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 Pietà. 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 pietà 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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La Fontana Vecchia in Bologna

Not all fountains are freestanding. La Fontana Vecchia (The Old Fountain) is built into the side of one of the walls of the Palazzo D’Accursio on Via Ugo Bassi. This is no simple fountain, though. In fact, it’s incredibly grand and impressive in its own rights, even though it was built originally more for the lower/working classes so that they wouldn’t befoul the water in the nearby Neptune Fountain washing their vegetables and who knows what else.

La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi

Cardinal Carlo Borromeo commissioned La Fontana Vecchia in 1563, with Tommaso Palermo Laureti chosen to create the fountain. The marble fountain was completed in 1565. A Sicilian painter, architect, and sculptor, Laureti worked and studied extensively in Bologna. However, having spent some time in Rome, the influence of Michelangelo worked its way into his artwork. As well as designing the Fontana Vecchia, Laureti’s drawings served as the foundation for the base and its figures of the Neptune Fountain, though the rest of the fountain was created by Giambologna. More about him and the Neptune Fountain in another post.

Plaques and bas-relief sculptures cover the fountain, including family coats of arms and the Papal crown and keys in the center in honor of Pope Pius IV. A member of the Medici, his coat of arms is displayed beneath the crown and keys. There are also other symbols displayed on the fountain, such as the word “Libertas”, which represents the city of Bologna. You’ll see the word in a variety of locations throughout the city.

Libertas La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi

On the weekends, or at least Sunday, Via Ugo Bassi is among the T Zone streets that are closed to traffic, making this the best time to see the fountain. It is tall enough that it can give you a crick in the neck if you stand close to it and look up. The center of the street gives you the best all-encompassing view. For what it’s worth, there’s still water in the fountain and as I stood there trying to get some photographs, I even saw someone dipping their hands in and possibly even splashing their face. I can’t help but love a fountain that is nearly 500 years old and still in use, in one way or another.

La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi

La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi medici papal coat of arms

La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi pope pius iv

La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi

La Fontana Vecchia Bologna Via Ugo Bassi

 

 

Big Pope Is Watching You at Palazzo Comunale

No, I haven’t been rereading 1984, but it really can sometimes feel like the statue of the pope is watching you when you’re standing over by the grand entrance to the Palazzo d’Accursio, better known as Palazzo Comunale in the Piazza Maggiore.

palazzo comunale palazzo d'accursio bologna

Originally the home of Accursio, a law teacher at the Bologna University, over the years his home was joined with other buildings until in 1336, it became the residence of the Elders, the highest judiciary in the city and the seat of city government. In fact, it retained some of its function as the town hall until November 2008.

From my first visit to Bologna, the Palazzo Comunale and the statue over the door made an impression on me and was one of the buildings I remembered specifically. It turns out the building has undergone quite a few changes over the centuries, particularly in the first half of the 15th century. That was when the clock tower was added. It even had a wooden automata that included the Madonna and child and Magi, which remained until 1796.

palazzo comunale palazzo d'accursio bologna

The grand entrance portal was added in the mid 1500s by architect Galeazzo Alessi. In 1580, a statue of Pope Gregory XIII (January 1502 – 10 April 1585), sculpted by Alexander Menganti, was included. As well as being from Bologna and encouraging cultural patronage, Pope Gregory XIII is best known as the pope who commissioned the Gregorian calendar (named for him), which we still use today.

palazzo comunale bologna pope gregory xiii

The building may no longer be the town hall, but it does still fly the flags of Italy, the European Union, and Bologna. And yes, the Bologna flag with the red cross on the white background does look an awful lot like the English flag. The cross of St. George is a popular one in Italy.

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Mardi Gras(sa)

Happy Mardi Gras, y’all! Today I find myself thinking a bit about New Orleans and Italy, as well as the nicknames of Bologna: la dotta, la grassa, e la rossa. La dotta, meaning learned one, stems from Bologna being the home of the oldest Western university. La grassa, or the fat one, is thanks to the city’s famously delicious cuisine. La rossa, the red, typically refers to the red roof tiles that cover so much of the city, though the city’s sometimes communist tendencies have occasionally tied in to la rossa, as well.

Lessons Learned

It may have been decades *ahem* years since I last lived in New Orleans, but I will never not love that city. After all, it is often referred to as the most European of all the American cities. I lived there while I was a student at Tulane University, getting my degree in the history of art and trying to become a bit more dotta. It was there that I particularly fell in love with the Italian Renaissance and its architecture.

