Looking at it from above, what emerge, as great splashes of bright color, are reds: the reds of roofs and of walls. Bologna is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, and perhaps Europe. Capital of Emilia Romagna, it is simply unique: there’s no other place like it, nor anywhere else that could replace it. It’s beautiful because of the fullness, the abundance of color; and the color, which predominates is in fact mostly red.
Interviewed for a magazine, the Italian singer Gianni Morandi listed those that for him are the unforgettable sites in “his” Bologna. “The Santo Stefano Basilica in the piazza of the same name, the works of Guido Reni at the San Domenico Basilica, the courtyard of the Archiginnasio Library. Then the two towers: the Garisenda and Asinelli”. And then: “We have the marvelous San Petronio Basilica and right in front of it, the Crescentone in Piazza Maggiore, a rectangle of red and pink granite as high a step. We mustn’t forget the Madonna di San Luca Sanctuary with its breathtaking panoramic view.
All splendid, beautiful destinations, especially for those travelling, for the first time, to this part of the world. But Bologna is much more than just these wonderful “institutions”, the city of arcades has so much more to offer, alleys and surprises that only show themselves to those who really want to explore it, to eat it – literally, seeing as one of its boasts is to cater to the greedy gastronome. I do not have a Gianni Morandi to ask for advice and suggestions. I do however have something much better: my friend Elisabetta, who has lived in this city for 9 years, thus giving me the opportunity to visit on many occasions and to savor, at least in part, some of Italy’s most beautiful treasures. And it was to her that I turned to show me round this corner of the world, this student town par excellence (seat of Europe’s oldest university), this place where the coffee drinkers under the arches interact with passing, smiling cyclists…. In short, “her” Bologna, which thereby also becomes a little bit of our own.
“I’ll tell you what comes to mind as a suggestion” – she says, outlining a potential itinerary which mixes things to see with places to eat or drink – “As a starting point I would suggest a trip round the center during the morning to enjoy the calm of the historic streets in the heart of the city (closed to traffic at weekends) and to soak-up the atmosphere of the fish market and small shops around Via Clavature and Via degli Orefici. In this area, if you want, I recommend trying some of the cold-meat and cheese nibbles at either Tamburini’s, Zerocinquantino or Zerocinquantello.
During the Christmas period, in the area around Via Oberdan or Via Altabella, one can find charming mini-markets and hopefully, stop to try some of the excellent prosciutto ham from various sources at either Pane Vino e S. Daniele or Prosciutteria. This area is also a characteristic ‘Jewish Quarter’ with, at its center, Piazzetta Marco Biagi. If there’s time, I would suggest stopping at two charming little places, Il Marsalino and The Camera a Sud where one can drink a glass of delicious wine.
At this point we can go on into the actual university area, which grew up around Via Zamboni and Via Irnerio, pausing to visit the gardens and look at the street art in the renovated Via Del Guasto. Here we could decide to pop into a very reasonably priced Greek taverna in Via Delle Moline or there is a (fairly expensive) Alce Nero organic restaurant. It’s essential to linger in Piazza Verdi just to have a coffee at one of the bars with little tables outside and enjoy the general coming-and-going of people. Hopefully, if you’re lucky, it might be possible to hook-up with a recent graduate, out celebrating with a group of friends: in Bologna the tradition of acting-the-fool and making jokes on such occasions is still very much in evidence.
Alternatively, one could go from Piazza della Mercanzia (right below the two towers) towards Via Castiglione, where you will find the atmosphere much quieter, more like a residential suburb. It’s essential to have a look round the church of San Giovanni in Monte and, above all, visit the wonderful Piazza Santo Stefano, seat of the eponymous basilica, also known as the complex of the Seven Churches. If you then decide to carry on towards Porta Castiglione, you’ll come across the absolutely beautiful Santa Caterina auditorium and, turning into Via Orfeo, there is one of the most popular, traditional bars in town, Miki & Max’s.