When the Canal Runs Dry

I know it’s been a hot, dry year, but we did get some rain this week. Where did the canal go? I hope this is temporary!*

At least the reflections of the buildings in the small bit of remaining water is quite nice, and as always, the gorgeous colors of Bologna make any view that little more charming.

Bologna canal reflection

*It is. After breaking out my Italian Google Fu, I do believe this is the result of annual autumnal maintenance on the Bologna canal system, though I thought it was supposed to be finished a week ago. Perhaps the rains delayed the work!

The Feast of St. Martin

November 11 is the Feast of St. Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier who was baptized as an adult and went on to become a monk after having a dream. There are churches all over the place dedicated to him and it’s usually easy to tell by some of the imagery in or on the church. He’s best known for coming across a beggar in a snowstorm and cutting his military cloak in half to share with the poor man. That night, he dreamt that Jesus was wearing the cloak and singing Martin’s praises to the angels for clothing him. It’s the depiction of Martin sitting upon his horse, cutting his cloak, that is the most common depiction.

I’m not religious, but when you get an art history degree, especially if you focus on the Renaissance, you learn a LOT about various saints and their depictions. See a woman with a wheel (like a spinning wheel or even a ship’s captain’s steering wheel) and you’re most likely looking at St. Catherine. A woman with a pair of eyes on a tray? St. Lucy. A man tied up with a bunch of arrows in him? St. Stephen.

St. Martin in Utrecht

However, it wasn’t from my degree that I learned about St. Martin. It was from living in Utrecht, Netherlands. St. Martin (Sint Maarten) is the patron saint of Utrecht. He’s generally pretty popular in the Netherlands, and tonight, children are likely to go around door to door with little lanterns, singing songs about the saint, and hoping for some candy. Sort of the Dutch version of Halloween. Utrecht has also been hosting a special evening parade in recent years, usually the week before.

The cathedral in Utrecht is dedicated to St. Martin and even though most of the interior decoration was destroyed during the Reformation, there is a depiction of St. Martin above one of the doors leading into the cloistered courtyard next to the church.
Sint Maarten
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St. Martin in Italy

From a quick Google search, it looks like Sicily might be more likely to celebrate today, rather than in other parts of Italy. But I could be wrong. However, you’ll still find the saint popping up in other cities in Italy. Bologna, in fact, has a church dedicated to the saint. It’s one that I find myself passing on a regular basis, even when I don’t mean to. I like to think that the cathedral in Utrecht became a bit of a homing location for me, because I could never resist stopping by the square where it’s located, so maybe my internal compass is currently tuned to St. Martin churches.

We passed the church in Bologna today, and as it’s St. Martin’s Day, I couldn’t resist taking a photo of the sculpture above one of the side doors of the church.

St. Martin San Martino Sint Maarten church bologna sculpture bas relief horse cloak carving religious art
St. Martin San Martino Sint Maarten church bologna sculpture bas relief horse cloak carving religious art

While I was in Florence at the Palazzo Strozzi, I was lucky enough to see a Bernini sculpture of St. Martin and the beggar. Carved around 1598, it really is stunning and I was thrilled to finally see a Bernini in person. *fans self* I long to see more of his sculptures, many of which are in Rome. Must plan that trip! Kudos to the museum, which lit the piece — and much of the other work in the Cinquecento exhibit — so beautifully.

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

St. Martin Bernini sculpture palazzo strozzi cinquecento firenze

I find it fascinating to see the different-yet-similar depictions of the story, even from country to country. Bernini’s is stunning, but Utrecht gets points for the inclusion of a little dog.

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When Bologna Canals Glow and Flow

My mental focus is on a Dutch Symbolism artist and the prevalent virgin/whore complex of the fin de siècle, so Italy has to take a bit of a backseat today until I get this magazine art column written. See? I can ramble on about more than just Italian Renaissance rustication. And they pay me! Now if only I could get someone to pay me to go on and on about rustication …

Anyway, as a quick weekly photo challenge entry — and a bit of procrastination — my glow-themed picture is a green, glowy and flowy picture of one of Bologna’s canals taken in August. As I’ve mentioned before, most of Bologna’s canals are now underground, but the city used to be a veritable Venice, or at least Amsterdam. Plus, there’s a bonus video taken that same day, with a bird flying artfully around and a bit of aural sensory experience.

