The Glowing Colors of Bologna

Monday we had snow. Tuesday sunshine. Today is overcast. Saturday, though, was a glorious day of sunshine and crisp, cool air. On days like that, it’s feels like there’s a picturesque, somehow quintessential image of Italy around every corner. The colors of Bologna are particularly glorious. In this case, it was a building that looked like a ray of sunshine where the light hit it, with the bonus of abundant greenery overflowing the windows.

Even with the lower half in shadow, I was captivated by this one building. Despite the fact that there was a much older building across the street from it. (I’ll save that for another post.) So whether you’re enjoying a sunny day or need a bit of color to brighten your day, enjoy this wonderful example of one of the many colorful buildings in Bologna.

 

colors of bologna architecture street corner

colors of bologna architecture street corner

colors of bologna architecture street corner

The Feast of St. Martin

November 11 is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and went on to become a monk after having a dream. There are churches all over the place dedicated to him and it’s usually easy to tell by some of the imagery in or on the church. He’s best known for coming across a beggar in a snowstorm and cutting his military cloak in half to share with the poor man. That night, he dreamt that Jesus was wearing the cloak and singing Martin’s praises to the angels for clothing him. It’s the depiction of Martin sitting upon his horse, cutting his cloak, that is the most common depiction.

I’m not religious, but when you get an art history degree, especially if you focus on the Renaissance, you learn a LOT about various saints and their depictions. See a woman with a wheel (like a spinning wheel or even a ship’s captain’s steering wheel) and you’re most likely looking at St. Catherine. A woman with a pair of eyes on a tray? St. Lucy. A man tied up with a bunch of arrows in him? St. Stephen.

St. Martin in Utrecht

However, it wasn’t from my degree that I learned about St. Martin. It was from living in Utrecht, Netherlands. St. Martin (Sint Maarten) is the patron saint of Utrecht. He’s generally pretty popular in the Netherlands, and tonight, children are likely to go around door to door with little lanterns, singing songs about the saint, and hoping for some candy. Sort of the Dutch version of Halloween. Utrecht has also been hosting a special evening parade in recent years, usually the week before.

The cathedral in Utrecht is dedicated to St. Martin and even though most of the interior decoration was destroyed during the Reformation, there is a depiction of St. Martin above one of the doors leading into the cloistered courtyard next to the church.
Sint Maarten
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St. Martin in Italy

From a quick Google search, it looks like Sicily might be more likely to celebrate today, rather than in other parts of Italy. But I could be wrong. However, you’ll still find the saint popping up in other cities in Italy. Bologna, in fact, has a church dedicated to the saint. It’s one that I find myself passing on a regular basis, even when I don’t mean to. I like to think that the cathedral in Utrecht became a bit of a homing location for me, because I could never resist stopping by the square where it’s located, so maybe my internal compass is currently tuned to St. Martin churches.

We passed the church in Bologna today, and as it’s St. Martin’s Day, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the sculpture above one of the side doors of the church.

St. Martin San Martino Sint Maarten church bologna sculpture bas relief horse cloak carving religious art
St. Martin San Martino Sint Maarten church bologna sculpture bas relief horse cloak carving religious art

While I was in Florence at the Palazzo Strozzi, I was lucky enough to see a Bernini sculpture of St. Martin and the beggar. Carved around 1598, it really is stunning and I was thrilled to finally see a Bernini in person. *fans self* I long to see more of his sculptures, many of which are in Rome. Must plan that trip! Kudos to the museum, which lit the piece — and much of the other work in the Cinquecento exhibit — so beautifully.

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

I find it fascinating to see the different-yet-similar depictions of the story, even from country to country. Bernini’s is stunning, but Utrecht gets points for the inclusion of a little dog.

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A Peek at Some Florentine Icons

During my last day-trip to Florence, I was short on time and focused on visiting the Palazzo Strozzi and their Cinquecento art exhibit. Despite my desire to revisit old favorites, I knew they’d have to wait for another visit. Fortunately, when we got to Piazza della Repubblica, where we stopped for an overpriced and not so great prosecco, I did at least get a quick peek of Giotto’s bell tower and Brunelleschi’s dome.

