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.
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.
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.]
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.
Here’s a quick post of two photos I took yesterday of Bologna’s famous torre degli Asinelli (Asinelli tower). We went for a tour yesterday of the renovation work being done on the Neptune Fountain — more about that in another post — but as it was later in the afternoon, I was able to get a daylight shot of the Asinelli tower. You can just make out the Garisenda, the shorter of the city’s two famous towers, to the left of the tall tower. The two towers have become symbols of the city. I was also able to get an evening shot of la torre degli Asinelli, sans its shorter cousin.
One of the great things about many of the major streets being closed to traffic on weekends is that you can literally stand in the middle of the street and take all sorts of photos! The daylight photo was taken further back, near another fountain we went to see. The evening shot — taken after we’d stopped for drinks after the tour — was taken much closer to the towers.
If you’re curious, Europe doesn’t do the whole Daylight Saving thing for another couple of weeks. As a result, I have no idea what the time difference is now with the East Coast of the US. However, I was able to get an evening shot of the Asinelli tower at just a few minutes after 7 p.m. last night. I suppose that will change in the coming weeks and months. In the Netherlands, it stays fairly light until at least 11 p.m. in the heart of the summer, so I’m curious to see how late it stays light here, a bit further south.
Before moving to the city, there were three things that came to mind when I created my mental view of Bologna: colorful buildings, portici, and the two towers. This one picture of Bologna manages to feature two-and-a-half of the three things. Not bad!
Years ago, while studying Italian Renaissance architecture at uni, my favorite professor, Richard J. Tuttle, took a day out of the usual studies to focus solely on Bologna. He had lived here while doing some research on both the city and some surrounding architectural points of interest, and like almost anyone who comes to Bologna, he fell in love with the city. I remember looking at his own personal slides and becoming enamored with both the colors of the city and the seemingly never-ending porticoes (portici). One of my favorite things in architecture is a courtyard filled with arches and here’s a whole city full of these beautiful architectural elements! Nearly 40 kilometers (almost 25 miles) worth of portici can be found in the city. And all in rich, glorious colors!
Whether old or new, buildings all over Bologna have these covered walkways. Even in our neighborhood, which was rebuilt after WWII, there are portici along many of the streets. Between the sheer prevalence as well as my love for the feature, you can expect to see lots of photos of columns and vaulting in this blog.
You’ll also see lots of shades of orange, yellow, and pink in the buildings. I believe some of the colors, historically, came from the variations of ground-up brick that were used to make the pigments. Now the paints are typically synthetic, but there’s still an amazing mix of colors. No matter how bright, they never seem garish.
So in this view of Bologna, you’ve got two fantastic rows of portici, in buildings with some spectacular coloring. And to finish it off, you get one of the two towers that are symbols of the city. In this case, you get the tall one, the Asinelli. I can even just see the top of the Asinelli tower from our apartment terrace. I’ll save the towers for another post, though, when I have time to do more research and take better photos. Plus, they’re worth a post of their own.
This photo was taken last weekend, when the weather wasn’t particularly nice. Today we have clear blue skies and the colors of the buildings are practically glowing! Fingers crossed that it’s just as nice tomorrow!