Bologna, where to begin, there are many moments that are imprinted in my mind of this city, one blurring past the other when I remember my time there. Miniature movies that play and give glimpses of happy, heat filled days. The vanilla sky peaking through alleys and around terracotta colored buildings. The sound of my flip flops clapping against smooth marble paths as I rush to see a movie under the stars in Piazza Maggiore. There’s the occasional whir of a bicycle cruising by or the zoom of a Vespa zipping past slower cars. There are the hipsters standing on the corner at the local bar speaking a buzz of quick Italian and smoking cigarettes. The dog lovers roam every portico and business with their canine friends glancing up at them in adoration. University students huddle on steps playing music and sharing conversation. Grandmothers shuffle slowly by in loose floral dresses, arms locked with each other, telling of the latest gossip and staring at me like the outsider I am. Last but not least, are my newly acquired Italian friends, a lovely couple sharing their love for Bologna and giving me a glimpse into their lives here.
All of these scenes are framed by the porticoes. There is a portico for every personality in Bologna. They shade me from the fierce sun that otherwise would make any walk unbearable. The world needs more porticoes. Imagine places in the Midwest, where rain and snow are a common occurrence, having the shelter of porticoes. Bologna itself has 38 kilometers, or over 20 miles, of porticoes within its ancient walls and has rightfully earned its place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This includes the longest portico in the world, connecting the town to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca at the top of Guardia Hill. My friends explain to me that this scene is the comforting landmark you see when returning from a long journey, like a beacon guiding you home.
Bologna at first glance can seem like just a big city, especially by car. The maze-like street plan makes it slow going when driving and the area is best explored by foot. Once you start walking around the city center under the tall, spacious porticoes, you start to feel sheltered and at home. The colors are warm and welcoming in hues of orange, burnt sienna and yellow ochre. It is a photographer’s paradise, full of repeating patterns as the columns and capitals spread out into
I often would just wander the streets noting all the different styles of porticoes from modern to ancient. I even walked the longest one, the portico of San Luca, in the hottest of heat to the top and was awarded one of the most magical views in return. The portico starts at the impressive Meloncello Arch, a structure full of grace and beauty. It glows in the brightest of orange against the setting sun’s light. Looking up, one gets lost in its curves and columns against the sky. The contrast of orange against a dark blue sky is a feast for the eyes. As I made my way up the long stretches of stairs and ramps, locals would speed by in their running shorts and trainers for a workout better than any stair master at the gym could give you. I however, took my time, getting just to a point where I was wondering if it would ever end. I passed the sanctuary which rose above and came around behind it for a full view of its beauty. The sun had just set and lights illuminated it against the darkening sky. I stood alone on a quiet road just past the church, breathing in the country air high above the city with forest stretching out below. Sometimes there are moments when traveling, where the sheer beauty of a place makes you pause, breath, and focus on the now. They are places you know you’ll never forget and you will tell everyone back home about. This is one of those places.
I spent eight, sun filled days in Bologna and enjoyed my time there. I felt at home and relief after coming from the tourist filled canals of Venice. Bologna has it own canal by the way and also a leaning tower as well. I could wander the streets alone at all hours and feel safe, there were no selfie sticks and I made some great friends. The food was diverse and their best gelato is tied with my favorite in Bergamo. I love that the city was so welcoming and a bit more forward thinking than other parts of Italy. There is something for everyone in Bologna, it truly is a hidden gem of Italy.