Monday, 30 September 2013


The Baptistery

The final outing of our stay in Bologna is another train trip, this time to Palma. We head towards the city centre from the station and quickly reach the banks of the Palma Torrent, sadly lacking in water at present.

As we reach the centre, we are confronted by the massive bulk of the Palazzo della Pilotta. It was started in the late 16th century and never finished; a large part was demolished after damage during the second world war. What's left must be the world's ugliest palace. Inside is an art gallery, a 17th century theatre inspired by Palladio's at Vicenza and a library - all sadly closed today.

We head east into the centre, passing the San Paolo monastery (closed as well) ...

... and a rather lovely war memorial tower.

Soon we are in the Piazza del Duomo, with the Romanesque cathedral in front and the Baptistery to the right. The cathedral dates from the 11th century and has a rather severe, plain facade. The campanile is being restored and so I have cropped it out of the shot.

Inside it is entirely covered by frescoes of the 16th century, which jar somewhat at first, but create a pleasing field of colour. The Baptistery, consecrated in 1270, (see photo at the head of this post) is also wholly decorated inside, but here the style is more in keeping with the exterior. The tempera paintings and statues of seasonal activities date mainly from the time the baptistery was consecrated.

The dome is especially beautiful.

A third side of the piazza is taken up by the substantial Bishop's Palace, dating from the 11th century.

From here we head towards the strada della Republica, pausing only for lunch (a plate of Palma ham obviously, in a lovely little restaurant, the Osteria dello Zingaro). On the left of the Strada is the Palazzo Ringoni Farnese of 1572, now the Questura, which as every reader of Donna Leon knows is the police headquarters.

Further is the town hall, with another fine tower and behind it the beautiful dome of the Madonna della Steccata. The city's opera house is nearby.

At the end of the strada we crossed the river and stumbled on this stunning art deco statue. It depicts Filippo Corridoni, a trade unionist, syndicalist and journalist who volunteered for the army in the first world war and who was killed in 1915.

Finally, we saw the 16th century Ducal Palace in the Parco Ducale. The park has fine chestnut trees.

It was but a short walk from here back to the station.

Conditions: cloudy, but still quite mild.

Distance: about four miles.

Rating: four and a half stars.

Sunday, 29 September 2013


The mosaic-decorated apse of San Vitale

So far we have done Bologna and Ferrara, and today it is time for the big one - Ravenna, a UNESCO World Heritage site. We start with the 6th century church of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo (just fractionally newer than Sant'Appolinare in Classe, just outside the city). The outside is attractive with its 10th century campanile and 16th century portico.

But the real excitement is inside where the area above the arcade of the nave is covered with Byzantine mosaics showing male and female martyrs attending on the infant Jesus.

From here,  we headed northeast through the Porta Serrata (1582) - similar in style to other renaissance city gates we have seen e.g Porta Galliara in Bologna and Porta San Pietro in Lucca.

We passed the vast, ruined Venetian fort, the Rocca di Brancaleone ...

... and reached the outlying Mausoleum of Theodoric, begun about 520. We took some photos here when we visited in 1995. Theodoric was an Ostrogoth and was effectively King of Italy, notionally under the authority of the East Roman Emperor. Although he murdered his closest rival with his bare hands, Theodoric was was one of those most responsible for making Ravenna the remarkable city it is today. The mausoleum is unusual for being capped by a single vast slab of stone.

Now we headed back into the main part of the city to see the extraordinary church of San Vitale, consecrated in 547. The exterior reveals an octagonal building, constructed in brick.

When you enter however you are confronted by quite a dark space formed by by two concentric octagons of columns and arches decorated with 18th century frescoes. The overall effect is exquisitely beautiful.

Then you find your way to the apse over on your right and you are confronted by the extraordinary, overwhelming sight of the floor to ceiling mosaics shown in the photo at the head of this post. The two most alluring panels show, separately, the emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora with their courts.

Immediately adjacent is the 5th century tomb of Galla Placidia, sister of the Emperor Honorius. Again the building is a simple brick structure ...

... but the inside is entirely covered in mosaics of remarkable colour and detail. This was my favourite.

It is thought to depict St. Lawrence standing next to a flaming gridiron - the saint is traditionally believed to have been martyred on one. He is apparently the patron saint of chefs and cooks. Next up was the 16th century Porta Adriano, a further addition to the renaissance gates we have seen on this holiday.

As I mentioned, we visited Ravenna in 1995, but since then wonderful Roman mosaics have been discovered in the Domus di tappetti di pietra (house of the carpet of stones - clunk!) beneath this church.

You go through the church and then descend to a very well-arranged underground display of the floors of a roman villa. These dancing figures were enchanting.

Almost, but not quite, surfeited of mosaics, we visited the Neonian Baptistery, the oldest monument in Ravenna. It is of course beside the cathedral, whose campanile can be seen in the background and again the outside is quite plain.

Inside, every surface is covered with mosaics. This is the ceiling.

Nearby, is the Archepiscopal Museum which contains the small chapel of St Andrea with more 6th century mosaics.

As we headed back to the station we stumbled on another ancient structure. A sign proclaimed that it was Teodoric's Palace. It seemed such an apt way to end the walk, since Teodoric's Mausoleum had been one of many things we had been looking forward to seeing again.

I have since read that it actually has nothing to do with Teodoric and is simply the ruins of the church of San Salvatore. That at least explains why it looks nothing like any palace I have ever seen.

Distance: 5 miles.

Conditions: cool, heavy showers.

Rating: five stars were never more merited.

