The other Sunday I went for a ramble around town. I like to go for unpremeditated walks on Sunday morning when the streets are empty and the heat isn’t too oppressive yet. The streets are usually empty at this time. This is not a city of early risers.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the central visual motif of the town is arcades – i portici. Locals will tell you that these are wonderful, providing protection from the sun during summer and from the rain and snow in spring and winter. To me, though, they make the town seem a bit claustrophobic, and make me feel like I’m always in a cage, unable to fully see what’s around me.
I portici come in a variety of styles, and in some cases there are interesting capitals on their columns.
But overall they give the town a somewhat oppressive feel, at least to me.
My apartment is right around the corner from hell. The road there seems to be paved in cobblestones, though. And hope does not seem to have been completely abandoned by all who entered there, as seen above.
As always seems to happen during an unplanned walk, I ended up at the Asinello tower. The main streets on the east side of town radiate out from the towers, so it’s no surprise I always end up there. For a few moments in the piazza in front of the towers I was out in the open…
but soon I was back under i portici.
through which I caught a glimpse of the Palazzo della Mercanzia.
This late 14th century Gothic building is one of the prettiest in Bologna, and is the current seat of the chamber of commerce. I believe that the ‘official’ recipe for ragu Bolognese resides here. There is a small piazza in front of the building, but for the most part one only catches glimpses of the palazzi in town from between the pillars and columns of i portici.
Because of this I feel like I really haven’t developed much knowledge of the city, or at least of its buildings. I have developed quite a bit of familiarity with its portici, though. It’s not unusual to come across some really unusual portici without ever figuring out what building they’re attached to.
These I believe are the portici di Pavaglione, built by Pius IV in the mid 16th century. Recall this most rossa of cities was part of the Papal States for a few centuries. I think this was originally the site of a silk market. Bologna was a silk manufacturing town back in the day, which presumably contributed to its grassa. Now this set of arcades provides shade for those wishing to part with large sums of money on luxury goods. Not a far cry from its original use, presumably.
It also serves as the approach to one of the most interesting set of portici – and one of the most interesting and historically significant sights – in Bologna, the Archiginnasio. Most people, if they know anything about Bologna (the town, not the lunch meat, of course), know that it was the site of the oldest university in the world. Well, the Archiginnasio is that site. Sort of. The University of Bologna, like most centers of learning of its time, started as a collection of students and masters based in Bologna. A similar collection would have existed in Paris. What happened in Bologna was that the groups of students, usually organized according to their nationality, banded together to form a single organization, a universitas, which was essentially a union for the students. Students were a powerful group back in those days, both financially and politically. It’s a theme that seems to recur occasionally, perhaps most recently in the 1960s. At any rate, the universitas was officially formed in 1088, though a single physical structure to house this universitas didn’t appear quite that early. That had to wait until the 16th century, when Pius IV had papal legate Carlo Borromeo oversee the building of the Archiginnasio. The more astute amongst you (well, I guess that probably includes everyone reading this) might recognize Carlo Borromeo as the saint after whom my favorite church in Rome is named.
And for the extraordinarily astute amongst you (again, probably everyone), you’ll recognize at once the Medici coat of arms, with its six balls, over the entrance to the Archiginnasio. Pius IV was a Medici pope.
The Archiginnasio turned out to be a surprisingly moving spot.
The most striking thing about it is the incredible collection of monuments to former teachers and the heraldic symbols commemorating past students.
These are some special portici.
Upstairs the heraldic symbols continue, but the highlight is the old anatomical theater.
This was where human bodies were dissected to teach anatomy. It is, strikingly, made of wood, with statues of famous doctors installed in niches around the amphitheater. A personal favorite of mine is Gaspare Tagliacozzi, the great pioneer of rhinoplasty.
The ceiling has carvings of mythological figures represented by constellations…
with Apollo in the center.
The seat from which the professor presided is quite remarkable. The female personification of the study of anatomy is being offered a thigh bone by an angel, while the canopy upon which she sits is held up by two flayed figures, the famous Spellati.
What’s even more remarkable is that the theater, and much of the Archiginnasio, was the victim of a direct strike by allied bombers in WWII.
Fragments were collected,
and the theater was reconstructed, bit by bit.
Down the hall from the anatomical theater is the Stabat Mater hall, thus named for a performance of Rossini’s stabat mater in 1842. It is completely covered in heraldic symbols,
some of which have been constructed on top of, and thus cover up, older symbols, such as this rather imposing monument to cardinal legate Fabrizio Savelli .
Who would have thought dragons could be so cute?
Being a bit of a nerd (shocking, yes), I couldn’t help myself from perusing some of the books in the stabat mater hall, and was pleased to find Lamarck represented in the biology section.
This random ramble, ending up in such a storied spot, reminded me a bit of my similar rambles in Rome, where no premeditation is ever required to happen upon something truly astonishing. Bologna is, alas, a much different city from Rome. Still, there’s enough here to provide for a distracting Sunday morning stroll.