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.
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.
The internet is a wonderful thing. Sure it has its downsides, but when you find yourself moving to a new city or country, it can become a wonderful resource and a way to make new friends and connections. In the end, it can also lead you to find that special someone in your life, as it did for me. Today, thanks to some of those online connections I’ve started to make here in Italy, I’ve been invited to take part in the first #DolceVitaBloggers link-up organized by Kelly, Jasmine, and Kristie. The first theme is the Italian Connection, how each blogger has found themselves with a connection to this fascinating country.
My connection started off purely academic. I was at university studying art history and had to take a course on Italian Renaissance art and architecture. At first, I wasn’t particularly excited, as my interest at the time lay in Gothic architecture. My expectation was a class full of pictures of naked little chubby baby angels fluttering about. Meh. Fortunately, I was oh so wrong!
I ended up falling in love with the art of the Italian Renaissance. All of that symbolism, iconography, and those colors and forms! The faces full of drama and passion and pathos! I still get a thrill when I get to see a work in person that I remember studying. It’s like seeing an old friend you haven’t seen in ages! All of the emotions come rushing back.
I did also end up falling in love with the architecture. Give me some rustication, alternating curved and triangular pediments, columns, keystones, pilasters, decorated cornices, and quoins and I’m positively giddy. Probably a bit annoying, too, if you’re walking with me in any Italian city and having to stop constantly for me to admire some little architectural bit here and there or when I suddenly cry out, “Ohhh!” upon stumbling across a building I hadn’t been expecting. Not quite When Harry Met Sally levels of ecstasy, but you get the idea.
Sono Una Tifosa
Unfortunately, I’d come to my love of Italian art and architecture a bit late in my academic career and didn’t end up studying the Italian language at the time. But I was becoming a full-on Italophile, furthered by the Wold Cup taking place the year I graduated. I was cheering on Italy throughout the tournament and they went all the way to the finals! Then there was a penalty kick shoot-out that went horribly wrong and we won’t mention that any more.
Eventually, I started following Serie A, Italian calcio (soccer/football), thanks to the Internet and some international newspapers and magazines I could find at one of the big bookstores. I started trying to learn Italian on my own and could occasionally catch an episode of TG1 (evening news) on cable tv late at night. I eventually signed up to take Italian 101 at the local university, which was hugely helpful. I had also started exchanging emails with someone in Italy, so I was able to practice my Italian regularly.
By the time I finally organized my first trip to Italy, I was able to get by with the basics, had some fun conversations that were a mix of Italian and English, saw some works of art and architecture I’d been dying to see, and even got to go to an Inter-Milan derby at San Siro.
In 2000, I moved to New York City, when my job moved there. After some really lousy dates, I decided to give Internet dating a shot. It was new and a little weird, but hey, it couldn’t really be worse than some of the other dates I’d been on. In the end, I actually met a few really nice people. One, in particular, stood out, and he just happened to be Italian.
Certainly, the fact that I knew something about Italy and knew a tiny bit of the language helped us connect, but we hit it off anyway, talking for more than five hours on our first date. I knew he was a keeper when he surprised me one day with the gift of a book. It was one of his favorites, Ocean Sea, by Alessandro Baricco (in English, though).
Sixteen years later, we’re still together and we’re now living in his hometown, Bologna. I get to indulge in my love of Italian architecture — and Bologna is particularly stunning with all of the portici. I’m also trying to remember and relearn all of the Italian that I once knew and have forgotten. I think official classes will be part of the plan in 2018. We spent nearly the last nine years in the Netherlands, so I’m currently speaking a mishmash of Italian and Dutch. I’m never quite sure what’s going to come out.
As well as learning the language, there are other adjustments to be made. But I’ve assimilated more than enough to now recoil in horror about the wrongness of spaghetti bolognese like a true native of Bologna!
Are you an Italophile or simply have your own Italian connection? Check out the other blogs being posted today and check out the #DolceVitaBloggers. There are seemingly endless types of pasta and surely just as many personal Italian connections.
Is it December already? In an attempt to get into the holiday spirit, it’s time to break out the spirits — and the homemade eggnog recipe that is a good excuse for the spirits. I’ve certainly adapted to some of the Italian Christmas traditions, such as panettone and pandoro, and I’m looking forward to the Christmas feast, but I still have my own traditions I like to indulge in to make it feel like home, no matter where I’m living.
Years ago, in the Netherlands, after suffering through two whole Christmases without eggnog, I finally broke down and worked up my own recipe after combining bits and pieces of other recipes I found online. I made my own eggnog once before, but that was when I was little and trying out my first cookbook, Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls. Eventually I found a couple of recipes that didn’t call for crazy amounts of sugar or fancy techniques and I created my own mashup with a few tweaks. I’ve been using it now for the past seven years and while I occasionally let it cook a little too long — it just gets a bit custardy — it’s always drinkable and copious amounts of rum (or bourbon or brandy or your tipple of choice) makes it all go down easy and will thin it out if you make it too thick.
