As I wrote the other day, the Bologna public library — the Biblioteca Salaborsa — is located in an area with seemingly as much history in its grounds as in all of the materials inside. Private gardens for papal representatives, public gardens to help develop modern botany, a stock exchange, and even a basketball court have claimed the land at one point or another for more than 700 years. Yet the history of the area dates back much further. Underneath the library, you’ll find Bologna archaeological excavations dating back the third century BCE/BC, though the first settlements date back to the 9th century BCE.
If you’re walking around on the ground floor of the library, you might notice some clear blocks in the floor. Looking down, you may just spot some of the ancient ruins of Felsina and Bononia. Felsina is the Latinized version of the Etruscan name Velzna or Felzna, which is what the Etruscans called what is now Bologna when they settled around 500 BCE. The Romans then came in around the second and third centuries BCE and renamed the area Bononia, based on the Celtic name that the Galli Boi gave the city when they conquered it around 358 BCE. It is particularly these later archaeological remains that are most visible.
If you go downstairs on the left of the entrance, you’ll find a long hallway that leads to the actual archaeological remains, which are open to the public. As you walk down the hallway, you’ll see various images and maps, showing some what some of the structures would have looked like, along with maps of the city layout at the time. They designed the city plan on right angles, with the intent that it could be easily reproduced and expanded with the city’s growth. Some of that grid aspect remains in the area, but there are also plenty of smaller streets popping up in unexpected places and at different angles. That said, Via Rizzoli and Via Ugo Bassi still represent part of the west to east aspect of the grid.
The Bologna archaeological excavations took place in the 1990s and they discovered that the old forum of Bologna was located on what is now Via Ugo Bassi. The forum wasn’t all they found. They also uncovered a number of buildings, three wells, and even a sewer system. Not the nicest thing to think about, but oh, so important!
So once again, a visit to the Biblioteca Salaborsa is definitely one of the things you should do in Bologna. Entrance is free to the library and to the archaeological remains, although donations are appreciated. You can wander through the remains on your own and there are information posts at various spots in Italian and English to give you a sense of what you’re seeing. It is also possible to take a guided tour, but that is something you have to register for and it probably comes with a fee.
It really is a fairly quick but interesting look at the remains and the different levels, building materials, and more. Plus, it’s kind of fun to be subterranean and look up at the feet overhead.