Specialty Food Shops in the Heart of Bologna

Just off Piazza Maggiore, you’ll find a number of small streets filled with Bologna specialty food shops that are foodie heaven. This is part of the Quadrilatero and these shops are part of the food market tradition in these streets that date back to the medieval period, if not further. Small shops dedicated to top-quality Italian classic ingredients. There are the fruit and vegetable stalls, the butcher, the fishmonger, cheese, bread, chocolate, and many more variations on a foodie theme. These narrow streets are always busy, even more so during the holiday season. And yes, those are eels in the white box on the bottom right. Just one of the many types of seafood you’ll find on offer.

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

With New Year’s Eve fast approaching, we went to one of the butchers to get the ingredients for the classic lasagne that G makes. After all, that’s one of the famous dishes that traces some of its origins to this part of Italy. Emilia-Romagna lasagne is made up of ragĂș bolognese, bechamel, parmigiano, and the pasta sheets, which can be regular or made with spinach for a lasagne verde. Nothing else! There are other versions in the country, but this is the version most common in northern Italy. And that’s all I’ll say on that, before someone from another region complains. 😉 I love to eat Italian food, but talking or writing about it? No, thanks! Too easy to make a mistake and offend someone!

The butcher we go to is the Macelleria Agnoletto & Bignami on Via Pescherie Vecchie. Even if that wasn’t where the family usually goes, I think I would have wanted to go, just for the sign. I noticed it last week and couldn’t resist squeezing in a quick shot, despite having Charlie with me and numerous tourists and locals passing through the narrow street. I find it kind of hilarious and a brilliant design!

macelleria bologna specialty food shops

As well as the fresh meat and poultry available (just take a number to get served), there is also a selection of meats and cheeses, from the obvious parmigiano to bresaola, mortadella, and other charcuterie classics. Plus, wines, olive oils, sauces, and so much more.

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

These aren’t necessarily the most affordable shops, but you do get a broader selection than in the local grocery stores. There are also shops where you can buy some lovely pasta, as well. We were considering some tortellini, but that might have to wait for later into the new year.

Whether you’re purchasing for a special occasion, taking advantage of having a kitchen in an AirBnB place, or just want to window shop, there are plenty of Bologna specialty food shops to tempt you in the Quadrilatero. Some day, I may even get some decent photos, instead of really quick snaps between all of the shoppers. A new year’s resolution, perhaps. For now, a few more snaps along Via Pescherie Vecchie.

bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie
bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie
bologna specialty food shops Via Pescherie Vecchie

The Return of Neptune (Nettuno)

nettuno neptune fountain bologna

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)?

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
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.

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
A view of the top two levels of the base of the fountain. There’s yet another large level beneath this.

 

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
A hint of the giant himself amid the many levels of scaffolding.

 

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
The legs are almost a level of their own.

neptune fountain nettuno bologna

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
What can I say? He has a nice bum.

 

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
Showing off his curls … and those broad shoulders.

 

neptune fountain nettuno bologna
The statue alone is more than four meters tall, so he usually towers over everyone. It’s a rare chance to see him up close like this. Also note the trident. Maserati, the luxury sports car company, was founded in Bologna, and based its famous logo on this statue’s trident.

Towering Surprises

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.
bologna towers things to see in bologa

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.

Uncovering Books and Bononia at the Salaborsa

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.

salaborsa archaeological ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna
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.

Bologna archaeological excavations salaborsa ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna

Bologna archaeological excavations salaborsa ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna

Bologna archaeological excavations salaborsa ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna

Bologna archaeological excavations salaborsa ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna

Bologna archaeological excavations salaborsa ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna

Bologna archaeological excavations salaborsa ruins bononia bologna things to do in bologna

 

 

Biblioteca Salaborsa: An Exchange of Knowledge

With every move, the bulk of my boxes contain books. Books make me happy. Just looking at them all lined and stacked up in my own personal library is like looking at old photos. There are so many memories tied up in the books that have made the move with me. And for every book that didn’t make the move, it feels like a loss, especially when I go to reach for one and it isn’t there.

