Along Via del Guasto, an unassuming and potentially unappealing street between Via delle Belle Arti and Piazza Verdi, there are some unexpected surprises. What had a reputation as a drug-infested back alley in the past is trying to reclaim a safer yet still modern and edgy vibe. Guasto Village, which took place in the surrounding streets during the summer, was a way to give new life to the area. And while some complained and worried about noise and drink, others appreciated the Bologna Comune getting involved to improve the area. Being a university city, it all has a young vibe, but you don’t have to be a 20-something to appreciate the art on display.
This is a photo-heavy post, so I’ll keep the words short and let the art speak for itself. A picture’s worth a thousand words, so I’ve got quite a few thousand here! All of this is from just one stretch on each side of Via del Guasto. What’s your favorite work?
I’ve been thinking about doing a theme this week of some of the Bologna street art. As I’ve said before, there’s plenty of your standard graffiti, but there’s also a lot of really amazing street art. I’ve seen some in recent weeks that takes my breath away and really makes me think — and want to create.
However, this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge is “weathered” and while going through some of my photos, I came across a picture that combines weathered and wall art. I thought this might be a good way to start the week. On Via Zamboni, along the side of the church of S. Giacomo Maggiore, there’s a beautiful portico that happens to lead to the entrance of the Oratorio di Santa Cecilia. There are some grand Renaissance frescoes inside, but I’ve yet to see them as I always have Charlie with me and I’m not sure he’s welcome. Though he may be, as I’m pretty sure I saw a small dog enter once.
Anyway, as I said, the portico itself is quite grand, yet weathered; a few signs of wear and tear, with a few columns that have lost some of their detail and wall art that has seen better days, but the inherent beauty and style is still obvious in the rhythm of the arches and curves and lines of the groin vault ceiling.
The portico, which is also technically part of the Basilica di San Giacomo Maggiore, dates to the 13th century and is attributed to Tommaso Filippi and has 36 columns. Along part of the portico are what were originally 16th century sepulchral burial arches, which often housed frescoes. Eventually, to protect the frescoes, they were moved indoors. However, the open arches became an issue, as well, and to prevent litter (and people) from accumulating within the recessed arches, reproductions of the frescoes now fill most of the spots. These bits of contemporary Bologna street art are getting a bit weathered themselves, though, and some have been removed and simply filled in with plain material. Works in progress, I suppose.
Still, on a drizzly Sunday morning when I’m feeling a bit weathered myself, the portico is a wonderful place to take a leisurely walk for a few minutes and enjoy the architectural geometry that is still beautiful, even when worn down slightly after more than a few centuries.
This probably applies to a lot of Italian cities, to be honest, but one of my favorite things is to walk down a narrow street and spot a fantastic building at the end. Graffiti and posters on each side of you and straight ahead, a rather grand building. And are those papal symbols I see on it with the triple crown and keys?
Ok, so technically the #DolceVitaBloggers theme for January is your favorite Italian city. Singular. But how do you choose? Even if you’ve only been to a handful? Before living here, I would have probably said Florence. As someone who studied art history and fell in love with the Italian Renaissance, it’s kind of hard not to love Florence. It was such an important city during the period. Plus, it’s home to my beloved Palazzo Strozzi. It’s also the first city I visited in Italy.
But on later visits, I found more places to love. Ravenna, Mantova, Venice, and of course, Bologna. I’ve been to Milan, but for various reasons, it’s not a favorite. I have mixed emotions based on mixed memories. And for the purposes of this post, which is going to be photo heavy, I can only find two photos from Milan: the Galleria and La Scala. Not even the Duomo! So just as well that Milan doesn’t make my list. Although I will always fondly remember one of the guards in the Pinacoteca there pointing out to me the best place to stand to view one of the Caravaggio paintings on display. Mega points for that!
But that’s part of my reason for loving different cities. It’s the art and particularly the architecture that I go to see specifically. So it’s not necessarily choosing my favorite cities; it’s choosing my favorite architectural gems. And that’s nearly impossible. But inevitably, when you visit a city, for whatever reason, it’s hard not to come away with special memories. And while they may be private jokes or just an overall sense of gezelligheid that you’re left with after the trip, each city becomes special in its own way. So in trying to limit it all, here are my top three. Technically, I blogged a bit about Venice yesterday, so I won’t repeat myself, even though Venice is definitely way up there!
Bologna (My new favorite Italian city)
At this point, Bologna probably is my favorite city, in part because it’s where I call home and it’s starting to feel more like home, but also because it’s just a really beautiful city. I took a two-hour walk this morning with Charlie, going in a few new directions and discovering new wonders. Even on a dreary day, the colors may be a bit muted, and the portici may be more necessary, but it’s hard to walk far and not find yourself whispering “ma che bello” as you see some stunning colonnade, architectural gem, fantastic street art, or a color that defies the grey of the sky. I really do recommend looking through more of my blog or Instagram to see more photos of just how beautiful this city really is. These following three barely scratch the surface.
As I said, Florence was my first stop in Italy (a long time ago so all of my photos are from film so they’re mostly photos of photos at this point, so excuse the quality). I loved Florence from the start and it was particularly exciting to see all of these buildings that I’d studied in detail. And here they were! Everywhere! Because I hate looking like a tourist, but I also had a somewhat decent concept of the city layout from my studies, I’d often set off in a general direction and usually found what I was looking for. My friend Cathy who bravely accompanied me on this journey might disagree or at least suggest that there was a lot of extra, unnecessary wandering. Sometimes I just stumbled across stuff unexpectedly, like the Palazzo Medici. Some stuff we never did find, like the Boboli Gardens, but that turned into a joke about there being dragons on that side of the river.
