Bologna, in the Emilia Romagna region of North-Eastern Italy is a charming town dating from medieval times and home to one of the world’s oldest universities. Whether you are in the town for business or pleasure, be sure to take some time to see a few of the many really interesting attractions. The town centre is fairly compact, and it is quite easy to see at least three of the most interesting sights in an afternoon – just pick up your free map at the Tourist Information Centre in Piazza Maggiore are start your tour.
San Petronio Basilica: Start your walking tour at Piazza Maggiore, the main square of the town, to visit this enormous example of the Gothic style of architecture, the 6th largest cathedral in Europe. It is named after Bologna’s patron saint, and has an interesting history. At one point during the construction process, the original design was changed and a Latin Cross design was suggested, with the aim of building a church which would surpass the grandeur of St Peters in Rome. Legend has it that the Pope of the day, Pious IV, was not about to see the Vatican cathedral eclipsed and promptly put paid to that idea! Nevertheless, San Petronio is still very large – over 132 metres long and 66 metres wide – and it is a great shame that the red marble façade was never completed. Be sure to visit a few of the 22 side chapels, the bell tower, see the two very old organs and have a look at the largest sundial in the world, inlaid into the paving of the left aisle.
Torre degli Asinelli: After your visit to the cathedral, it is an easy walk to the Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, to see the Two Towers, symbol of the city. Many centuries ago there were over one hundred defensive towers of various heights and grandeur piercing the Bologna skyline; sadly, today there are less than 20 remaining. The Asinelli Tower is the tallest, climbing a staggering 97.2 metres into the sky, and leaning slightly as becomes a very old matriarch! You can visit the tower and climb the nearly 500 worn wooden steps to the very top for the best view you will ever get of the city of Bologna. Take your time and rest occasionally, and it is not too difficult!! The smaller of the two towers, the Garisenda was originally about 60 metres high but had to be lowered in the 14th century when it became too unstable due to earth settlement; today it is 48 metres tall and leans significantly; it is not open to the public. Now continue your walk to the University district to visit a rather macabre attraction:
The Anatomy Room at the old University of Bologna
This room is known as the Anatomy Theatre due to its’ amphitheatre-like form, and dates from the sixteen hundreds. It was built almost entirely out of wood (spruce) and was used as a lecture theatre for students of anatomy – you can still see the marble table at the centre where dissections were performed. Some of the most famous Physicians from ancient times, such as Hippocrates, are represented by wooden statues around the walls of the room. Sadly, the original theatre was almost completely destroyed during the Second World War by an air raid in 1944. It was most realistically reconstructed from photos, using as much as possible of the original structure recovered from the rubble. This is a fascinating attraction and should not be missed, even if you have no interest in medical history.