Under the Porticoes: A Unique Walk through Bologna’s Sheltered Streets

Bologna, a vibrant, historic city in Northern Italy, is famous for its cuisine, spectacular Renaissance architecture, venerable university, and its characteristic porticoes. With approximately 38 kilometers of them within the city centre’s walls, strolling under these covered walkways, also known as ‘portici,’ provides an unforgettable experience of sheltered streets, blending a reverence for history and architecture with an authentic Bolognese atmosphere.

A portico in Bologna isn’t just an architectural feature; it’s a social phenomenon, an historical emblem and an atmospheric space that has come to define the city’s appearance. The porticoes’ inception dates back to the Middle Ages, when Bologna was rapidly expanding due to the enormous influx of students to Europe’s oldest university, the University of Bologna. The demand for housing surged, pushing the city’s creative boundaries, which resulted in building overhangs to serve as extra living space, later transforming into today’s porticoes.

The porticoes became so intrinsic to the city’s spirit that in 1288, a law was enacted to make them obligatory on all new structures. Ranging in style from medieval wood to ornate Renaissance and staid Baroque, each portico boasts its own architectural charm and adds texture to the cityscape.

Strolling​ ​under these porticoes accompanied by the two-fold rhythm of echoing footsteps and the city bustle,​ one is sheltered, not isolating them from the urban space but making them a part of it. Whether it’s raining, sweltering, or the cobblestones are simply too cold, the porticoes enable a weather-protected, comfortable passage for locals and tourists. As such, the porticoes not just serve a practical purpose, but also provide a unique experience that belongs solely to Bologna.

One of the most famous is the Portico di San Luca, which extends a distance of about 3.8 km (666 arcades), the world’s longest, connecting the city centre to the San Luca Sanctuary on Colle della Guardia. This portico, apart from its architectural splendour, also offers a unique spiritual journey, making it more than just a sheltered path.

In addition to connecting spaces and providing shelter, porticoes serve social purposes as well. They act as extensions of private homes where children play, neighbours chat, and university students study, providing a space that epitomises the Bolognese spirit of community and congeniality.

Several local businesses, bookstores, coffee houses, boutiques, and markets have also found their homes under the porticoes, making them vibrant and dynamic city arteries. Further, they’re a favourite location for staging various cultural events, from art exhibitions to music concerts, epitomising Bologna’s quite unique blend of history and contemporaneity.

Strolling under Bologna’s porticoes, an experience in itself, is like embarking on a journey that transcends time, walking through narratives of the city’s socio-cultural practices, architectural styles, and urban developments. Presently, Bologna’s porticoes are vying for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to their uniqueness and their seminal role in shaping the city’s distinctive character.

The porticoes of Bologna, thus, provide an exemplification of how urban spaces can be used innovatively and functionally, creating an interaction between the city’s architecture and its inhabitants that further enhances the city’s unique character and charm. They make Bologna a city to be walked, lived, tasted, and most importantly, experienced, underlining the importance of lossless urban spaces in engendering a strong sense of community, culture, and historical continuity.

The Rebirth of Via dell’Amore: A Journey Through Italy’s Open-Air Museum

Italy, a country steeped in history and culture, is home to some of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes. Nestled within its heart is the Cinque Terre, a string of centuries-old seaside villages along the rugged Italian Riviera coastline. Among the many treasures of this region, the Via dell’Amore, or “Path of Love,” stands out as a symbol of romance and natural beauty. Closed for over a decade due to a landslide, this iconic path is set to partially reopen in May 2023, with a full reopening planned for 2024.

The Via dell’Amore, carved into the rock, offers a unique experience, giving the impression of walking suspended between sea and sky. This path, just over a kilometer long, connects two of the most picturesque pastel villages of the Eastern Liguria, Riomaggiore and Manarola, the heart of the Cinque Terre. The reopening of this path is eagerly anticipated by locals and tourists alike, promising a return to the romantic walks that have made it famous worldwide.

However, the reopening of the Via dell’Amore is not just about re-establishing a walking path. It’s about transforming this iconic route into an open-air museum, a living testament to the rich cultural and traditional heritage of the Cinque Terre. The Liguria Region, in agreement with the Cinque Terre National Park and the Municipality of Riomaggiore, is working on a cultural enhancement project that aims to offer insights related to the peculiar aspects of the landscape. This includes agro-forestry systems, urban nuclei, rural buildings, defensive and religious-devotional architectures, and the knowledge and trades linked to typical productions, all in function of sustainable tourism.

The local authorities, including the mayor of Riomaggiore, Fabrizia Pecunia, are developing strategies to manage the expected tourist flow and preserve the sustainability of the region. One of the ideas being considered is to make the path accessible only with the assistance of tour guides, to manage the visitor flow better and provide a more enriching experience. The goal is to allow visitors to truly get to know the Cinque Terre and its vast cultural heritage.

Over twenty million euros have been invested to secure the path, mostly using regional funds. The works of consolidation and hydrogeological recovery of the slopes will be carried out by the structure of the Extraordinary Commissioner of the Government against hydrogeological instability for the Liguria Region. This commitment to safety and preservation underscores the importance of the Via dell’Amore to the region and its people.

So, if you’re planning a trip to Italy, keep an eye out for the reopening of the Via dell’Amore. It promises to be more than just a scenic walk; it’s a journey through the heart and soul of the Cinque Terre. A walk along the Via dell’Amore is not just a walk; it’s an immersive experience into the rich cultural tapestry of the region. It’s a chance to step back in time and witness the timeless beauty of Italy’s stunning landscapes. It’s an opportunity to fall in love with Italy all over again.