Bologna canal things to see in Bologna weekly photo challenge

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 Bologna’s Saint’s Day

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

Each saint in the Catholic Church has his or her own special day dedicated to them. If you happen to be named after a saint — and lots of people are — then you sometimes get to celebrate your saint’s day. If you’re a city, you have your own patron saint. Bologna’s patron saint is San Petronio and his day of celebration is today, 4 October. San Petronio was the 8th bishop of the city, from 431 to 450 AD. And no, I’m not missing any “1s” from those dates.

San Petronio festa statue bologna patron saint

For some, today is a holiday, though it seems that most of the regular shops are open. There are some special festivities to celebrate the day, though. There is a rally of some sort at the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana by the two towers, and later there is a religious procession from Piazza Maggiore to Piazza Nettuno. To be honest, that’s not exactly a long trek, as the two squares really just make up one big area in front of the basilica, particularly as the Neptune (Nettuno) statue is under renovation and the covering takes up a lot of the square.

basilica san petronio bologna patron saint architecture

The basilica is dedicated to San Petronio and is a pretty spectacular bit of architecture that was first started in 1390. It may seem a bit odd at first glance, as the upper half of the facade remains unfinished. However, inside it’s pretty impressive and not lacking in decoration or beautifully colored warm marble. There’s some interesting history and stories to go along with it, but that will have to wait for another post.

So, to all Bolognese, wherever you are, buona festa di San Petronio!

Montagnola in the Morning

I took Charlie over to the Parco della Montagnola this morning, and while we skipped the dog run area, we did head to my favorite section of the park. Even a quick stop has me waxing poetic.

On the far left of the park are the Scalinata del Pincio, grand and ornate stairs rising up on multiple levels. Dotted along the ledges and stairs are the evocative turn-of-the-century lamps. From there, you get a view down on Via Indipendenza, with the grand portici occasionally releasing people out onto the street. Then there are the actual buildings across from the park on Via Indipendenza that always look amazing in the morning light with the many shades of ochre from sunkissed yellow to well-aged orange. Even the windows of these buildings make a statement with their beautiful curved and arched pediments and the shutters that provide some contrast to the bright colors.

And that’s before you even get to the view of the Porta Galliera in the background.

porta galliera via indipendenza montagnola bologna

montagnola bologna via indipendenza scalinata del pincio

window pediments montagnola bologna

montagnola bologna colors

via indipendenza montagnola bologna

via indipendenza montagnola bologna portici

lamps montagnola bologna

Did I mention there’s also a grand sculpture at the front entrance of the park? Charlie wanted a closer look.

sculpture park montagnola bologna

A Dog, A Bike, A Canal in Bologna

So yeah, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. In fact, it’s been so long that I forgot how to start a new post for a brief moment.  Ooops! So yeah, life. Let’s leave it at that.

To be honest, I haven’t done much exploring, because I really don’t handle the heat well and it’s been stupid hot this summer. Think 40sC/100sF. But there was one day last month when the weather was nice and I was feeling a bit of cabin fever, so Charlie and I headed out early before the heat returned with a vengeance. It wasn’t the best of timing for photos — too many morning shadows blasted by streams of bright morning sunshine — but that didn’t stop me. It also didn’t stop others who were out and about that morning.

In fact, as I was stopping to admire one of the Bologna canals and thinking I should get a photo of Charlie by the canal, since he’s Dutch and all, a couple approached and started cooing and fawning over him. “Che bello!”

The next thing I know, they’re asking to take a photo of him, so I shift over to the side out of shot and let him become a model at a photo shoot.

dog bologna canals bicycle

Eventually his newest fans moved on and I tried to get a quick shot of my Dutch dog in front of a bicycle in front of a canal — a touch of Dutch in Bologna. He was growing weary of the cameras, though, so I only got one quick shot.

bologna canals dog bicycle

I’m still trying to get a good shot of one of the other canal views, so that will have to wait for another day. But yes, Bologna does have canals. In fact, it used to have canals everywhere! Most are still in existence, but they’ve been built over and hidden away, unfortunately. Still, at least a few are still visible!

bologna canals

Wordless Wednesday: Let’s Take the Stairs

parco della montagnola pincio bologna stairs

Sunset Glow over Piazza Maggiore

If you come to Bologna, you’re going to end up spending time in and around Piazza Maggiore. As the name implies, it is a major square in the heart of Bologna. Day or night, it’s a fun and attractive place to be. There’s always plenty of people and dog watching to enjoy, and there are even cafés with tables set outside to enjoy the good weather. Charlie and I lingered over a coffee there one Sunday morning, sitting back and enjoying the variety of people passing by, from far-off tourists to local umarells (I’m sure they have opinions on the Neptune being restored).

