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Bologna – A Virtual Italy Tour

Bologna City Center Bologna

Try to find a better reason to head to Emilia-Romagna than to see, eat, and drink in Bologna, the region’s largest city. Bologna is situated along the ancient Via Emilia, between the Apennine mountains and the Pianura Padana, the flat, fertile plain that spreads north from the mountains to the Po River. This agriculturally rich region supplies Italy, and the rest of the world, with the cured meats and cheeses that the whole country is renowned for.This is the home of the most delicious prosciutto di Parma and savory parmigiano-reggiano cheese. In Bologna you can eat your fill of these Italian delicacies and more.

But Bologna isn’t known only for its cuisine. It’s also considered one of the most beautiful cities in Italy and is often ranked as having the highest quality of life in the country. With its winding medieval streets, towers, and porticoes, the centro storico (or historic center) makes this the ideal place to get lost in for a day or even a week. In addition, the University of Bologna, the oldest university in Europe, brings in both international and Italian students that keep the town hopping at a young and lively pace. The university was established in 1088.

Though this city has so much to offer visitors, it’s often overlooked by many tourists to Italy. If you’re searching for a slice of the Bel Paese without the hassle of the crowds, a jewel of a city rich in history and cuisine, then Bologna is the place for you.

Canal in Bologna You’ll want to See:

Bologna’s maze of terra-cotta roofs and cobbled streets unwinds in Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore, neighboring piazze that form the focal point of the city. Like most major piazze in Italy, these two boast some of the most spectacular architecture and art in the region. The main draw is the Neptune Fountain that was created by Giambologna—a Flemish sculptor—in the late 1500s. When this fountain was unveiled it stirred up a controversy, and once you look at it you’ll understand why. The virile Neptune clutches a trident and stands on the top of putti (those chubby naked angels) and mermaids who indelicately ride dolphins while shooting water from their breasts.

On the other side of Piazza Maggiore rises the large church of San Petronio. At first glance it’s apparent that the church is unfinished. The dark brick of the upper half contrasts with the pinkish marble that doesn’t even reach half-way up the facade. Originally San Petronio was intended to be larger than the church of St Peter’s in Rome, but funds were diverted to the university and the plans were modified. Even though it’s not bigger than St Peter’s it’s still the fifteenth largest church in the world!

Be sure to check out the relief panels that flank the Porta Magna, or central door. These Old Testament scenes were carved by Jacopo della Quercia and are thought to have been studied by the great Renaissance painter Michelangelo on his reluctant stay in Bologna. Compare the Creation of Adam by Quercia to the fresco depicting the same scene on the Sistine Chapel.

Opposite San Petronio is the Archginnasio, the building constructed for the university in 1565. Before this date classes were held in many places throughout the city. Though school may be in session when you visit, you can enter into the courtyard, the library, and most curiously, the Teatro Anatomico, or Anatomical Theatre, where the whole town used to turn up to the witness the learned study of bodies—though these events weren’t permitted very often on account of the Church.

Head east out of Piazza del Nettuno and you’ll be towered over by the Due Torri. The taller and straighter is Torre degli Asinelli that can be climbed for some spectacular views of Bologna and its surroundings. The more precarious of the two is the Torre Garisenda. These are the only two medieval towers remaining out of the more than one hundred that once stuck into Bologna’s skyline.

Farther east up Via Zamboni is Piazza Verdi, known as the heart of the student district. Come here at night or in the evenings to join the students for snacks and a drink. Wandering around this area you will undoubtedly stumble into some of Bologna’s portici, long covered walkways originally built to provide shelter for visitors. There are 38 kilometers of porticoes throughout the city!

Eat and Drink

Fresh Egg Pasta in Bologna

Fresh Egg Pasta in Bologna, Italy

Bologna is known as La Grassa, or “The Fat One,” for very good reasons. Prosciutto di Parma, parmigiano-reggiano, balsamic vinegar, and mortadella are just a few of the tasty specialties produced in the Emilia-Romagna region. There are also lots of dishes of handmade egg pasta to go around — this is the biggest pasta eating region in the north of Italy! Some of the classic dishes you will find here are tortellini in brodo, round navel shaped pasta filled with meat, pumpkin, or spinach and ricotta then covered in a clear broth; tagliatelle al ragù, long pasta covered in meat sauce; or lasagne.

Head to a trattoria or osteria for some simple and consistently good fare. It’s difficult to spend a lot of money eating in Bologna, which only means you can eat all the more!

Like every region of Italy, Emilia-Romagna pours wine uniquely its own. One specialty not to be missed in Bologna is Lambrusco. Though this bubbly drink can be very sweet, if you choose the DOC Lambrusco you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the dark and foamy drink that’s the only thing to cut through the fat of a meal in Bologna. For white wine try Albana, whose grapes grow near the Adriatic coast; red wine lovers should try Sangiovese from the hills near Rimini.

Come and join me in Bologna for your next Italian vacation!

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