Italy and New Orleans are all tied up together in my mind in some ways. Such as running under the live oaks on the way to my Renaissance Architecture course to turn in my big paper on rustication that my professor ended up liking so much he asked for a copy. Squeeeeeee! That same professor lived and worked here in Bologna off and on over the years.

Fat Tuesday

I may not be Catholic, or even religious, but between studying so much Italian Renaissance art, as well as living in New Orleans and having a lot of Catholic friends over the years, I’ve learned some of the Catholic traditions, and such. One of which, is Carnevale. It’s not a big deal here in Bologna, the way it is in Venice or New Orleans, but there are still some traditions. In New Orleans, you’ve got King Cake to turn you grassa, because it’s everywhere and absolutely delicious. Here in Bologna, there’s another sweet treat during the season: sfrappole. Sfrappole are thin bits of fried dough coated in powdered sugar and they’re pretty addictive. It’s a common treat during the period leading up to Lent. You’ll find piles of it everywhere from local cafés to the grocery store. Not that it’s purely Italian or even from this region. There are variations found in multiple countries and numerous names even within each country.

mardi gras bologna

Seeing Red

When I get to la rossa, that’s when the comparisons fall apart. The colors I associate with New Orleans, particularly during this time of year, are yellow/gold, green, and purple. Though I suppose there are quite a few red eyes the next morning during the season from staying up late and partying. But for what it’s worth, while writing all of this nostalgic meandering, I have been looking out onto some of the red roofs of Bologna. They’re a nice pop of color on what it turning out to be a grey day.

But returning to la grassa for a moment … I thought about making some gumbo today, but I really like okra in my gumbo and I haven’t found any yet. Does anyone know if there are any shops that sell it here in Bologna? I found it in Utrecht, so I hold out some hope of finding it here. A girl can dream …

Pretty Details in Bologna’s Parco della Montagnola

In Utrecht, I was lucky enough to have a small park one street over from our house. It bordered a stretch of the ring canal that circles the old city center. Depending on the time I took Charlie out first thing in the morning, we could sometimes have the park to ourselves. Occasionally we’d run into other dog owners and sometimes the dogs would get to run about and play. However, for all of the green area around Utrecht and the number of parks and parklike areas, there was an absence of closed off dog parks.

Here in Bologna, we go to Parco della Montagnola, and while it’s not one street over, it’s not that much further. And this park has an enclosed area specifically for dogs. Charlie’s already made friends (and the occasional nemesis).

However, while Charlie prefers the eastern side of the park, my favorite spot is the western edge and the beautiful lamps and view. This is a quick snap I took this morning before Charlie decided there were more things to sniff further along the path.

parco della montagnola bologna italy

I’ve been busy constructing Ikea furniture for the past two days, as well as writing an article about Paulus Potter’s The Young Bull, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for more photos and information about Parco della Montagnola. I’ll leave you with the fact that it is the oldest park in Bologna and first opened to the public back in 1664. When you have to go somewhere every day (thanks, Charlie!), I can think of worse places to go!

Famous Bolognese: Guglielmo Marconi

Radio. I haven’t had a physical one in almost nine years and miss it occasionally, though there’s always the online option. In fact, years ago, while still living in the US, I used to listen to Italian radio online, just to practice listening to Italian. I blame my love of cheesy Italian pop on all that time spent listening to RTL 102.5. That and the limited selection of Italian CDs for sale at my local Borders bookstore at the time.

Anyway, it seems appropriate that I used to listen to Italian radio, even if online, as the man who is generally credited as the inventor of radio is an Italian, Guglielmo Marconi (Bologna, 25 April 1874 – Roma, 20 July 1937). As it turns out, not only is he Italian, he was from Bologna!

For the record, he didn’t specifically invent the radio, but he did  developed the first apparatus for long distance radio communication.  He also won a Nobel Prize in Physics, along with Karl Ferdinand Braun, for  contributions to the development of wireless telegraphy. He was just 27 when he received the first transatlantic radio signal. He would go on to become a successful businessman, entrepreneur, and through a continuing series of innovations, he was able to help make commercial radio into a success.

Nowadays, if you fly into Bologna, you’ll arrive at the Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport. Then, if you’re sticking around town for a while, you can follow one of the Marconi-inspired itineraries available from Bologna Welcome, where you can learn more about this famous son of Bologna.

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