Back in my uni days, while studying about the incredible construction of the dome of the cathedral in Florence, I remember having some odd dreams about Brunelleschi and blueberry muffins. But that’s a peek into my subconscious that’s probably best left unexplored.

Instead, inspired by this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, here are a couple of photos of the bell tower (campanile) and the cupola of the dome peeking up over the rooftops of Piazza della Repubblica, with a bit of bonus carousel.

florence bell tower cathedral giotto brunelleschi renaissance architecture firenze piazza della repubblica carousel

florence bell tower cathedral giotto brunelleschi renaissance architecture firenze piazza della repubblica carousel

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Wordless Wednesday: Not Quite the Classic Vespa

italian vespa italian architecture motorbikes

italian vespa italian architecture motorbikes

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The Monumental Scale of Palazzo Strozzi

I’ve lived in New York City, surrounded by skyscrapers. The scale of the buildings is truly impressive as you see them towering overhead, forming narrow canyons as you walk among them. But in many other parts of the US, it’s the outward scale of the size of cities, rather than the upward scale of tall structures, that really stands out. In Europe, the historic city centers may not take that long to traverse on foot, and many of the buildings aren’t skyscrapers, but the scale of the historic structures is often even more impressive, particularly when you consider how long ago they were built.

In Florence, the number of monumental (in every sense) buildings is impressive. When you add in the narrow streets, the buildings that seem large already then seem to double in height. On my first visit to Italy, which started off in Florence, I remember being blown away by the sheer scale and height of the front door of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi. I had studied the building in many of my art history courses, but nothing truly prepared me for the reality of the size of it all.

My beloved Palazzo Strozzi is even larger, measuring around 105 feet/32 meters high*, and still remains impressive to me. (Although after all those years in Utrecht, it suddenly seems a bit shorter, since the Domtoren measures in at 368 feet/112.5 meters. Seriously, it’s a GIANT bell tower.) When I visited Florence recently, I still felt a thrill when I saw the Palazzo Strozzi peeking through the gap at the end of a narrow street. As I got closer, it grew taller and taller and soon my head was tilted all the way back as I gazed up at the beautiful rustication and spectacular cornice.

Palazzo Strozzi corner angolo scale photography travel florence

palazzo strozzi rustication iron ring cornice

My father, who was a professional photographer for years, often suggests getting people into a shot to add some interest or give a sense of scale. There’s no shortage of people in Florence, and there were even more people milling around the palazzo this time than during my first visit. All of the tiny ant-like figures really do give a sense of the scale of the building, whether it’s the doorways, the height of the building, or the width of it. And it’s really hard to fit all of it into one photo! It’s a grand, monumental, beautiful building and the scale of my love for it, even after all of these years, is truly hard to measure.

*I had a surprisingly hard time finding the height of the Palazzo Strozzi listed online. I knew I had included it in the paper I’d written on the building, and sure enough, I found the height in the rough draft I have among my notes and photocopies from my research, all bundled up in a big binder. I feel vindicated in keeping all of that through all the moves now.
Palazzo Strozzi rustication museum florence

Palazzo Strozzi rustication museum florence travel scale

The Lettered and Learned Palazzo Bocchi

At university, while studying Renaissance architecture, I wrote a paper on the origins, styles, and uses of rustication. Rustication is essentially the rows of tooled, raised stone often found at least on the ground level of buildings and sometimes around doorways and windows and the corners of buildings. It’s been around since classical times and showed up frequently in Renaissance architecture, unsurprisingly.

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

After the blood, sweat, and tears that went into that paper, I could have never wanted to think of rustication again or I could have fallen in love with it completely. In my case, it was the latter. Roommates at uni had to put up with me pointing it out everywhere and talking about it incessantly; parents have had it pointed out extensively; my dear friend who travelled to Italy with me the first time REALLY got the full brunt of my fascination; and G has had to watch me caress it lovingly. And now I have a blog so I can tell EVERYONE about it!

There are a variety of forms of rustication, especially as it developed and became more stylized over the years, but no matter the form, I’m a sucker for a good bit of rustication. So imagine my joy when I was wandering around town one day with Charlie, going wherever his nose directed us, when I came across two buildings facing each other with some truly fantastic rustication. Charlie soon grew impatient, but there was no dragging me away. I was going to soak it all in. I’m still trying to find out about one building, but I did find out about the other, which truly is a fascinating building in its own right: the Palazzo Bocchi (pronounced BOH-key; hear it here).

