Private Bologna Tour

Private Bologna Tour

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

For years I have volunteered in a program at the central library to talk with people who wish to practice their english. One of my regulars for probably at least 5 years is Roberta a tour guide a bit younger than me. By now we know each other quite well. So I asked her recently if Laura could join an Italian language tour when she is here in Bologna. This turned out to be rather difficult to schedule so Roberta suggested a private tour instead at a significantly reduced fee given our relationship (I’d say friendship at this point). I accepted and we scheduled a tour.

So we met in front of the library one morning in late may and proceeded to a very interesting tour for 2 1/2 hours. Of course I forgot to take any photos since I was engrossed in the tour (all in Italian of course and I understood almost everything. However I retraced our steps and took photos a few days later.

Our first stop was Palazzo d’Accursio. The home of much of the city government. It started as a large home of an important person (Accursio was his last name) and became the first seat of government of the city in 1336. It was gradually expanded over the centuries to include the central library (Sala Borsa). One enters through a courtyard which often has exhibitions.

A temporary sculpture in e courtyard of Palazzo Palazzo d’Accursio – The effect of plastic waste in the ocean.

A previous exhibit in the same palazzo that they decided to leave there – to heavy to move again.

There are two interesting sets of stairs starting on the ground floor and proceeding to the second. I had thought that these stairs were constructed so that someone could ride a horse all of the way to the second floor but Roberta said that it was not only for “a” horse but for a horse drawn carriage. The residence of the pope’s representative ( bishops or cardinals) of the Catholic church was on the second floor and God forbid that such an important person should walk up the two flights of stairs.

One of two sets of stairs in Palazzo D’Accursio. God forbid that the cardinal should walk up the stairs

On the first floor there is an areal map of Bologna from a few years ago where Roberta explained where the sets of walls were. There were 3 in total expanding outward as the city grew. She also pointed out the route of the via Emilia (an important Roman road) through the city and other items of interest.

An areal map of Bologna on the first floor (would be the second floor in the US)

We also took a peek into the Red Room which is used principally for weddings. There were two when we were there, the second for a lesbian couple. When I returned the room was not in use so I took some pictures of the room and also from the little balcony.

The Red Room on the second floor. Used often for weddings.
Piazza Nettuno from the same balcony
A view of Piazza Maggiore and San Petronio from the little balcony of the Red Room

On the second floor there is the museum of art for the Comune di Bologna. We didn’t go into the museum both for lack of time and the fact that I had been there several times and Laura was with me the last time. However there a splendid view of Piazza Maggiore from a window.

View pf Piazza Maggiore with the big screen for summer movies in the evening.

This view includes the giant screen where they show movies in the evenings throughout the summer. I counted the rows and seats per row and there are roughly 1700 seats available but one needs to arrive probably at 8:30 (the movies start at 9:30) to get a seat.

We also visited the Sala del Consiglio (city council) which is beautiful in it’s own right. There was a group of students receiving a lecture about whatever but Roberta is fearless – probably as a tour guide you must be – and we were able to see most of the room and hear her explanations of what we were seeing.

Sala del Consiglio. Where the mayor and city council meet with seating areas for the press and interested citizens

Facing Accursio there is a statue of a pope, I don’t remember which one. But when it was clear that the French troops under Napoleon were going to control the city, they labelled the stature as not a pope but as the bishop, Petronio. Napoleon had a hatred of popes since he was refused a divorce so there was fear that the statue would be destroyed so they simply put a plaque above it that said that it was only a bishop. The plaque remains to this day. You can barely see the lower edge of the plaque in the photo below.

The sculpture of the pope

The next stop was the Basilica of San Petronio. The largest church in Bologna. The original plan would have made it larger than Saint Peter’s in Rome but the pope squashed that idea so they truncated the design. While there was something of an uneasy tension between the citizens of Bologna and the church and the Bolognese were given significant freedom, the church had it’s limits.

Inside San Petronio is more austere than many churches in Italy but still is beautiful. One particular interesting item is the “sun dial”. Actually it is a “meridian line”. It doesn’t give the time of day but fairly accurately gives the day of the year. It was designed in 1655 by a professor of astronomy (Cassini) at the University of Bologna. It is quite incredible that at that period of time that the calculations could be so precise. There’s too much to the story to describe here but it’s there is a really interesting description at this website if you are interested in learning more.

The sun dial in San Petronio – There is a about a 1 inch diameter hole in the ceiling that allows light to fall along the line that you can see on the floor at noon on any given day.
General view of the interior of San Petronio

The final stop as at Archiginnasio, the first permanent site of the University of Bologna. Currently it houses the research library of the university which only students and faculty of the university can enter. It is full of rare books and other documents. All of the halls and stairways of the building have coats of arms of students and professors during the early part of it’s history. The high point is the anatomical theater. An interesting item is that an errant bomb during the last years of WWII hit the building an did significant damage to this room. The room was painstakingly reconstructed using damaged parts and photographs taken before the destruction. I got the image below from a website.

The anatomical theater
The ground floor of Archiginnasio
Full of coats of arms of early students and professors
More coats of arms – and there are many more!

That was the end of a wonderful tour with Roberta. If you ever want to have tour with Roberta and learn a lot about the fascinating history of the city let me know. I can connect you with her. She’s very simpatica and has a great depth of knowledge and love of the city.

2 Responses to “Private Bologna Tour”

  1. Peter Hillen Says:

    Hi Joe,
    These pictures are amazing. Makes us want to come visit you !!

    On our side: We are now empty nesters. Scott left for San Jose State (Physics) and has an apartment near campus. Melina is still in Rochester.
    We are going to Russia (Moscow & Khabarovsk returning through Seoul) to meet Scott’s family… exciting, but a little scary !

    LA is not the paradise we expected, so we are considering moving back to the Bay Area, either SF or San Jose.

  2. Joe Says:

    You’re surely getting around. I do hope that you’ll come visit one of these days. I have absolutely no plans to move back to the states. I am going back for a couple of weeks in the end of July. If you think that you’d be around I’d love to get together.


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