Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Bologna: centre and west

Piazzza Maggiore: Palazzo d'Accursio and Palazzo Communale

It is the first day of a week based in Bologna, and we head out from our hotel near the station (north of the centre) for a walk around the two main squares and the area to the west. There are some vestiges of the city walls nearby and our first landmark is the impressive Porta Galliera (rebuilt 1660).

We turn into via Indipendenza, laid out in 1888, the long main street. Like very many streets in Bologna is has porticos on both sides, covered walkways like the sides of a cloister. Brilliant if it is wet! On the left we pass - as everyone seems to do - the Cathedral with its massive 17th century facade towering above us. The porticoed street in front means that it has no space to itself.

At the end of the street is a cross roads and on the other side is the Piazza del Nettuno, named after the statue of Neptune (by Giambologna, 1566) which dominates it. 

On the left is the Palazzo de Re Enzo, which dates from 1246 (but was radically restored in 1905-11). King Renzo of Sardinia was imprisoned there soon after it was built and the name seems to have stuck.

The Piazza de Nettuno leads in the main Square, the Piazza Maggiore. On the right is the Palazzo Communale and then the Palazzo d'Accursio (see photo at the head of this post). On the left is the city's principal church, the Basilica di San Petronio. (Saint Petronius was bishop of Bologna in the 5th century.) It was begin in 1390. It is currently being restored, so I have resorted to this postcard image of what it really looks like. It is a surprisingly poor picture, despite being taken in the golden hour at dawn. It does however make clear the two key features of the facade: the beautiful marble-clad lower part with exquisite sculptured doorways and the incomplete upper part. Work seems to have stopped in 1530 or thereabouts. But why did it never resume?

Inside, the basilica is vast: 41m high and with a long nave consisting of ten massive piers. Our attention is caught by the Bolognini chapel where there are marvelous frescoes of 1410 by Giovanni da Modena. The most dramatic is this depiction of hell, showing Satan with two mouths and the torments that various classes of sinner are to expect.

Heaven, above naturally, looks dull by comparison with the saints and martyrs sitting on carefully aligned benches. But still preferable! Opposite the basilica is the elegant Palazzo del Podesta, which dates from the early 13th century, but was remodelled in 1484.

We walked along the porticoed via del Archiginnasio ...

... to late renaissance Archiginnasio building. It dates from the 1560s and was originally built for the University (Bologna famously has one of the oldest in Europe).


We headed west to see the church of San Domenico and were impressed by the Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio, which a helpful plaque explained was an example of gothic architecture from the end of the 14th century. The Torre degli Asinelli (Asinelli Tower) can be seen in the background: a target for tomorrow.

When we got to San Domenico - an old church dating from 1261, but much added to and remodelled since - we found it closed for lunch. This is of course a common, even standard, practice with Italian churches, but we still get caught out.

When we eventually returned, we thought the cloister was especially pleasing.

In the event, we turned back towards the centre to find somewhere for lunch - not too difficult! On the way we passed another eye-catching structure. This is the Casa Berò, which a second helpful plaque described as a significant example of 16th century architecture. The terracotta decoration was especially good.

We also stumbled on this particularly fine portico in via Farini.

Finally, late in the day, we headed towards the western most limit of our ambition, the 13th century church of San Franceso. The two towers are imposing and the green canopy in the photo is one of three in the churchyard which house 13th century tombs.

The church had unaccountably closed early for the day so that was the end of our exploration. We simply plodded back to the hotel along the busy modern - but still porticoed - via Guglielmo Marconi. (The great inventor was born in Bologna in 1874.)

Distance: about 5 miles.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Rating: five stars.

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