Even in the US, I only drank eggnog on the day I decorated the Christmas tree and that tradition remains. I put some Christmas tunes on, break out all the old decorations that have travelled with me from state to state and country to country, get a bit tipsy on eggnog, and by the end I’m feeling the holiday spirit. Well, that might be the alcoholic spirits, too, but a tree full of lights and decorations that are full of memories and meaning for me does make me start to feel a bit more like the winter holidays are upon us. Oh, and my favorite bit is somewhere in the middle of the decorating when Elvis’ Blue Christmas comes on. For some reason, it has become a tradition that when that song comes on, I grab Lola and we start to dance. I love it. Her opinion is still out.
So, whether you’re in the US and just want to try your hand at making your own eggnog or you’re overseas and don’t have easy access, here’s my one-pot, easy, homemade eggnog recipe. Oh, and if you want to avoid a film forming over the top while it cools, just rest some plastic wrap on the surface. Enjoy!
There’s a lot of random graffiti in Bologna, but there’s also some street art. In addition, the shutters that are used over the entrances to shops and restaurants when they’re closed are the perfect canvas. In the case of the shutters, the business usually invites an artist to create an eye-catching image. There are some fantastic works of art, some of which I’ve posted about before.
Sometimes, as happened last month, there’s an organized event with both local and foreign artists coming together to paint walls, shutters, and whatever else is available. Other times, you happen to catch a lone artist working early in the morning so the paint has time to dry before the shop opens. Regardless, I love seeing the variety of images and styles throughout the city. If you’re in town and taking an early walk before things really open, not only do you have the city to yourself, but you’ve got a great chance to see some of the fantastic artwork and you may just catch an artist or two at work.
All of that said, this might be my favorite bit of street art.
Here are a few random other shots of street artists at work in Bologna.
Seriously, y’all, today was not the best of days, but we finally stopped in at a new world supermarket that has opened on Via del Borgo di San Pietro. It’s a new shop and there’s space on the shelves still to fill, but there’s definitely some interesting stuff to be had there. But when I saw the refrigerated vegetable section, small as it may be, I couldn’t help but start dancing and boogy-ing. They had okra! And not just small bags of it. Big boxes of the stuff! After I had my moment of celebration, I was soon throwing handfuls into a bag G had found for me.
Growing up, I was not a fan of okra. Too slimy. Or at least, that’s what I’d heard, so I never really even tried it. But as I got older, I became much more food adventurous — for the record, I’ve tried durian and didn’t gag — and soon came to love okra in any form. Even just pan cooked, which is when it can get the texture that puts people off.
I was lucky enough to find one store and a Saturday market stall in Utrecht that sold it, but I wasn’t sure I’d have much luck here. Thus my excited reaction when I saw it today. Best of all, we had already picked up some polenta the other day to make cornbread (it’s close enough), so I figure I’ll add a light touch of cornmeal/polenta and have fried okra tonight. Always a classic! After I talk to my dad to find out how he made it for me last time I was home, though.
The reason I made cornbread this week is because today is Thanksgiving in the US. Gotta have cornbread dressing! However, for various reasons — the main one being that I thought Thanksgiving was next week — we’ll be celebrating tomorrow. But that’s ok, the giblet gravy is simmering away right now and we’ve got enough turkey to feed the whole building. I’ll be having turkey sandwiches for weeks, which is fine, because that’s one of the best parts of Thanksgiving. And until tomorrow, I’ve got some fried okra for dinner tonight to tide me over. Oh, and the stews and gumbo that I’ll be able to make this winter! Happy days!
So to anyone in Bologna looking for okra and some other less common world-food items, check out the Mondo Nuovo Supermarket on Via del Borgo, not too far down from Via Irnerio. Please keep them busy and in business, no matter what you purchase. I don’t want to lose my okra source!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 café, 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!
Monday we had snow. Tuesday sunshine. Today is overcast. Saturday, though, was a glorious day of sunshine and crisp, cool air. On days like that, it’s feels like there’s a picturesque, somehow quintessential image of Italy around every corner. The colors of Bologna are particularly glorious. In this case, it was a building that looked like a ray of sunshine where the light hit it, with the bonus of abundant greenery overflowing the windows.
Even with the lower half in shadow, I was captivated by this one building. Despite the fact that there was a much older building across the street from it. (I’ll save that for another post.) So whether you’re enjoying a sunny day or need a bit of color to brighten your day, enjoy this wonderful example of one of the many colorful buildings in Bologna.