While we were there one evening as dusk was approaching, I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the glow ignited by the setting sun on parts of the surrounding buildings. At first, there’s the glow on the dome of the Santa Maria della Vita rising up over the Palazzo dei Banchi and the Pavaglione portico that runs along the front.

To the right is the Basilica di San Petronio, a beautiful church with an interesting and entertaining history. The sun hitting the top portion that runs along the nave, turning it a vivid orange, was particularly spectacular in person.

Even on the left, the Palazzo del Podestà catches some of the light on its tower, but adds its own small light show in the evenings. Behind me, as I took all of these pictures was the Palazzo d’Accursio, which I’ve written about previously.

Museums, tourism offices, open markets, nice shops, great views, and even a whispering groin vault are some of the many sights to take in among these buildings … and so much more. Visitor or local alike, it’s hard not to be taken in by all that Piazza Maggiore offers.

Santa Maria della Vita Dome
piazza maggiore palazzo dei banchi

Basilica di San Petronio
piazza maggiore bologna

Piazza Maggiore
piazza maggiore bologna

Where the malcontent and the hyperpolyglot meet

italian language via malcontenti bologna

I recently watched a whole night of Italian language TV and felt pretty good that I’d followed more than enough of it to know what was going on. While I might not have understood word for word, I wasn’t struggling and really having to listen intently to it all.

My Dutch never got to that level, though I can read Dutch better than I can understand it being spoken. And I can’t speak either language all that easily at the moment. I get tongue tied and stumble and come out with endings and conjugations that I know are wrong as soon as they come out of my mouth. I also find myself speaking a hybrid of Dutch and Italian sometimes, especially when chatting to my dog, Charlie. He’s Dutch, after all, and knows his commands in Dutch, so I’m obliged to still speak some Dutch.

All of this is my way of saying that while I’m making some headway again with the Italian language, I will never be a strong polyglot. I definitely won’t be a hyperpolyglot like Giuseppe Mezzofanti.

A Way With Words

Mezzofanti (1774 – 1849) was born here in Bologna to a family of humble origins. He became a cardinal, but was perhaps best known for being a hyperpolyglot, in that he was said to have spoken around 38 languages fluently and had a basic knowledge of dozens more.

In 1797, he became a professor of Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, and Asian languages at the University of Bologna, and in 1803 he was appointed assistant librarian of the Institute of Bologna. Not bad for a carpenter’s son.

Misfits and Malcontents

It does seem that there is some disagreement nowadays that Mezzofanti would have truly been fluent in so many languages. There is talk that the requirements were primarily in reading and writing, and that his ability and need to speak was typically limited to basic chit chat. No matter what the actual story may be, he seems to have been truly gifted when it came to languages. I remember only a little from the five and a half years of French I studied at school — though it has helped me some with Italian — and my attempts at learning Russian were a complete disaster. Even if Mezzofanti could only hold the most basic of conversations in 38 languages, I’m still impressed!

So how did I learn about this linguistic dynamo? I was wandering around town and found myself on Via Malcontenti. I’m easily amused and I couldn’t help but wonder about the malcontents that gave the street its name. In pausing to photograph the street name I happened to spot a memorial plaque, though I couldn’t really read it clearly at the time. Thank goodness for zoom lenses!

italian language via malcontenti bologna

With a bit of zooming and Googling, I learned about Giuseppe Mezzofanti and the fact that he was born and raised there on Via Malcontenti. There’s more to his story, including becoming the Custodian-in-Chief at the Vatican Library. You should check out this site if you’d like to learn more.

It’s amazing the bits of history you can stumble across, just by taking a few extra photos while wandering around a city. Even if you don’t understand the Italian language — or the language of whatever country you’re in — take a few extra zoom shots of these kinds of markers and then go back and get what you can from Google and Google Translate (or your search/translator of preference). Sometimes they’re older plaques like this and sometimes they’re modern ones with more information. Either way, it’s a fun way to expand your knowledge. I’m sure Mezzofanti would approve of that.

italian language via malcontenti bologna

italian language via malcontenti bologna

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