I’ve been thinking about doing a theme this week of some of the Bologna street art. As I’ve said before, there’s plenty of your standard graffiti, but there’s also a lot of really amazing street art. I’ve seen some in recent weeks that takes my breath away and really makes me think — and want to create.
However, this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “weathered” and while going through some of my photos, I came across a picture that combines weathered and wall art. I thought this might be a good way to start the week. On Via Zamboni, along the side of the church of S. Giacomo Maggiore, there’s a beautiful portico that happens to lead to the entrance of the Oratorio di Santa Cecilia. There are some grand Renaissance frescoes inside, but I’ve yet to see them as I always have Charlie with me and I’m not sure he’s welcome. Though he may be, as I’m pretty sure I saw a small dog enter once.
Anyway, as I said, the portico itself is quite grand, yet weathered; a few signs of wear and tear, with a few columns that have lost some of their detail and wall art that has seen better days, but the inherent beauty and style is still obvious in the rhythm of the arches and curves and lines of the groin vault ceiling.
The portico, which is also technically part of the Basilica di San Giacomo Maggiore, dates to the 13th century and is attributed to Tommaso Filippi and has 36 columns. Along part of the portico are what were originally 16th century sepulchral burial arches, which often housed frescoes. Eventually, to protect the frescoes, they were moved indoors. However, the open arches became an issue, as well, and to prevent litter (and people) from accumulating within the recessed arches, reproductions of the frescoes now fill most of the spots. These bits of contemporary Bologna street art are getting a bit weathered themselves, though, and some have been removed and simply filled in with plain material. Works in progress, I suppose.
Still, on a drizzly Sunday morning when I’m feeling a bit weathered myself, the portico is a wonderful place to take a leisurely walk for a few minutes and enjoy the architectural geometry that is still beautiful, even when worn down slightly after more than a few centuries.
This probably applies to a lot of Italian cities, to be honest, but one of my favorite things is to walk down a narrow street and spot a fantastic building at the end. Graffiti and posters on each side of you and straight ahead, a rather grand building. And are those papal symbols I see on it with the triple crown and keys?
Ok, so technically the #DolceVitaBloggers theme for January is your favorite Italian city. Singular. But how do you choose? Even if you’ve only been to a handful? Before living here, I would have probably said Florence. As someone who studied art history and fell in love with the Italian Renaissance, it’s kind of hard not to love Florence. It was such an important city during the period. Plus, it’s home to my beloved Palazzo Strozzi. It’s also the first city I visited in Italy.
But on later visits, I found more places to love. Ravenna, Mantova, Venice, and of course, Bologna. I’ve been to Milan, but for various reasons, it’s not a favorite. I have mixed emotions based on mixed memories. And for the purposes of this post, which is going to be photo heavy, I can only find two photos from Milan: the Galleria and La Scala. Not even the Duomo! So just as well that Milan doesn’t make my list. Although I will always fondly remember one of the guards in the Pinacoteca there pointing out to me the best place to stand to view one of the Caravaggio paintings on display. Mega points for that!
But that’s part of my reason for loving different cities. It’s the art and particularly the architecture that I go to see specifically. So it’s not necessarily choosing my favorite cities; it’s choosing my favorite architectural gems. And that’s nearly impossible. But inevitably, when you visit a city, for whatever reason, it’s hard not to come away with special memories. And while they may be private jokes or just an overall sense of gezelligheid that you’re left with after the trip, each city becomes special in its own way. So in trying to limit it all, here are my top three. Technically, I blogged a bit about Venice yesterday, so I won’t repeat myself, even though Venice is definitely way up there!
Bologna (My new favorite Italian city)
At this point, Bologna probably is my favorite city, in part because it’s where I call home and it’s starting to feel more like home, but also because it’s just a really beautiful city. I took a two-hour walk this morning with Charlie, going in a few new directions and discovering new wonders. Even on a dreary day, the colors may be a bit muted, and the portici may be more necessary, but it’s hard to walk far and not find yourself whispering “ma che bello” as you see some stunning colonnade, architectural gem, fantastic street art, or a color that defies the grey of the sky. I really do recommend looking through more of my blog or Instagram to see more photos of just how beautiful this city really is. These following three barely scratch the surface.
As I said, Florence was my first stop in Italy (a long time ago so all of my photos are from film so they’re mostly photos of photos at this point, so excuse the quality). I loved Florence from the start and it was particularly exciting to see all of these buildings that I’d studied in detail. And here they were! Everywhere! Because I hate looking like a tourist, but I also had a somewhat decent concept of the city layout from my studies, I’d often set off in a general direction and usually found what I was looking for. My friend Cathy who bravely accompanied me on this journey might disagree or at least suggest that there was a lot of extra, unnecessary wandering. Sometimes I just stumbled across stuff unexpectedly, like the Palazzo Medici. Some stuff we never did find, like the Boboli Gardens, but that turned into a joke about there being dragons on that side of the river.