Saturday, 28 September 2013


The castle of the Dukes of Este

We made the short train journey from Bologna to Ferrara and walked into the centre, not along the main Viale Cavour, but along what would become the Corso Rossetti. The first thing we noticed, just opposite the station, was that Ferrara seems to have a pretty complete circuit of walls: below is a small sample. I learn from Wikipedia that there are over six miles of mainly 15th and 16th century walls and that Ferrara is second only to Lucca for the quality of its renaissance walls. We walked the walls of Lucca earlier this year, and clearly a further trip to Ferrara is called for!

Our first destination was the 16th century Palazzo dei Diamanti, faced with diamond-shaped stones. It now houses an art gallery where we had come to see an exhibition of the works of the 17th century Spanish painter Zurbaràn. It was an excellent and informative show and included some works of very high quality.

The palace opposite was also impressive, but I can't discover anything about it.

We walked down the cobbled street to reach the Castello Estense, surrounded by its moat. This massive brick structure, which is right in the centre of the city, dates from 1385 and was restored in 1554. It was the home of the powerful Dukes of Este.

When we came before, in 1995, it was in use as the offices of the City Council, but they have now departed and it is possible to wander round the whole place. The ground floor reveals its medieval origins with bare brick walls and dungeons, but on the first floor there is a long series of large bare rooms with frescoed ceilings. An ingenious series of large angled mirrors allows you to see the frescoes without twisting your neck.

Having completed our tour we headed along the side of the castle towards the cathedral, passing this wonderfully vivid statue (of 1875) of Girolamo Savonarola, the Dominican who preached the bonfire of the vanities in renaissance Florence.

The central area is wonderfully quiet, being car-free. There are instead lots of people on bicycles. Before long we stood in front of the beautiful romanesque facade of the cathedral. It was begun in 1139 and was almost complete by the end of the 13th century.

The outside of the nave has a most unusual feature: an arcade of shops over a portico. These apparently date from 1473. The splendid, but unfinished, campanile was built over a long period from 1412 to 1596.

Opposite the cathedral is the Palazzo Communale, a 13th century building altered in the late 15th century.

We enjoyed a pleasant late lunch in a nearby cafe and a great bottle of Traminer Aromatico (the Italian name for Gewurtztraminer). At this point, although there was still lots to see, we decided to return to Bologna as I was still suffering the effects of a dodgy prawn eaten yesterday.

On the way back to the station along viale Cavour, we admired this statue of Garibaldi. The palaque says, To Giuseppe Garibaldi - the Ferrarese people - 4th July 1907".

Further along the road, at number 184 we noticed this art nouveau gem. It was a lovely treat to end the walk with.

A helpful notice explains that it dates from 1902 and was the work of Ciro Contini.

Conditions: cloudy but warm.

Distance; at most 4 miles.

Rating: four and half stars

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Bologna: centre and east

The Torre degli Asinelli

We are staying the north of the city and so we have no real option but to start by repeating the first mile of yesterday's walk. At the crossroads by Piazza Nettuno we turn left towards our initial destination: the Asinelli Tower, which can be seen at the end of the street. There are in fact two towers - the other, the Torre della Garesinda, can just be glimpsed on the left.

As we are heading towards the towers we become aware of a beautiful cupola rising above the roof tops to our right and we head into the maze of small streets where the food market it is to find it. Eventually we do: it is the church of Santa Maria della Vita, rebuilt, with the cupola in the late 17th century. Unfortunately it is so hemmed in by buildings, that we can't actually see the cupola.

We head towards the two towers from a different angle, passing the dramatic, and beautifully ornamented, Palazzo della Mercanzia, the Chamber of Commerce. It was built in 1382-4.

It is a short way from the Palazzo della Mercanzia to the two towers and from a point just beyond them the contrast becomes clearer. The Torre degli Asinelli dates from 1109-19 and is nearly 100m high. It is 1.23m out of the perpendicular. The Torre della Garesinda is contemporary, but was never finished and was shortened for safety reasons in 1351-60. It is now only 48m high and is 3.22m out of true.

We climb the 500 steps to the top of the Torre degli Asinelli. The view from the top is stupendous. In the foreground is the elusive cupola of Santa Maria della Vita, with the Basilica of San Petronio behind it. The twin Piazzas, Maggiore and del Nettuno, are to the right of the basilica. The sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca can be seen on its hill in the background. It is connected to the city by a 17th century portico of 666 arches.

We now wandered through the former Jewish ghetto, which includes the splendidly named via dell'Inferno - Hell St - and some interesting buildings.

We paused for lunch at the excellent and very friendly Nicola's restaurant just by the church of San Martino, with its 14th century gothic pinnacles.

After lunch we wander though the Univeristy area to reach the Pinacoteca Nazionale, a wonderful art gallery. It is not much from the outside, although this interior courtyard with its renaissance well-head is very pleasing.

Inside there is a fine collection of pre-Renaissance and Renaissance paintings. The official highlights are a triptych by Giotto, one of only three works signed by the artist, and Raphael's St Cecilia. We were especially taken by a fresco of Paradiso e inferno (Heaven and Hell) by the Maestro dell' Avicenna. It depicts heaven and hell in an almost identical fashion to the wonderful frescoes by Givanni di Modena that we saw yesterday in San Petronio.

Our final stop was the exquisite Santo Stefano complex - one of the things we remember most vividly from our first visit to Bologna in 1995. Viewed from the square there are three interconnecting separate churches, and there are others behind. The earliest dates from 392. Dante apparently meditated here in 1287.

The wonderful romanesque church on the left, San Vitale and San Agicola, was unfortunately closed for restoration, but we admired the decorated brickwork on the rear of the Holy Sepulchre church (in the middle). The church is dominated inside by the elaborate tomb of San Petronio.

The cloister too was a delight.

We emerged into piazza in the late afternoon sunshine and headed back to our hotel.

Conditions: hot and sunny.

Distance: 5 or so miles in all.

Rating: five stars.