Achille Bocchi

The palazzo was commissioned by Achille Bocchi, an Italian humanist writer, emblematist, historian and lecturer in Greek, poetry and humanae litterae at the University of Bologna. He lived 1488-1562, and his best-known book, written in 1555, was Symbolicarum quaestionum de universo genere. I love the following description of it:

[It] “takes as its subject the whole of universal knowledge: physics, metaphysics, theology, dialectic, Love, Life and Death, packaging them under the veil of fables and myths.”*

Life, the universe, and everything else, indeed!

Palazzo Bocchi

Bocchi commissioned the palazzo design in 1545/6 from Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, one of the great Mannerism architects and also a native of Bologna. Vignola was responsible for the Villa Farnese in Caprarola and is grouped with Palladio and Serlio as the three main architects who spread the Italian Renaissance architectural style throughout Western Europe. Nice company to keep!

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

Bocchi soon turned his palazzo into the home of his Hermatena Academy. The name is the combination of Hermes and Athena, as Hermes was the god of eloquence, and Athena was the goddess of wisdom, arts and science. An appropriate combination for his interests.

I haven’t seen the inside, but it includes frescoes by Prospero Fontana, a Bolognese artist important in his own right, who also painted frescoes in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

However, I have seen the outside and the wonderful Bolognese colors, along with the truly eye-catching rustication. The rustication runs along the base, up to the bottom of the windows on the first level. They are fairly typical rectangular raised stones that are slightly rounded and rough in texture, placed in even rows, much like brickwork, but on a much larger scale. Interestingly, the columns around the door and the frames around the first level windows are also rusticated, as are the corners (quoins). It is typical in these instances to leave space between the rusticated blocks.

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

Hebrew and Latin

What really makes this building so unusual are the inscriptions within the Palazzo Bocchi rustication on the facade. It is uncommon to have anything written into the rustication in this manner, and in this case, one side is in Hebrew and the other in Latin. The Hebrew side is a verse from Psalm 120: “Deliver me from the liars, God! They smile so sweetly, but lie through their teeth.” The other side, in Latin, comes from Horace’s Epistle 1: “Rex eris, aiunt, si recte facies” (Do well, thou shalt be crowned).

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

Palazzo Bocchi rustication Bologna architecture hebrew inscription hermatena academy

The Palazzo Bocchi is located at Via Goito 16, but it does seem to be a private building at this point, or at least not specifically open to the public. It’s worth a visit, though, just to see the exterior and some of the other buildings on the street. Via Goito on one end leads onto Via Oberdan, which is home to a variety of shops and restaurants and leads out onto Via Rizzoli, another major street that takes you to the two towers or to Piazza Maggiore. And really, no matter where you end up wandering, you’re sure to run into some beautiful buildings.


*John Manning, The Emblem (2002) p.114.

Pedestrian but Civilized

While visiting Florence the other week, the weather was warm, the sun was shining down, and we were miserable. Well, not miserable, but seriously, y’all, it was hot! I know plenty of people who love warm weather, but that’s not G and me. We arrived at the consulate early, and while it was next to the Arno, the sun was beating down on us, with no immediate shade on that side of the river. Plus, as a result of security, I had to wait to go into the building until it was my appointment time, so there was at least a half hour spent in the sun.

After the appointment, I ended up doing a few laps along the river looking for G who had to wait outside. I was going to call him when I was done, but having had to turn off my phone before entering the consulate, I realized that I didn’t have the SIM number memorized to unlock it. Doh! Fortunately, after just a bit of panicking and walking back and forth, I spotted him in a shady area behind the consulate. The shade — and the sight of a couple of cats — had lured him back there. While I cooled off, we made plans to find a small bar to have a quick lunch before going to the Palazzo Strozzi.

After walking in the sun for a few minutes, we decided to take our chances and head to more shadowed streets heading in the general direction we needed to go. The Arno side, though direct enough, was too hot. Fortunately, we ended up finding a cooler street that had a number of restaurants. While most were maybe a bit more touristic and heavier than we wanted, we ended up finding an attractive little bar with some tasty panini and a nice cross breeze.

