When people think of Italy’s most enchanting cities, it’s Rome, Florence and Venice that usually spring to mind.
However, there’s a hidden gem in the heart of Italy that’s every bit as captivating as its more famous counterparts – Bologna.
This stunning city, located in the Emilia-Romagna region, is steeped in history, culture and gastronomy that rivals Italy’s other cities.
Bologna is often overshadowed by its neighbours, but those who venture beyond the well-trodden tourist paths quickly discover the city’s unique charm.
Known as “La Dotta” (The Learned) due to its historic university, “La Grassa” (The Fat) for its delicious cuisine, and “La Rossa” (The Red) for its terracotta rooftops and political history, Bologna has a multifaceted personality that’s bound to captivate any visitor.
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Bologna boasts a rich history dating back over a thousand years. Its historic centre is a testament to this past, with medieval towers, grand basilicas, and narrow cobblestone streets that transport you back in time.
One of the city’s most iconic landmarks is the Asinelli Tower, a towering structure that provides panoramic views of the city and its stunning surroundings.
While its historic palaces and churches – such as the Basilica of San Petronio and the Palazzo Comunale – are adorned with exquisite art and intricate frescoes that rival the masterpieces of Florence and Venice.
These works of art tell stories of a city that has witnessed centuries of cultural and political evolution.
Writing on Tripadvisor, a Portuguese visitor said: “The Piazza Maggiore, the heart of Bologna, is a place that defies the mere description of a city square.
“It’s not only the epicentre of history, architecture, and culture but also a place where personal memories blend seamlessly with centuries of tradition.”
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Canadian travel bloggers Frank and Lissette, agree Bologna might be the “most underrated city in Italy”.
They wrote of the enchanted city: “It is unique. Forget the Leaning Tower in Pisa – your jaw will drop when you see (and climb) the 97m high Torree degli Asinelli. In the 12th century, Bologna was the city of towers with over 100 of them (today 20 remain). Bologna is also famous for porticos and you’ll see beautiful porticos (covered sidewalks) all over the city. You’ll also find gorgeous squares (Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno) as well as some of the most incredible churches we’ve seen in Italy including Basilica de Santo Stefano, a complex of churches, crypts, and tombs built in 430 AD.”
They added: “Go to Bologna if you are on a cultural holiday and want a place to fully immerse yourself into everything Italian (many people come here to take language or cooking classes). Venice and Rome would drive most people crazy after a week. Bologna won’t.”
Bologna is also often hailed as the gastronomic capital of Italy. The local cuisine is a feast for the senses, with dishes like tagliatelle al ragù (Bolognese sauce), tortellini and mortadella that have become world-famous.
To experience Bolognese food at its best, head to one of the city’s many traditional osterie or trattorie, where you can savour authentic recipes passed down through generations.
While indulging in a meal here, you’ll quickly realise why Bologna is called “La Grassa.” Food in Bologna is an art form that has been perfected over centuries. The city’s markets, such as the Mercato delle Erbe and the Mercato di Mezzo, are also a culinary haven, offering fresh produce, regional cheeses and artisanal goods that showcase the region’s culinary excellence.
Bologna’s cultural heritage is as vibrant as it is diverse. The city’s historic university, founded in 1088, is the oldest in the world and has played a pivotal role in shaping Europe’s academic landscape. Today, Bologna remains a centre of learning and innovation, attracting students and scholars from across the globe.
Its beautiful libraries, like the Archiginnasio Library, house rare manuscripts and books that are a testament to the city’s commitment to knowledge.
The cultural calendar in Bologna is packed with events, from classical music concerts at the Teatro Comunale to contemporary art exhibitions at MAMbo (the Museum of Modern Art of Bologna). The annual Bologna Children’s Book Fair draws literary enthusiasts from far and wide and highlights the city’s role in the world of literature and publishing.
The city’s location makes it an ideal base for exploring the Emilia-Romagna region, which is renowned for its exquisite cuisine, charming villages, and picturesque landscapes.
From the iconic leaning towers of Pisa to the medieval town of Ferrara, a wealth of cultural and historical treasures are just a short train ride away. Exploring the region allows visitors to witness the diverse beauty of Italy, from the Adriatic coast with its sandy beaches to the rolling hills of the countryside.
Bologna is more than just a beautiful Italian city, it’s a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered.
With its rich history, world-class cuisine, and vibrant culture, Bologna offers a unique and unforgettable experience that rivals its more famous counterparts.
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