Unsurprisingly then, libraries and bookstores are my happy places. All of those books to be discovered! Adventures to go on, knowledge to expand your world … it’s all there in those pages. The books are the most important thing to me in a library; the setting is secondary. I’ve been in utilitarian-looking libraries, and I’ve been in beautiful libraries. That said, a beautiful setting full of books is always a pleasure. The public library here in Bologna is one of those bonus places where you have a wealth of information at your fingertips, all in a visually stunning setting.

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa

The Bologna public library is the Biblioteca Salaborsa. It is technically part of the Palazzo d’Accursio on the Piazza Nettuno, which is essentially an extension of Piazza Maggiore, the big square in town. [The fact that the Salaborsa is on the Piazza Nettuno might explain why I still don’t have an exterior photo of that part of the building, since it’s currently blocked to some degree by the restoration taking place of the Neptune fountain/statue in the square.]

The location of the library is rich with history, with archaeological discoveries dating back to at least the third century BC. It’s also had a surprising horticultural history. In the 1300s, Papal legate Androino de la Roche (a personal representative of the pope) established his own private garden, or viridarium in part of the area, as well as stables. In fact, the stables were reinforced and restructured in 1554. By 1568, a well-known botanist of the time, Ulisse Aldrovandi, turned the earlier walled garden into a botanical garden and orchard where they grew a variety of plants and herbs, including exotic plants from around the world. The resulting research that they were able to do at the university contributed to the development of modern botany.

Stock Exchange

It wasn’t until the late 1800s (1883-1886) that the current structure took form and became a stock exchange (sala borsa). It combines fairly classical design elements with newer materials, such as cast iron, combining to form a modernist style. The result is a grand building full of arches, decorative detail, and lots of light. It was a modern building for a modern era. Unfortunately, the good economic times didn’t last long and the building closed in 1903. However, after World War I, the stock exchange expanded and reopened in 1926. Then, after the World War II, it remained a stock exchange/bank during the day, and a public sports hall in the evening, with basketball and boxing often taking place. This lasted until the 1960s. After that, the building functioned primarily as administrative offices for the city.

Modern Library

In 1999, the city decided to turn the building into a public library. In 2001, the Biblioteca Salaborsa opened to the public as a modern library to serve the public in a new technological era. As well as hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, maps and other documents, there is extensive digital media, with videos, ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and other electronic resources. In addition, the library serves as a space for exhibits, lectures, conferences, and cultural events.

You’ll also find free wifi, a cafĂ©, toilets and other amenities that make it a handy place to meet up with friends, take a break from your sightseeing, or while away some time on one of those days when the weather isn’t cooperating (though those seem to be few and far between). Usage of the library is free, though if you want to take anything home, you must be a resident and register with the library, though that is also free. (In the Netherlands, there was a yearly fee if you wanted to be able to check books out.)

It’s worth a visit, just to enjoy the interior. It was a busy Saturday when we went, and we had limited time, so I want to go back and see more of it, from different angles, when it’s maybe not quite so busy. Plus, you know, books! There’s also a special permanent exhibit in the lower levels that I’ll post about in the coming days. For now, a few photos I took inside. Pro tip: don’t have a coffee right before trying to take photos, especially if you’re trying to zoom in and don’t have a tripod. Lordy, I took some blurry photos of the ceiling that day!

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

Biblioteca Salaborsa Bologna public library cast iron architecture

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.

Celebrating the Festa della Repubblica

Today is a national holiday in Italy. It’s the Festa della Repubblica, the day in which Italians celebrate becoming a republic. On this day in 1946, Italians went to the polls to vote whether to remain a monarchy or become a republic. They chose republic, which isn’t that much of a surprise considering the behavior of the last king of Italy, from the Savoy family, who appointed Mussolini and then ran away during WWII. That said, the numbers were fairly close. Still, over the years, I’ve heard many an Italian speak negatively of monarchies, particularly the Savoy family that last reigned over Italy.

So, a republic it is! This is one of the few days when you’re likely to see Italian flags hung about and there are parades and special presentations and events to celebrate, at least in Rome. I’m not really sure what’s going on in Bologna today. It’s too hot and I’m too busy working — not a holiday for me; mine was Monday — so I’m afraid you get the abbreviated story today. You also get a random photo that happens to include the Italian flag and the flag of Bologna.