But my main goal was to see the Palazzo Strozzi and the Palazzo Vecchio and of course the Duomo, Baptistry, and Campanile. Il Cronaca! Brunelleschi! Giotto! Oh my!
I could really keep adding cities, but I’m going to limit myself to just one more, Mantova (Mantua). I went specifically to see the Palazzo Te, but while there, I stumbled across Alberti’s Basilica di Sant’Andrea (and my reaction to seeing it unexpectedly has become a running joke with G and me). We saw the outside of the Palazzo Ducale and the St. George Castle, but mainly just wandered around and enjoyed how pretty the city is. As I said, I went specifically for Palazzo Te because it’s stunning, but also because one of my favorite professors had studied it fairly extensively and written about it, so we benefited from his extra knowledge.
So I’ll leave you for now with some photos taken at the Palazzo Te. If you want to see the favorite Italian city of other Italy-loving bloggers, check out the #DolceVitaBloggers via Kelly at Italian at Heart, Jasmine at Questa Dolce Vita, and Kristie at Mammaprada. Every month, they invite bloggers to post on the seventh of each month on a particular topic. Follow their blogs and/or social media to keep up to date with reading and participating.
In looking for photos for the next #DolceVitaBloggers linkup tomorrow, I ended up looking at some of my photos of Venice. That’s when I realized that that visit was 16 years ago today. We had gone to Venice for the day, not really thinking that the day was a holiday (Epiphany/Befana). As a result, many shops and restaurants were closed. One restaurant, in particular, that G had hoped to visit was sadly closed.
It may not have been the most convenient day to visit, but in the end, it may have still been one of the best. A cold day in the first week of January meant fewer tourists. As a result, we were able to wander around, getting lost but not getting lost, and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery without jostling with hordes of tourists.
Venice truly is beautiful, especially on a relatively quiet day like the one we experienced. The canals, the architecture, the dreamy nature of the city were all there. And a few shops were still open, so I was able to buy a Murano black cat glass sculpture from a gift shop, even if we didn’t get to head over to the actual glass-making island that day. Something for another trip!
Even though I was using a film camera at the time (I told you it was 16 years ago), I still ended up with some of my favorite photos that day. The gondolas, of course, were ridiculously picturesque, but the real treasure was getting some photos of the Ca’ D’Oro around this time of late afternoon with the setting sun causing parts of the building to glow as if literally covered in gold. I had seen the palazzo earlier in the day and it was already stunning. Seeing it again lit by the sun was a dream come true.
A picture is worth a thousand words and I’m short on words today, so I hope you enjoy some of these photos I took in Venice 16 years ago today.
For more than a year, if you’ve wandered around Piazza Maggiore, admiring the Basilica di San Petronio, walking up the unusual steps to the Salaborsa, or visited the Bologna Welcome tourism offices, you can’t help but notice a large, temporary, shrouded structure towering over everyone passing by. In fact, on some of the maps visitors may have picked up, it might have referred to that as Piazza del Nettuno. But where’s Il Nettuno (Neptune)?
Il Nettuno, in this case, is a massive fountain that has undergone extensive renovation and restoration over the past year or more. Considering all that the statue and fountain has been through since it was completed by Giambologna around 1567 — not to mention some of the less than ideal restorations done in the past — this current restoration was particularly important.
Fortunately, even throughout the restoration, it has been possible to see the fountain of Neptune, just in a slightly less traditional manner. Special guided tours have been available, giving visitors a chance to go behind the scenes for a unique view of this famous fountain and from a bird’s-eye view that would normally not be an option. A series of ramps takes you around the entire fountain, slowly working your way up until you’re eye to eye with the grand Roman god of the seas. To be honest, look at him that closely and it’s easy to think that an ancient relative of Jason Momoa could have modeled for Giambologna.
The work has finished and the scaffolding and protective sheeting is gone. Now, on Friday afternoon, there will be an official ceremony to bring the Fountain of Neptune back to watery life. For now, enjoy some of these behind-the-scenes photos taken during the restoration. Hopefully, on Friday, I’ll take some new photos of the fountain in all of its restored glory.
