Because of its location in the Po River Valley near the Apennines, Bologna has been at the crossroads of European history since 1000 BC. Etruscans settled here, Rome colonized it, and began laying out a walled city with a grid of intersecting narrow streets that remain the historic center city.
Bologna is home of the University of Bologna, the first western university started in 1088. Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch were students as well as Guillermo Marconi, inventor of the telegraph, who was born in Bologna.
The University of Bologna attracts a large international student body, who are largely responsible for the ugly graffiti plastered on the city’s buildings including palaces and historic sites. A real blight, very unfortunate to have scars mar the beauty and architecture of a historic city.
Piazza Maggiore is the main square in Bologna, which is surrounded by St. Petronius Church, medieval palaces, and city hall. Fontana Nettuno (Neptune fountain) in the piazza has been a meeting place for centuries. Bologna has many fine museums of archeology, geology, modern art, medieval and church history. The city has its own civic art museum in city hall on Piazza Maggiore.
City of towers and porticoes
Bologna is known for its extensive porticoes which are both artistic and practical, providing curved arches for paintings and mosaics and also providing sheltering pedestrians from inclement weather. We took advantage of Bologna’s porticoes which allowed us to navigate around the city when it was drizzling.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, noble Bolognese families built towers within the walled city as a sign of their wealth and stature, but also as a defense. More than medieval 180 towers were built, but only about 20 remain. One of the museums had a panorama of what Bologna looked like with towers dominated the landscape.
Two famous towers from earlier centuries, “Due Torre” have become a symbol of the city. The Asenilli and Garisenda towers are next to each other in front of the Santo Stefano church not far from Piazza Maggiore.
Early in the construction of the Garisenda tower, builders discovered it had begun to lean. Construction was halted, but the tower, which had only reached 20 meters, was allowed to remain. That was respectful.
The Asinelli tower, which reaches nearly 200 meters, is the highest remaining medieval tower in Bologna and is visible for miles.
Bologna train station bombing
Bologna was a booming center of industrialization after World War II and became a hotbed for communists and left-wing groups. During the 1960s – 1980’s, Italy was traumatized by radical right-wing fascists and left-wing terrorists such as Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades).
On August 2, 1980, a massive bomb exploded in the Bologna train station killing 83, injuring 200, and destroying the station. The bombing was carried out by fascists terrorists, many of whom were tried and convicted.
The city has memorialized the tragedy with a plaque listing the victims names. A hole in the tile floor where the bomb detonated has been filled with cement, and a blown-out door frame next to it has been restored.
The outside clock has been permanently stopped at the moment of the explosion: 10:24 AM. Black and white photos on a wall in the waiting room show the station before the bombing and the devastation caused by the bomb.
On a bus tour one day around the city, we drove up a wooded hillside with beautiful villas, gardens, parks and a local hospital that was formerly a palace. Incredible views of the city, its red-tiled palaces, historic buildings, and towers.
Next: Bressanone / Brixen in Sudtiro
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