Festa della Repubblica

Photographing Bologna, Then and Now

The first time I came to Bologna was December 2001. It was my third trip to Italy, but my first to Bologna. But yeah, 2001. It’s been a while since that first visit. Today I ended up looking through some of my old photos from that visit. Photographing Bologna was fun then and it’s still fun now, though a drastically different experience in some way. That first trip was so long ago that I was still using film, and not in a fancy way. I mean in a standard point-and-shoot kind of way. I think we got our first digital camera the next year.

Anyway, being film, and being winter and low light, it means I had a lot of blurry photos. A lot. I didn’t have the knowledge or full control to do a better job, though I’ve learned a lot more over the years. Plus, it really does come in handy with digital cameras to be able to see the shot you made and know if you need to redo it. I doubt I had any idea of just how blurry so many of those photos were when I took them. Still, I like to think of some of those photos as “Impressionistic”. They have their own charm.

In looking through the photos, it was fun being able to recognize some of the places and have new memories to go with them, not to mention better pictures (sometimes). It was also a good reminder of places I need to still revisit. Some photos I have no idea where they were taken, but that’s not a surprise, as I’m still getting vaguely lost on a regular basis. I try to head in a basic direction and have a few landmarks to help me orient myself. The rest is just fun wandering, even if it does take me longer to get to places than it probably should.

Some Things Never Change

Not all of the photos I took in 2001 are of specific places, just streets and colors that I found attractive. The same things that I loved about photographing Bologna then are things I still love. In fact, there was at least one spot that I photographed just for the colors back in 2001 that I know I photographed for the same reason this year. It was fun to see that particularly blurry photo and still be able to recognize the spot, even if I don’t actually know where it is or how to get there again.

As I said, I don’t know exactly where this spot is, but in 2001 I loved the variety of colors that included orange, purple, green, and gray, along with a few fun architectural details. Those same colors are still there. Even some of the shutters are still closed! It would be hard to tell that nearly 16 years have passed between photos. (Also, do you know how hard it is to take a photo of a blurry photo, since I don’t have a scanner? The photo of the photo may actually be even blurrier than the original!)

Somewhere in Bologna, December 2001.

photographing bologna colors

The same somewhere in Bologna, February 2017. Trust me.

photographing bolona colors

By the way, if you’re into that kind of thing, you can follow my blog with Bloglovin

Good Friday in Bologna

Today certainly started off as a Good Friday, in the sense that I got to go out with Charlie for a three-hour walk around town. Admittedly, I hadn’t planned on it being a three-hour walk, but the weather was nice and we were having fun, so we just kept walking. Well, we did stop for a coffee in Piazza Maggiore and enjoyed a bit of people and dog watching, too.

Good Friday basilica di san petronio bologna Good Friday Piazza Maggiore Bologna

Along the way, we found ourselves strolling down Via Indipendenza, one of the major shopping streets. It’s also home to the city’s cathedral. Despite what you may think, the Basilica di San Petronio in Piazza Maggiore is not the cathedral. It’s certainly a big church, but it’s not the cathedral. I’ll save the semantics for another day. I took so many photos today that until G just reminded me, I had forgotten I had one of the cathedral (the building on the right) juxtaposed against some curvy Art Deco architecture.
Good Friday st peter cathedral bologna

Anyway, as we were walking along Via Indipendenza, we passed under the portico of the Palazzo del Monte di PietĂ . This building, which dates back to the 1470s, was originally the residence of the cannons of the cathedral and was connected to the cathedral. However, I think since the 1500s, it has frequently had some sort of banking/loan history and is still the seat of a banking institution.

The pietĂ  element of the name of the palazzo can be seen in the sculpture over the doorway. I suppose it’s appropriate for today, seeing as it’s Good Friday, the day Jesus is supposed to have died on the cross. This depicts more of a deposition with Nicodemus having taken Christ down from the cross, with Mary and two angels looking on.

Good Friday Charlie palazzo del monte di pieta bologna Good Friday deposition of christ palazzo del monte di pieta

(For what it’s worth, I’m not Catholic; I’m not even religious. But you can pick up a surprising amount of information when you focus on the art and architecture of the Italian Renaissance at university. I’m drawn to this kind of stuff for that reason.)

So, whether you’re celebrating Easter, Passover, or hopefully at least a long weekend, enjoy yourselves! I hope you’re having a good Friday, too.

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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