BOLOGNA – A City of Culture and Learning
4th April 2020
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In Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet the warring families of Montagu and Capulet rule the city of Verona taking their love and hatred onto the streets.  But the setting could just as easily be Bologna, capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po valley in Northern Italy.
 
Stage backdrops, worthy of the Elizabethan drama, exist for real in this city which remains largely untouched by passing centuries.  Considered by many Italians as second only in beauty to Venice, narrow streets hem medieval bastions that originally were the fortress homes for Bolgona’s ruling elite.  Here dynasties lived and prospered, building ever taller and grander towers as permanent manifestations of their merchant wealth, such as the Due Torre, which still dominate central Bologna today. The city remains one of the richest in Italy, as well as ranking high in terms of quality of life.  Steeped in history, art, cuisine, music and culture, Bologna was designated European Capital of Culture in 2000.
 
Cobbled streets, arcades and porticos – twenty two miles of stone cloisters – are as much a living, breathing background for romance, intrigue and commerce as when they were first built.  The ravages of countless conflicts have left Bologna unscarred, in the same way that tourists, descending in hordes on other Italian cities such as Rome and Florence, have largely passed it by, allowing its stress-free ambience to remain intact.  Terracotta-tiled roofs, tolling bells and cavernous churches represent living history.  Yet beneath these ancient facades is a bustling, vibrant city also home to the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088, with over 100,000 students.  The carefully laid-out streets and gracious designer shops throb with life - but never ostentatiously.  The Bolognese way is understated, yet at the height of fashion. 
 
From a café on the Piazza Maggiore overlooking the Fontana di Nattuno (Neptune Fountain), sit with ‘gelato baci’, the ice-cream with hazel-nut and chocolate – the Italian “kiss” ice cream, or maybe a glass of iced Camapri, and watch Bologna at work and play.  Passionate but not unruly demonstrators prepare to protest against armed intervention in Libya or hotly debate the claims of left-wing, or right-wing politicians - usally the former - as the city is known as ‘la Rossa’(the Red) and famed for its socialist leanings.   Loudspeakers are being tested for an evening folk concert and old men are clustered in groups chattering, arguing and gesticulating in the manner only Italians can.  The local ‘polizia’, armed with guns and riot batons, slouch casually on the fringes taking a relaxed view of these demonstrations of democracy, Italian-style, in front of them.  Their carabineri officer in immaculately tailored uniform, exuding authority leavened with style, takes time out in a café out to sip a ‘capuccino’ with Gucci-suited government officials, 
Leave and walk across the square to the Alberto Morandi Museum.  Here the work of this Bologna-born artist who for forty years painted pots, jars, paint cans and jugs in endlessly different formations and enchanting colours, is permanently displayed.  His work is also in the collections of nearly every major art institutuion in the world.  Now, as dusk approaches, stroll down the Via Zamboni stopping perhaps for a cheaper-than-in-Dublin glass of Guinness in ‘The Irish Pub’, popular with students and foreigners, or a glass of ‘prosecco’, the extra-dry sparkling Italian white wine and an ideal appetizer.  Then quickly on past the student fly-posted and graffitied portico pillars before heading off into one of the myriad side streets to select an awning-sheltered pavement restaurant or bustling student ‘osteria’. 
 
Bologna is renowned for its culinary tradition. It has given its name to the well-known Bolognese sauce, a meat based pasta sauce called in Italy ‘ragù alla bolognese’ but in the city itself just ragù, as in ‘tagliatelle al ragù’.  Whatever you choose, and whether you settle for a savoury plate of traditional Bologna ‘salumi e formaggi’ (cured meat and cheese) or calorie-filled pasta ‘tagliatelle’ or ‘tortellini’, or a simple ‘prosciutto crudo insalata panini’ (dry-cured ham and salad in a crusty roll), you can be certain it will served with speed and charm.  You will feel respected and your custom welcome.
 
Time in Bologna must be made for visiting at least one or more of the city’s truly awe-inspiring churches.  The majestic 600-year old San Petronio in the city center, with marble clad exterior which was never finished or the magnificent San Stefano with the stunning 13th century-bricked dome of its sepulcher church.  Then if you are need of serious culture-absorbing exercise, where every step is walking history, set off up the longest colonnade in the world - two and a half miles - built two-hundred anf thirty five years ago, from the Porta Saragozza up to the vast San Luca Cathedral, spectacularly floodlit at night, high on the Calle Della Guardia on the south side of the city. The interior of each church is breathtaking in size and content.  Glittering artifacts, radiant frescoes, carvings and statues in marble and wood, these temples to the worship of God are also home to legendary Italian craftsmanship and artistry over generations.
Descending from San Luca you look down on the 40,000 seater Stadio Renato Dall’Ara football stadium where Bologna FC, known as the ‘Rossoblu’ (Red-Blues), play in ‘Serie A’, the Premier League of Italian football.  Soccer is a religion in Italy and every home game is sold out.  Many of those without a ticket sit in their cars parked in the road which winds upwards from the Via Costa and enjoy a bird’s eye view of the action on the pitch far below whilst listening to the commentary on radios or laptops.
 
From streets buzzing with stuttering scooters to cool cloisters which make easy walking for sandalled priests hurrying head down to church, to wide pavements overflowing with book-burdened students or Prada-dressed ladies and well-groomed men with cashmere coats draped casually around their shoulders, Bologna is full of contrasts.  A palette of terracotta reds, burnt orange and warm yellow suffuses the architecture of the city as these hues glisten from rooftops in the early morning sun, changing to russet brown as evening shadows legnthen.  
Bologna, a city enriched by centuries of culture to enjoy at your own pace.  Here you are never a tourist, always a valued ‘amici’.
 
Written for Debbie Designer Travel by her customer Mr R Pain
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David Ruddle

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Owner of thebestof Eastbourne, I help local businesses and organisations raise their profile in Eastbourne and then help maintain their visibility via our website and social media.

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