Sated, we were once again on our way to the Palazzo Strozzi. Most of the streets at that point were narrow and shadowed. One of the joys of ancient city centers! firenze florence historic center centro architectureStill, the roads and walkways are often a bit uneven, with many narrow sidewalks cobbled. By the end of the day, after also wandering around the Palazzo Strozzi and then heading to the Piazza Repubblica, our feet were feeling the effect of those uneven paths.

Does it sound like I’m complaining a lot? I know! I sound like one of those expats/tourists. I hate those people! I promise, I didn’t complain about any of it the first time I went to Florence (although it was much cooler then). This time, I was there mainly for a bit of bureaucratic paperwork that was making me feel a bit stressed and the heat wasn’t helping my anxiety. Plus, by the end, my feet were really hurting, and just about everyone knows that foot pain will turn the sunniest personality into a grump. Blah blah blah excuses …

Mainly, all this over-the-top complaining is to explain why G and I were joking about how much more civilized Bologna is compared to other cities, thanks to the wonderful portici that offer shade from the sun, protection from the rain, and have smooth, even paths beneath them that don’t try to turn your ankle every two steps. The Bologna portici, which cover a huge part of the city, may be pedestrian walkways, but they are anything but pedestrian in their form and function. Many have beautiful marble walkways and some stunning arches and vaulting. And since this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “pedestrian”, I thought I’d share some of these civilized Bologna portici that came in handy on a recent rainy Sunday morning.

bologna portici covered walkways portico bologna portici covered walkways portico

bologna portici covered walkways portico
Many portici serve as covered terrace areas for restaurants, bars, and cafés. They may look pedestrian when the shutters are closed, but they come alive during the day and evening, many with their own special lights and lamps.

bologna portici covered walkways portico

In Utrecht, we’d joke about people wearing bicycle helmets being tourists, as locals almost never wear them. In this case, part of me wants to joke that these are tourists who don’t automatically appreciate the benefits of the portici. And is that someone walking in a bike lane?! Tourists!*

*All tourist teasing and Florence complaining is purely tongue-in-cheek.

Celebrating Bologna’s Saint’s Day

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

Each saint in the Catholic Church has his or her own special day dedicated to them. If you happen to be named after a saint — and lots of people are — then you sometimes get to celebrate your saint’s day. If you’re a city, you have your own patron saint. Bologna’s patron saint is San Petronio and his day of celebration is today, 4 October. San Petronio was the 8th bishop of the city, from 431 to 450 AD. And no, I’m not missing any “1s” from those dates.

San Petronio festa statue bologna patron saint

For some, today is a holiday, though it seems that most of the regular shops are open. There are some special festivities to celebrate the day, though. There is a rally of some sort at the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana by the two towers, and later there is a religious procession from Piazza Maggiore to Piazza Nettuno. To be honest, that’s not exactly a long trek, as the two squares really just make up one big area in front of the basilica, particularly as the Neptune (Nettuno) statue is under renovation and the covering takes up a lot of the square.

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

The basilica is dedicated to San Petronio and is a pretty spectacular bit of architecture that was first started in 1390. It may seem a bit odd at first glance, as the upper half of the facade remains unfinished. However, inside it’s pretty impressive and not lacking in decoration or beautifully colored warm marble. There’s some interesting history and stories to go along with it, but that will have to wait for another post.

So, to all Bolognese, wherever you are, buona festa di San Petronio!

Windows of Palazzo Strozzi

When I saw the topic of this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge was windows, I knew immediately what I would post, even if it varies slightly from their take on the theme. After my trip to Florence last week, I had an abundance of photos of Palazzo Strozzi windows, inside and out. Really, I could have done any number of photos of windows taken throughout Florence. There were some real beauties. But today, I’m going to keep it simple and focus on the windows in the courtyard of the Palazzo Strozzi and a few views looking out some of the exterior windows … at more windows!

First up is the courtyard. Having spent a semester studying this palazzo at university, I felt like I was in a familiar and happy spot, despite having never been inside the palazzo. The soft light that filters down is almost magical, well, at least for me. I could have stood or sat there forever. G would say that it felt like I was there forever as I kept taking photos and just drinking in the atmosphere and all the little familiar details that I was so happy to finally see in person.

palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard palazzo strozzi windows florence firenze courtyard

I love how there are two sets of window styles, each facing each other, with one almost all glass, while the other retains the same shape, but uses less glass.

