I hopped off the Trenitalia train from the main station at Bologna Centrale but to get to my local apartment on Capo di Lucca, I must have followed the most elegant passageways I have ever seen. Stone or brick, cream or maroon, each adjoined by tall, romantic colonnades guided my way to my new home for the week.
The historical city of Bologna has the most porticos in the world with nearly 40 kilometres of long walkways and tall arches you can stroll through (not to mention the first thing I noticed when I arrived). The covered walkways give Bologna its unique character dating back to the 1200s. Since then, there have been medieval, gothic, and renaissance influences in their design but just because you’ve seen one portico here doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. Each one is very different, from its structure to its shadows, and the different perspective they offer.
With hot summers and rainy winters Bolognesi don’t use the excuse of weather as a reason to stay indoors. The porticos let you escape the elements and still enjoy life outside. You can easily walk from portico to portico on a rainy day without getting even an ounce of raindrop or on a sunny day shielded from the heat. Going on a passeggiata and gelato in hand is the quintessential thing to do under one of these.
Bologna’s porticos were built because of the city’s early growth when eager students rushed to the world’s first university and rich people built more than 180 towers just for themselves. Bologna simply needed more room. Porticos created more liveable space higher above ground level, with shops and shop owners underneath them, and arches of at least seven feet tall meant men riding their horses could easily pass through. Even artists and craftsmen could work outside, sheltered from the elements.
One of the first (and oldest) porticos in Bologna is the Portico di Palazzo Grassi on Via Marsala with it’s well-preserved original wood and wooden pillars from the 13th century. In 1567, a law passed banning porticos made of wood. They would be replaced with more sturdy brick or stone, which would also help withstand natural disasters and damage in future wars (Bologna was heavily bombed during the Second World War). More than nine centuries later, some of the city’s very first passageways still exist today. Can you imagine these old wooden structures having stood the test of time?
I felt a little cheated walking these historical paths around Bologna. I feel like Europe gets these beautiful Colonnades but back home we get grungy scaffoldings and ratty old awnings
More in this series:
A First Taste of Local Life in Bologna
The Cheesiest Place on Earth
To Imola with Wine
The Medieval Town of Ferrara
The Other Leaning Tower of Italy
The Culture Behind Italian Gelato
The Oldest Wine Bar in the World