This is an excerpt from the book “One Day in Bologna – from Milan” by Enrico Massetti.
One day trip from Milan without a car:
Bologna with the High-Speed Train
You don’t need a car to spend one day in beautiful Bologna when you are staying in Milan: with the new high-speed train, Bologna is just one hour away from the center of Milan.
1 – PIAZZA MAGGIORE
This is the heart of the city and the result of secular transformations which enriched it progressively with essential buildings.
Surrounding the square are: Basilica di San Petronio, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d’Accursio, Palazzo del Podestà and the scenic facade of Palazzo dei Banchi.
2 – FONTANA DEL NETTUNO
Piazza del Nettuno– Fountain of Neptune
This monument of marble and bronze was built by the “Flemish” Giambologna according to a design by Tommaso Laureti in 1563. It represents the symbol of papal power: while Neptune rules over the seas, the Pope dominates over the land.
At the foot of the God are four cherubs which represent the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon and the Danube-the rivers of the continents known to humans at the time.
3 – PALAZZO RE ENZO
Piazza del Nettuno – Piazza Re Enzo– King Enzo’s Palace
Called Palatium Novum initially because it was added on to the older Palazzo del Podesta’, it was later renamed Palazzo Re Enzo, as it became the prison of Enzo, son of the Emperor Frederic the Second, who was defeated by the people of Bologna in the battle of Fossalta in 1249.
Only a part of the building can be visited; from the courtyard, you go up the staircase leading to a “loggia” or gallery with a spectacular view.
Open: open to the public only during the exhibitions.
4 – PALAZZO DEL PODESTA’
Piazza Maggiore – Podesta’ Palace
The present building is a 15th-century reconstruction of the old 13th-century palace. It was designed by A.Fioravanti and built in sandstone in 1483. The medieval tower reaching into the sky is the fruit of Master Alberto’s genius: a true masterpiece of engineering, it doesn’t stand on the ground but the pillars of the arched Podesta’ vault. Open: open to the public only during the exhibitions.
5- PALAZZO DEI BANCHI
Piazza Maggiore-Banchi Palace
This was the latest building constructed on the square: it is thought as a beautiful facade to hide the narrow streets of the market in the back. Designed by Vignola, it dates back to the second half of the 16th century. Its facade is composed of 15 arches, two of which allow the access to the Clavature and Pescherie streets. Only the exterior is visible.
6 – PALAZZO DEI NOTAI
via Pignattari, 1-Notai Palace
This used to be the seat of the ancient and powerful Corporation of Notaries. It has two different parts: the first, towards the church, was built under the supervision of Antonio di Vincenzo, while the construction of the second, more recent one, was directed by B.Fioravanti in the 1440s. The difference can be seen in the double lancet windows. Opening hours: Notai Hall/Internet Cafè: Mon and Fri 8.30-14.30, Tue/Wed/Thu 8.30-18. Closed: Sat and Sun. Entrance free.
7 – BASILICA DI S.PETRONIO
Piazza Maggiore – Basilica of Saint Petronius
Its construction began in 1390 to celebrate the victory of the people of Bologna over the Florentine people and the Pope. It is a civic temple, that is, belonging to the citizens. It has never been completed, and its construction continued up to the 17th century. Pink marble and bricks were used for the facade, and the massive central door is a masterpiece of Jacopo della Quercia, on which he sculpted scenes from the Old and the New Testament. In the inside: the Altar of the 2nd chapel to the left holds the funerary Urn with the remains of Saint Petronius. The particular illumination of the church is due to its north-south orientation. The sundial, which is the largest one to be found in an enclosed area, was built by the astronomer Cassini in the 17th century. Among the chapels, the 4th from the left, attributable to Bolognini, is famous for its exquisite decoration. The frescoes are the work of Giovanni da Modena who represented Hell, Paradise and the Coronation of the Virgin on the left wall and, on the right, the journey of Three Kings. Entrance free.