Upstairs, in the current art exhibit, most windows are covered, but a few of the beautiful bifore windows were exposed and offered some fascinating views of the surrounding buildings. It gets particularly meta when you start looking at windows through a window. It was lovely to see the progression of the windows on one of the opposite buildings, as they move from a flat lintel over the windows on the top, followed by the triangular pediment and then the curved pediment. It just goes to show that windows can be just as interesting as the views they offer.

palazzo strozzi windows bifore florence firenze palazzo strozzi windows pediments lintel florence firenze

A Papal Visit to Bologna

Other than the seemingly nightly mentions on the TG1 evening news, it’s relatively easy to forget about the Catholic Church here in Bologna. That’s not to say that there aren’t churches everywhere and various church bells ringing throughout the day, and the city certainly has the impressive Basilica di San Petronio. Yet unless you actually practice the religion — and G and I are both non-believers — it’s easy enough to forget about the Church.

That is until this week. Today, specifically. You see, the Pope came to Bologna today. It’s been in the plans for ages so that the die-hards could get their tickets and passes for his appearances at Piazza Maggiore and at the stadium. There have been posters up over the past week and this weekend they started clearing out cars and bicycles from some of the streets closer to Piazza Maggiore and shutting down traffic on streets further out, in part to allow for the motorcade through part of the city.

This morning, despite a bit of drizzle, I thought I’d take Charlie out for a nice long walk. To be honest, I kind of liked the break from the unrelentingly bright sun. It was also early enough that fewer people were around. We took a turn we hadn’t taken before and ended up in some new-to-us areas, which included a nice little park area, as well as a walk along the impressive side of the Oratory of St. Cecilia. As we continued walking — in between stops for people to take Charlie’s photo or comment on how bello he is — we eventually managed to find ourselves on Via Zamboni, heading straight to the two towers.

due torre bologna papal visit

That’s when I remembered the Bologna papal visit. The big giveaway was the crowds standing in the street beneath the towers. There are areas to stand and admire the views, but the street usually stays clear.

Out of curiosity, I thought I’d see how far we could get before we had to turn back, whether for lack of a pass or sheer density of the crowd. With a bit of weaving at times — and more stops for people to gush over Charlie — we actually made it all the way to Via Indipendenza. Along the way, we saw the usual crowds, as well as groups of nuns and even a monk/friar. [As a side note, we lived near a neighborhood of Utrecht called Wittevrouwen, literally meaning white women, but actually referring to the group of nuns who wear white that used to have a nunnery in the area. As I passed a group of them today, I may have found myself quietly exclaiming, “wittevrouwen!” when I saw them.]

bologna papal visit torre asinelli

bologna papal visit via rizzoli

bologna papal visit via rizzoli

bologna papal visit wittevrouwen white nuns

bologna papal visit via indipendenza banner
A banner for the visit hangs over the crowd at the intersection of Via Rizzoli and Via Indipendenza. It reads “Bologna Welcomes You/Pope Francis welcome among us.”

We made it all the way to Via Indipendenza, which would have been an easy enough way for us to head home. Or, at least a way I knew how to get home. I still get turned around sometimes. I was actually surprised at how few people were on the one side of the street until I got to the cathedral that is also on that side of the street. That’s when I realized that I could go no further and was penned in, essentially. No traffic, foot or vehicle, was allowed past those barriers. Whooops!

Not really wanting to stay, particularly as I think there were still at least 45 minutes before anything would happen, Charlie and I turned around and headed back the way we came. Eventually we found a side street that wasn’t blocked and it happened to be one I was familiar with, so we didn’t even get lost and we finally made it back home, two hours after setting out.

So no, I didn’t see the pope. This is just a long-winded excuse to post some crowd photos. From what I read later, the Popemobile was setting a pretty fast pace today, so you had to be quick to get a view anyway.

If you want to see a bit more of the crowds and the general view walking down Via Rizzoli — and some scenes of Charlie in action — check out the blog’s Facebook page where I’ll post a video I took while walking down the street. Nuns, monks, Charlie and his admirers are all included in the video.

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