The Gates of Bologna: Porta San Donato

In the Middle Ages, much like many other cities, Bologna was protected by high walls with large gates built in at certain points for passage in and out. The walls of Bologna are largely gone now, though there are fragments that remain in various spots around the city, and you can still see the mark they left on the map of Bologna in the form of a ring road (or the viali as they’re known here) that surrounds the historic part of the city. In total there were at least 12 gates, though only 10 now remain. While much of the walls have been destroyed, you can still see at least parts of the old gates of Bologna.

gates of bologna porta san donato

One of the grand gates of Bologna is the Porta San Donato. Located on the northeast side of the city, it was built in the 1200s, on the road leading to Ferrara. The gate was part of a larger complex, including housing for guards, and even had a drawbridge over a moat in the mid 1300s. In 1428, the gate was closed and walled up for security reasons, but eventually reopened a few decades later.

The gate was clearly used for defensive purposes, as it has a machicolated (or piombatoio) tower. If you look closely between the corbels, inside the arches along the top of the tower, you’ll see that there are openings. This was where the guards could rain down all sorts of misery on invaders, such as stones, or the classic boiling water or boiling oil. Perhaps even the contents of a few chamber pots if defensive supplies ran low.

By the 20th century, the gate was proving more of a hindrance than a help. It sits on the intersection of the ring boulevard and Via San Donato, which leads into Via Irnerio, one of the major streets in town. As a result, it risked being torn down quite a few times, particularly in the 1950s as traffic became more and more of an issue. Eventually, only one meter of wall was torn down to help alleviate some of the traffic problems. As recently as 2008/2009, rather than try to tear the gate down, it underwent some restoration to perk it up and hopefully keep it around for a few more hundred years.

gates of bologna porta san donato

gates of bologna porta san donato

This post was inspired by recently passing this gate (as well as some others) and the Weekly Photo Challenge topic of security.

 

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