Saturday, February 10, 2007

January 2007 - Bologna, Italy - Orientation

After a couple of days in Turin, we hopped on a train and headed east across northern Italy to Bologna, leaving the Piemonte region (of which Turin is capital) and passing through Lombardia (of which Milan is capital). Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy's most productive regions, being the birthplace of prosciutto ham and parmigiano cheese (Parma), Ferrari (Maranello), Maserati (Modena), and, of course, Mortadella (Bologna). Emilia-Romagna reaches from the Po River to the north, the Apennine Mountains to the south, and the Adriatic Sea to the east.

Bologna is situated in the center of Emilia-Romagna, at the crossroads between Venice (in the Veneto region to the north) and Florence (in Tuscany to the south), Ravenna (to the east) and Parma (to the west). We decided to move to Bologna because it seemed like the perfect place from which to explore much of northern Italy.

We also heard that it's Italy's gastronomic capital! The train couldn't move fast enough.

Bologna's medieval skyline is dominated by towers like these, which were built by rival noble families in the 12th century as defensive fortresses and look-out points. They also stood as a symbol of the family's power and influence - the higher the tower, the more powerful the family. At one time there were as many as 100 towers but today only about 20 stand (or lean). These two, Due Torri, are the city's most famous. The one on the right, Torre degli Asinelli, is the tallest (at nearly 100 meters), and like it's shorter nextdoor neighbor, Torre Garisenda (featured in Dante's "Inferno"), is leaning significantly (though the picture doesn't really show it). In fact, it leans 2.2 meters off center while the shorter one leans a staggering 3.2 meters off center. This would explain their other nickname, Torre Pendenti (leaning towers).

In between the Two Towers (which appear leaning above) is a statue of Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna. Just behind them is the Basilica di San Bartolomeo, featuring paintings by Carracci and Reni.

Here's a better shot of the basilica and its bell tower.

As we walked through the city on our first day, we came across the imposing Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune's Fountain) in the center of Piazza del Nettuno, a small square adjacent to the main square in town, Piazza Maggiore. Designed in 1566 by a Frenchman named Giambologna, the fountain has become a symbol of the city, and is considered "The Giant" by the Bolognese. When it was originally unveiled, it was viewed as "indecent" by the Catholic Church, who forced Giambologna to alter Neptune's left arm to cover his monumental endowment.

Here's another shot of the fountain with part of the medieval Palazzo di Re Enzo in the background. The palazzo was built in 1244 and named after the son of the emperor Frederick II and King of Sardegna, who was imprisoned there until his death.

Here's Casandra standing in Piazza del Nettuno with the fountain behind her and Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica San Petronio in the distance.

And here's the Palazzo del Podesta, which, along with the Arengo tower, was built in the 13th century. The facade was redone during the Renaissance, giving it this more harmonious appearance and massive portico, but the tower remains medieval. This palazzo faces Piazza Maggiore, the civic and political heart of the city, and today houses the main tourist office under the portico and special art exhibitions above it.

This is Palazzo Comunale and Torre degli Accursi, with a clock designed by Rinaldo Gandolfi. Built in the 13th century, the palazzo originally served as the town hall, sitting caddy-corner from Palazzo Podesta. This portion of the facade also overlooks Piazza Maggiore, while the section to the right (just out of the picture) faces the adjacent Piazza del Nettuno. Today, it houses the Collezioni Communali d'Arte and the public library.

And here's Casandra standing in the middle of Piazza Maggiore in front of Basilica di San Petronio, which sits caddy-corner to Palazzo Communale and across from Palazzo Podesta. The medieval building on the right is Palazzo dei Notai, which housed medieval guilds, was constructed in the late 14th Century by incorporating several 13th Century buldings. San Petronio was founded in 1390 and dedicated to Bologna's patron saint. It's one of the largest medieval brick constructions in Italy, and had it been completed according to the original plan, it would have been larger than St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (the world's largest church). When the pope learned of the plans, he withdrew the Church's funding, construction all but came to a hault, and it never became a cathedral.
Notice that only the bottom portion of the facade is covered in the white and pink marble intended to cover the entire structure. Also, it as no dome and no transept to make its footprint a greek or latin cross like most other cathedrals. Despite all of this, it's pretty amazing inside and out.

Finally, on the east side of Piazza Maggiore (to the right) sits the Palazzo dei Banchi, the name of which derives from the money-exchange shops that crowded under its arched porticos in medieval times. In it's present form, it was designed by Giacomo Barozzi, known as Vignola, who turned the facades of the existing medieval buildings into a single uniform facade, while preserving the old roads leading into Piazza Maggiore. The copper dome above it actually crowns the Church of Santa Maria della Vita a couple of blocks away. The tower in the center is Torre Asinelli (one of the Two Towers) and the one on the left is the Arengo Tower just behind the Palazzo del Podesta on the north side of Piazza Maggiore.

After hanging out in Piazza Maggiore for a while, we continued our first walk through the city along Via dell'Independenza, Bologna's main commercial thoroughfare. To the north, the street opens into a large square, Piazza Otto Agosto, which abuts a park, Parco della Montagnola, in front of which stands this dramatic statue.

After walking around for a while, we headed back to our apartment in the Jewish Ghetto. On our way, we passed by Basilica di San Martino Maggiore (above), the church closest to our apartment.

From early Christian times through the middle ages, the jewish people in town were forced to live in this small section of town filled with maze-like streets enclosed by towering walls and gates that were locked at night. Today, it's one of the trendiest areas of town, around the corner from the two towers and 5 minutes from Piazza Maggiore.
Here's Casandra standing on Via dell'Inferno, just around the corner from our apartment. And that's one of the two towers in the background.
Today, the only reminder of the Jewish Ghetto's grim past are its street names. Inferno, on which our apartment building is located, is our favorite.

And here's our front door, on Via Canonica, which meets Inferno at the corner of our building.

This is the formal seating area in our tremendous bedroom. We've never slept in a room lit by a crystal chandelier.

This is the largest and most comfortable bed we've had in Italy so far.

This is our second bedroom, with two twin beds, just begging for visitors!

And here's our cozy little kitchen, though given Bologna's reputation as Italy's culinary heart, we don't expect to use it much.
Stay tuned for our restaurant reviews in future posts.

No comments: