Overlooked by Florence and Venice, Bologna is a beautiful medieval city that sees only a fraction of the visitors that travel to Italy. As home to tortellini, tagliatelli with ragu sauce, and Europe’s oldest university (1088), the city offers delicious food and a young, lively atmosphere. We made a point to spend a day in Bologna en route from Abruzzo to Lake Como.
Immediately upon arrival into the medieval center, we noticed the endless archways and columns that lined the streets. When the university expanded to accommodate more students, they built student housing in front of existing buildings, with tall archways beneath them to to allow horse carts to walk through. Not only were these porticos eye candy, but they also served as wonderful places to stroll or sit beneath the warm sun.
Once in the city we laughed at the site of another crooked tower in Italy, Torre Garisenda. Its much taller (and straight) neighboring tower, Torre Asinelli, was climbable for only €3—a much better deal than the entry fee to the Leaning Tower of Pisa! Its rickety wooden staircase provided an interesting perspective during the climb up, and once at the top, its vista point provided the best views of terra cotta-roofed Bologna.
Just up the street from the two towers was Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main square. Its featured attraction was the Basilica di San Petronio, an unfinished, massive church originally designed to be larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Apparently when the Vatican discovered that Bologna planned for such a massive basilica, they demanded its construction to cease. It still remains unfinished today.
Another site of interest was the Archiginnasio of Bologna, which was once the primary building of the University of Bologna and is now Bologna’s most important library. For €3 each, we were able to glimpse at an ancient library and more importantly, view the anatomical theater. The anatomical theater was built in 1637 and was used to study anatomy; fresh cadavers were dissected upon the center marble table for students to observe, making the wooden room beautiful and eerie at the same time.
Finally, one cannot come to Bologna without eating tagliatelle ragu or tortellini. We grabbed unpretentious, homemade pasta from the take-away restaurant Pasta Fresca Naldi. Because it was far away enough from the touristy square, most of the patrons were locals. Yay, fresh, local pasta!
It seems like most people visit Bologna as a day trip. Nothing wrong with that–we did too! But could several more days be spent in this beautiful city with world-famous food and lively crowd? Absolutely, if you love cities. Because we prefer to spend our time in parks and mountains, we only meant for Bologna to be a brief stopover, and we’re glad we did.