Earlier this summer we did a weekend trip to Bologna – just because it was one of the most reachable cities south of the Alps for us, about 7 hours by bus. One of those historical North-Italian cities that are generally pleasant to explore, Bologna is also a city that we hadn't been to already.
Before we went, we consulted a guidebook, Bologna City's website, and some other online resources and blogs – coming up with a mix of sights, exhibitions and food that sounded interesting. In the end, some of the experiences we liked most were those that we hadn't seen in any of our resources for preparing the trip, while we wouldn't have found others without the preparation (both online and offline).
So here comes the list of our top-ranked Bologna sites and activities:
No. 1: Japanese woodblock print exhibition at the Palazzo Albergati (10 points)
Searching for special exhibitions in Bologna, Natascha had come across a Japanese-themed exhibition: Giappone: storie d’amore e guerra” (Japan. Tales of love and war) at the Palazzo Albergati in Via Saragozza. We knew we wanted to see it but we hadn’t expected it to be quite as fantastic. The exhibition – mostly of woodblock prints from 19th and early 20th century – came out on top of our list of highlights. All exhibits were from a private collection, well-presented, with an interesting focus on items from Bakumatsu and Meiji periods, i.e. rather late examples of ukiyo-e woodblock printing. We just loved it.
No 2: A glass of ecological red wine in the porticoes of Oberdan Street (7 points)
The many porticoes of the Old Town were of course mentioned in all our sources – they are atmospheric and also classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. We walked along the old streets, up and down cobbled lanes, and explored the historic quarters. Obidan Street next to the former Jewish Quarter was particularly lively and popular, and walking past we noticed Medulla Vini, a tiny organic Wine Bar where everyone was just taking their glasses outside in the portico although there were no tables or seats outside. It was a very relaxed setting, and the Sangiovese Superior was just right for a balmy night.
No 3: Cimitero della Certosa (4 points)
The enormous Certosa Graveyard was only recommended in our printed guidebook. It was not far off the way from St. Luca (see below), so we made a detour and were amazed: not only by the size of the graveyard, but by the unusual architecture with large halls and courtyards, huge mausoleums, layered urn graves rising several metres from the ground (rather similar to the Roman-era tower tombs of Palmyra / Syria). Walking the graveyard felt like exploring a solemn old monastery, with new discoveries at every corner: Huge old memorials and mausoleum buildings, war memorials, a whole row of lavishly decorated children's graves …
No 4: The Porticoes of San Luca (3 points)
No 4 on the list is one of the "must-see" attractions that everyone recommends: After all it is usually not without reason that they are popular (and on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list). There must be very few Bologna tourists who don't walk the 4 km of porticoes leading to the church of San Luca – and rightly so, for the walkway for the yearly procession is picturesque and pleasantly shaded, it has a historic air and religious significance. As the church is situated on a hill, the walk includes quite many stairs but also affords nice views over the countryside, and sometimes there's a welcome breeze. And it is not only tourists who love the traffic-free arcades: Locals go running there, or for a walk with their dogs.
No 5: The Anatomical Theatre, the modern art exhibition “That's IT”, and ice cream at Vecchia Stalla (2 points each)
Finally, there was a mixed bunch of sights and activities that we also particularly enjoyed:
The Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio is another one of Bologna's tourist highlights. Built in 1637 as a lecture room for anatomy – then a rather new and daring subject, given the church's aversion to scrutinizing human bodies – the wooden auditorium is decorated with statues of famous scholars – and with two carved representations of men without skin, in order to show the location of their muscles.
We also visited the Modern Art Museum of Bologna (Mambo) and particularly liked the special exhibition "That's IT" – with IT standing for Italy, and contributions only from young Italian artists born after 1980 who presumably grew up with a more European than Italian identity. The attendants' sliver jackets were hilarious and we especially liked Margherita Moscardini's Atlantic Wall Project.
And, of course, we found our favourite ice cream: The last day, we spotted the Cremeria la Vecchia Stalla not far from the church and monastery complex of San Stefano. An old-fashioned ice cream shop, they don't display their flavours in a glass vitrine but store them below metal lids – you have to guess at the Italian menu and select some that you can both pronounce and memorise until the crowd has swept you from the list of flavours to the cashier and on to the actual ice cream counter. We had Cioccolate extra fondente with Pistacchio Bronte, and Croccante Amarena combined with Divine, respectively, and we were very happy with it.
***All expenses for our trip to Bologna were paid and organised by ourselves and we did not receive any funding from the above mentioned links.***