely impossible unless you didn't visit the city centre at all...but do remember to look up when you are walking though them.
Portico della Morte (as shown on the second photo) is located right opposite to the church Santa Maria della Vita. The stairs which lead to this majestic porticoe belonging to the ancient Hospital of Death, once located in the area between Portico di Pavaglione, Via dei Foscherari, Via Marchesana and Via del Musei, which is former Via dell'Morte. The Hospital of Death was very popular among medicine students who used the corpses of executed men to make anatomy studies in the nearby Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio.
There is fine looking cafe-bar inside of the porticoe, almost perfect for a break in a hot summer days, offering refreshing shadow, excellent espresso, fine sandwiches and snacks in a nice and quiet ambient:
Along the via Saragossa the portici di San Luca begin just outside Porta Saragossa. These porticoes that lead to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of St. Luke are numbered, and at Archway #170 a Madonna con bambino by Andrea Ferreri (1673-1744) sits. The image is nicknamed Madonna Grassa or the Fat Madonna because of her full and shapely proportions. In a town, such as Bologna, with such good food it is little wonder that Our Lady would have a Rubenesque figure. One of the city’s nicknames is la grassa, the fat, because of its great food.
“On entering its principal streets the attention of the stranger is at once attracted by the covered porticoes, like those of Padua and Modena. The older quarters of Bologna, however, wear a heavy and antique aspect; their arcades are low and gloomy, and the streets are irregular and narrow; but these only serve as a contrast to the broad thoroughfares and noble arcades of the more modern part of the city.”
— from “A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy” 1857 by John Murray
Began in 1657, each arch the Portico of San Luca was completed thanks to donations made by noble families, religious communities, and everyday citizens. The arches are numbered and total 666, a most curious number. It is possible to look out and see the part of the long line of arches (see photo #1) the make up the covered walkway.
Some arches are decorated with the coat-of-arms of donating families (see photo #4); while others show scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, such as The Visitation (see photo #5).
“Up to this church, from the gate of Bologna, is a portico or covered way, about three miles long, very elegant in workmanship, twelve feet broad and fifteen high. It took about sixty years to complete, and the cost was immense; but the whole was raised by voluntary contribution. Up this tremendously steep portico we ascended (not much with my will) in the warmest day I have experienced, as the carriage could not be used, and was left at the foot.”
— from “Memoir of James Ewing of Strathlever” 1866 by Macintosh Mackay
UP, UP AND AWAY The church that Mr. Ewing is hiking towards is Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca. It sits on Colle della Guardia southwest of town. The portici di San Luca begins with a archway just outside Porta Saragozza (see von.otter’s Bologna Must See Tip, ‘Porta Saragozza: One of the City’s Gateways’)
Began in 1657, each arch the portici di San Luca was completed thanks to donations made by noble families, religious communities, and everyday citizens. The arches are numbered and total 666, a most curious number.
“We went to Bologna, then, first, and found the few days we spent there well bestowed. The peculiarity of its domestic architecture is its porticos. It looks as if the Bolognese had made a vow, never to walk in the sun or rain; for the front of the ground-floor of every building is a portico; and thus every street is an avenue of noble columns, of all the architectural orders, which support the indispensable, all-ramifying portico.”
— from “Letters, Poems and Selected Prose” 1888 by David Gray (1838-1861, Scottish poet)
CHARMING PECULIARITY Bologna has a total of 23.5 miles of porticoed space running through its historic center. Porticoes are not exclusive to Bologna, but the city is especially known for them. Developed during the 1200s, by 1288 the city fathers made it obligatory for anyone who constructed a building in the city to include a portico as part of the new structure. In addition, the porticoes had to be a minimum height of nine feet to allow those on horseback to pass beneath them!
The elaborately decorated ceilings (see photo #3) of some porticoes date from the 19th century.
There are no specific attractions here (at least, not that I know of), except probably this is the best place to absorb Bologna's lovely cityscape. The piazza is flanked by beautiful architecture with the flashiest porticoes, housing some of the finest shops in the city as well as fashionable cafés. There is a very trendy pasticceria-cum-gelateria near Via Farini (the name escapes me) serving to-die-for desserts amid the lovely interiors (definitely one of the trendiest I've been to in Italy).
The Bolognese love to look good and you see the best looking here around Piazza Cavour. Great for people watching and for chilling out.
Strada Maggiore is among my fav streets in Bologna. It is really easy to find it, it starts just from the two towers, direction north (to Porta San Vitale). This street is never crowded and walking there is really enjoyable. There are also some nice little bijouterie shops to visit... If you are looking for some nice little presents!
Christmas special: a nice Christmas market takes place here. Prices are affordable and the market is really cheerful!
In Via del Carro U can see how was builded the anciet porticos of Bologna: in the Middle Ages the city prospered and many people moved from the coutry in the city center, in order to find job and better living conditions, but the houses were not enough. Therefore The buildin was enlarged, constructing an other piece of palace supported by portici, where people could also do the simply road life, like market or ordinary work. Originally you carry were in wood, coem that one of via of the Wagon or the most famous porch of the three Arrows, in greater Road (you see photo of the introductory page).
Bologna is also called the City of Porticos. There is no other city in the world with as many porticos as Bologna. The lenght of all of them is about 40 km. At first they will built in wood in the Middle Age, then were rebuilt in stone.
In the Middle Age living in Bologna had become dangerous because of medieval wars, and it was dangerous to live outside the city walls. So there was the need to enlarge the houses. This was done through the construction of upper floors which stood on porticos.
This is where the long portico starts. This gate is called Meloncello. From there in about 45 minutes you can reach the basilica on foot. Typically the bolognese take a walk there on a sunday afternoon from time to time, also for the beautiful view you have from there of the hills and of the city. It's also very good to keep you fit!! ;)
However the portico is flanked by a road, so don't worry, if you are lazy you can go up by car!!