Bologna is filled with lots of narrow side streets and so many of those little streets have some sort of surprise along them. Beautiful colors, incredibly old palaces, and quite often a tower. The city, during the 12th and 13th centuries was like a medieval New York City, with skyscraping towers everywhere. There were possibly as many at 180, though most likely not more than 100 at any one point.
Most are gone now, though Le Due Torri (Asinelli and Garisenda) are now symbols of the city. However, there are still a fair few Bologna towers left. As you glance down a side street, you may find one of these many towers rising up unexpectedly. Just another reason to love this beautiful city.
For what it’s worth, I believe this is the Torre Prendiparte, which is around 900 years old. It was a former prison and defense tower, but it seems it has been renovated and turned into a B&B and event spot. You can also ascend to the top, for what is surely a spectacular view.
The internet is a wonderful thing. Sure it has its downsides, but when you find yourself moving to a new city or country, it can become a wonderful resource and a way to make new friends and connections. In the end, it can also lead you to find that special someone in your life, as it did for me. Today, thanks to some of those online connections I’ve started to make here in Italy, I’ve been invited to take part in the first #DolceVitaBloggers link-up organized by Kelly, Jasmine, and Kristie. The first theme is the Italian Connection, how each blogger has found themselves with a connection to this fascinating country.
My connection started off purely academic. I was at university studying art history and had to take a course on Italian Renaissance art and architecture. At first, I wasn’t particularly excited, as my interest at the time lay in Gothic architecture. My expectation was a class full of pictures of naked little chubby baby angels fluttering about. Meh. Fortunately, I was oh so wrong!
I ended up falling in love with the art of the Italian Renaissance. All of that symbolism, iconography, and those colors and forms! The faces full of drama and passion and pathos! I still get a thrill when I get to see a work in person that I remember studying. It’s like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen in ages! All of the emotions come rushing back.
I did also end up falling in love with the architecture. Give me some rustication, alternating curved and triangular pediments, columns, keystones, pilasters, decorated cornices, and quoins and I’m positively giddy. Probably a bit annoying, too, if you’re walking with me in any Italian city and having to stop constantly for me to admire some little architectural bit here and there or when I suddenly cry out, “Ohhh!” upon stumbling across a building I hadn’t been expecting. Not quite When Harry Met Sally levels of ecstasy, but you get the idea.
Sono Una Tifosa
Unfortunately, I’d come to my love of Italian art and architecture a bit late in my academic career and didn’t end up studying the Italian language at the time. But I was becoming a full-on Italophile, furthered by the Wold Cup taking place the year I graduated. I was cheering on Italy throughout the tournament and they went all the way to the finals! Then there was a penalty kick shoot-out that went horribly wrong and we won’t mention that any more.
Eventually, I started following Serie A, Italian calcio (soccer/football), thanks to the Internet and some international newspapers and magazines I could find at one of the big bookstores. I started trying to learn Italian on my own and could occasionally catch an episode of TG1 (evening news) on cable tv late at night. I eventually signed up to take Italian 101 at the local university, which was hugely helpful. I had also started exchanging emails with someone in Italy, so I was able to practice my Italian regularly.
By the time I finally organized my first trip to Italy, I was able to get by with the basics, had some fun conversations that were a mix of Italian and English, saw some works of art and architecture I’d been dying to see, and even got to go to an Inter-Milan derby at San Siro.
In 2000, I moved to New York City, when my job moved there. After some really lousy dates, I decided to give Internet dating a shot. It was new and a little weird, but hey, it couldn’t really be worse than some of the other dates I’d been on. In the end, I actually met a few really nice people. One, in particular, stood out, and he just happened to be Italian.
Certainly, the fact that I knew something about Italy and knew a tiny bit of the language helped us connect, but we hit it off anyway, talking for more than five hours on our first date. I knew he was a keeper when he surprised me one day with the gift of a book. It was one of his favorites, Ocean Sea, by Alessandro Baricco (in English, though).
Sixteen years later, we’re still together and we’re now living in his hometown, Bologna. I get to indulge in my love of Italian architecture — and Bologna is particularly stunning with all of the portici. I’m also trying to remember and relearn all of the Italian that I once knew and have forgotten. I think official classes will be part of the plan in 2018. We spent nearly the last nine years in the Netherlands, so I’m currently speaking a mishmash of Italian and Dutch. I’m never quite sure what’s going to come out.
As well as learning the language, there are other adjustments to be made. But I’ve assimilated more than enough to now recoil in horror about the wrongness of spaghetti bolognese like a true native of Bologna!
Are you an Italophile or simply have your own Italian connection? Check out the other blogs being posted today and check out the #DolceVitaBloggers. There are seemingly endless types of pasta and surely just as many personal Italian connections.
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.