But my main goal was to see the Palazzo Strozzi and the Palazzo Vecchio and of course the Duomo, Baptistry, and Campanile. Il Cronaca! Brunelleschi! Giotto! Oh my!
I could really keep adding cities, but I’m going to limit myself to just one more, Mantova (Mantua). I went specifically to see the Palazzo Te, but while there, I stumbled across Alberti’s Basilica di Sant’Andrea (and my reaction to seeing it unexpectedly has become a running joke with G and me). We saw the outside of the Palazzo Ducale and the St. George Castle, but mainly just wandered around and enjoyed how pretty the city is. As I said, I went specifically for Palazzo Te because it’s stunning, but also because one of my favorite professors had studied it fairly extensively and written about it, so we benefited from his extra knowledge.
So I’ll leave you for now with some photos taken at the Palazzo Te. If you want to see the favorite Italian city of other Italy-loving bloggers, check out the #DolceVitaBloggers via Kelly at Italian at Heart, Jasmine at Questa Dolce Vita, and Kristie at Mammaprada. Every month, they invite bloggers to post on the seventh of each month on a particular topic. Follow their blogs and/or social media to keep up to date with reading and participating.
In looking for photos for the next #DolceVitaBloggers linkup tomorrow, I ended up looking at some of my photos of Venice. That’s when I realized that that visit was 16 years ago today. We had gone to Venice for the day, not really thinking that the day was a holiday (Epiphany/Befana). As a result, many shops and restaurants were closed. One restaurant, in particular, that G had hoped to visit was sadly closed.
It may not have been the most convenient day to visit, but in the end, it may have still been one of the best. A cold day in the first week of January meant fewer tourists. As a result, we were able to wander around, getting lost but not getting lost, and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery without jostling with hordes of tourists.
Venice truly is beautiful, especially on a relatively quiet day like the one we experienced. The canals, the architecture, the dreamy nature of the city were all there. And a few shops were still open, so I was able to buy a Murano black cat glass sculpture from a gift shop, even if we didn’t get to head over to the actual glass-making island that day. Something for another trip!
Even though I was using a film camera at the time (I told you it was 16 years ago), I still ended up with some of my favorite photos that day. The gondolas, of course, were ridiculously picturesque, but the real treasure was getting some photos of the Ca’ D’Oro around this time of late afternoon with the setting sun causing parts of the building to glow as if literally covered in gold. I had seen the palazzo earlier in the day and it was already stunning. Seeing it again lit by the sun was a dream come true.
A picture is worth a thousand words and I’m short on words today, so I hope you enjoy some of these photos I took in Venice 16 years ago today.
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.
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 ragú 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!
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.
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.
Along with the regular markets taking place throughout the week, a new influx of holiday markets has arrived. Some have come and gone, while others hold out through the new year. Some are purely Italian, while others have a more foreign flavor. Once such market is il villaggio di natale francese, the French Christmas Village. This little Christmas market has packed up and said au revoir for the season, but we managed to stop by for a quick visit on its last night in town.
The market took place in the Piazza Minghetti, which is a charming little square surrounded by some beautiful, classical-style buildings. It’s also just a short walk from some of the fanciest shops in town, as well as some of the most beautifully decorated portico ceilings in the city. While the stalls weren’t excessive in number, they were certainly picturesque. They reminded me of some of the wooden Christmas market stalls that were set up frequently in Utrecht for some of the festivities in recent years. All that was missing was a light dusting of snow and some reindeer for a pure holiday display.
The stalls themselves sold a variety of wares, including a spice stall that had me seriously considering buying some pink pepercorns and some of the various curry spice blends they had on offer. Of course, there was also plenty of cheese, hats, fabric pieces, chocolates, macarons, decorations, and other odds and ends. You could also purchase drinks and food to enjoy right there. I do slightly regret not giving in and trying some of the numerous hot dishes, including the cassoulet. Everything smelled divine and my mouth was watering.
The one stall I ended up not being able to resist was the cookie/biscuit stall. Sure, they had the classic madeleines, but they also had macaroons, which are delicious mounds of lightly sweetened shredded coconut on a biscuity base, with drizzles of chocolate. For my fellow Americans, think of a fancier, bigger version of the beloved Girl Scout Samoa/Caramel deLite cookies. They are perfect and I’m so glad I gave in and got some. In fact, I bought four, just enough to allow me one a day through Christmas. They are my morning treat with my coffee, a perfect combination.
We missed the elves, which a friend told me about, but in all, I’m glad we stopped by this little bit of France in Bologna. It was the perfect size; big enough to be appealing rather than overwhelming.
There are a few more Christmas markets in Bologna that I’d like to visit (or revisit, in one case) before the end of the holiday season. Whether I make it or not, at least I’ve seen a couple that are helping me get into the holiday spirit. Joyeux Noël!
Only two more days left on the advent calendar before it’s officially Christmas. (Our advent calendar is given over to cat and dog treats and Lola rushes over to it every morning when I get up.) We’re basically ready for the holidays; just a little more wine to purchase and make sure we have enough pet food stocked up.
I took a lot of photos last night and today, but I’m honestly too tired to go through them all and figure out themes and do any research. So for now, here are two holiday-themed photos from last night. One cute little holiday light display, and one odd little hut made of Christmas greenery with Charlie looking away distracted. Hopefully I’ll get around to some of the other holiday light photos tomorrow. For now, happy Friday and good luck if you’re going to be facing any last-minute crowds this weekend!
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)?
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.