8 – PALAZZO D’ACCURSIO
Piazza Maggiore, 6-D’Accursio Palace-Town Hall
It is made up of two distinct constructions. The building on the left, the older of the two, was the residence of the Accursio family, giving its name to the whole building. It belonged to the Magistracy of the Elders from 1336. The clock tower was built in 1444. The right part of the building is entirely Gothic characterized by eight double lancet windows and a high window in the lower part. It was built in the mid-16th century by Galeazzo Alessi. The same architect made the triumphal entrance on whose upper portion stands the statue of Gregory XIII, responsible for introducing the reform of the calendar. The building now houses local council offices, but from the 16th to the 19th century it was the official residence of the Papal legate. The Chapel and the Sala Farnese, the Sala d’Ercole, the Sala Rossa, the Council Chamber and what was previously the Sala Borsa (now the center of the new Council library) are all open to public view. Archaeological exhibits can also be seen in the library (entry from Piazza Nettuno). Morandi Museum-Inaugurated in 1993 on the occasion of the donation of a collection by the painter’s sisters, it includes about 200 works of art which span the artist’s entire career, from youth to maturity. The museum houses aquarelles, etchings, drawings and reconstruction of Morandi’s studio which was located in the central Via Fondazza. Municipal Art Collection and Appartments of the Legate Cardinal-It includes pieces from private collections (Palagi, Pepoli,etc.) arranged in the halls of the Accursio Palace. Among others, parts are dating to the 14th century, as well as pieces by Tintoretto and Carracci.
9 – LE DUE TORRI
Piazza di Porta Ravegnana-The two towers
These are to be considered the symbol of the city. Initially, during the Middle Ages, Bologna counted about seventy towers and house-towers. The construction of the Garisenda tower began around 1120 to celebrate the banishment of the imperial legate but was left incomplete due to the inclination of the ground. Construction of the Asinelli tower started right afterward and bore the name of the family who owned it. It is 97 m high (498 stairs) and together with the Garisenda (47m), is under constant observation to measure and contain the inclination.
10 – PALAZZO DELLA MERCANZIA
Piazza della Mercanzia, 4
Built by Antonio di Vincenzo in 1384, the palace itself is in clay brick while the double lancet windows and the balcony are in marble. The mansion, in Gothic style, is characterized by two ogival arches and a long upper frieze displaying the coats of arms of the city guilds. In niches found on the left and the right are patron saints of the city, while the statue of Justice is in the central one. The palace was destroyed by the bombings during World War II and later rebuilt. Access limited to the entrance hall/groups only by request.
11- BASILICA S. STEFANO
Via S. Stefano, 24-St.Stephen’s Basilica
This is a group of churches also known as “Holy Jerusalem” because it recalls the passion of Jesus. Its construction began in the 8th century and was erected by the Longobards, who made their church. On the left you can see the church of St.Vitale and Agricola, so named for the relics of the first martyrs of Bologna which initially lay here. The church of the Holy Sepulchre, within which is housed the small central temple intended to bring to mind the tomb of Christ of Jerusalem (until the year 2000 it contained the remains of Saint Petronius) and the church of Saint John the Baptist. Inside, there are two medieval cloisters, the church of the Holy Trinity and the Museum of St.Stefano.
12 – PALAZZO DELL’ARCHIGINNASIO
Piazza Galvani, 1-Archiginnasio Palace
This building was the seat of Bologna University from the 16th century until 1803 when the offices moved to Palazzo Poggi (Via Zamboni 33). From 1838 the building housed the Council library. The building is the work of the architect Antonio Morandi, known as “Terribilia.” The Anatomy Theatre, in cedar and deal, forms part of the interior. It was used for the staging of the experiments conducted by the Faculty of Medicine.
13 – BASILICA DI S. DOMENICO
Piazza S. Domenico, 13 – St.Dominic’s church
Its construction began shortly after the death of the Saint (1221). The beauty of the church is mostly attributable to the tomb of Saint Dominic placed inside.
In this magnificent piece of architecture built in different periods are two remarkable pieces: the 13th-century sarcophagus by Nicola Pisano and Arnolfo Cambio, representing episodes of the Saint’s life-the crowning by Niccolo’ da Puglia, who was named “Dell’Arca”-“of the Ark”-after this masterpiece. The candleholder on the right, an angel, was made by Michelangelo. We also recommend a visit to the wooden choir inlaid by Brother Damiano-Fra Damiano (1528-51), to the “Mystical Wedding of St.Catherine” by Filippino Lippi, to the “Crucifix” by Giunta Pisano and to the 15 “Mysteries of the Rosary”, a collective piece of art created by the painters: Calvart, Cesi, L.Carracci, Reni, Albani, Domenichino e L.Fontana. Outside, you can see the tombs of the “Glossatori” (masters of Roman law): the tomb of Rolandino de’Passeggeri and near the wall on the left tomb of Egidio de’Foscherari.
Where to stay in Bologna
There are hotels, apartments, guesthouses, and B&Bs available, check it out and make a reservation here.