Among the streets of the first university: music, readings, sacred art and daily life.
Bologna is also known for being La Dotta (the Learned), since it features the oldest university in the Western world, founded in 1088, as recognized by all other national and international universities.
More than nine centuries have seen Bologna always at the centre of culture at the highest levels. The Bologna Studio, as the University was formerly called, has had thousands of students, including men of letters and science, as well as legal and philosophical thought: Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pico della Mirandola, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Nicolaus opernicus, Torquato Tasso, Carlo Goldoni and Giosuè Carducci, among many others. Visiting the places that saw the birth and growth of the University of Bologna means following centuries of great splendour.
Via Zamboni is the modern heart of this city inside the university. Via Zamboni is overlooked by Piazza Rossini, with the headquarters of the Music Conservatory dedicated to ather Giovanni Battista Martini, an eighteenth-century musician and master of counterpoint, who also had young Mozart as a student in the period when the great musician stayed in Bologna (1770) to graduate master of music at the famous Accademia Filarmonica.
The Conservatory has a historic music library among the most important in Europe, with numerous historical artefacts. On the square stands also the facade of the Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore, a large church with a single nave built in the thirteenth century by Augustinian friars. The interior is full of works of art, including a painting by Ludovico Carracci, wooden crucifixes by Jacopo di Paolo and various paintings and works that decorate the chapels, including those of the Bentivoglio and Poggi families. The tomb of Niccolò dell’Arca is also kept here.
The Church is connected to the Oratory of Santa Cecilia, adorned by frescos by local painter Amico Aspertini (1474-1552). On the same side of Via Zamboni, at number 7, we discover La Macchina del Tempo: an interactive virtual reality museum which walks visitors through Bologna over the centuries, with reconstructions informed by historical sources. Along Via Zamboni, we also find some Humanities Departments with their large libraries, including the main one, the University Library.
Also worth a visit is the Museum of Palazzo Poggi, on Via Zamboni, 33, which houses collections of Natural History, Anatomy, Chemistry and Physics, Military Architecture, Cartography and Sailing. Via Zamboni is also overlooked by Teatro Comunale Municipal Theatre, designed in 1763 by Antonio Galli Bibiena and, continuing under the arcades of the theatre, towards Porta San Donato, after only 200 metres, we reach small Piazza Puntoni, where Via Belle Arti starts, home of Pinacoteca Nazionale at building 56.
The Pinacoteca art gallery spreads across thirty exhibition halls which house a collection of great works, most of which were saved from the looting perpetrated by Napoleon in churches of Bologna, and the Emilia region more in general.
There are many paintings representing local art produced in Bologna between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, including works by Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni and Guercino, but also works by great masters such as Giotto, Raphael, Perugino, Titian and many other names of the same artistic depth, all displayed in an exhibition that embraces the 1200s to the 1700s.
Leaving the Pinacoteca, going left again on Via Zamboni, at number 63, we find the Giovanni Capellini Geological Museum, where we can admire the gigantic complete model of Diplodocus, which, with its 26 metres of length, towers over the room dedicated to it.
The Diplodocus is one of the largest dinosaurs ever existed: it lived during the Jurassic, its adult size and weight discouraged any predator of its time. Right in front of the Capellini Museum, we find via Irnerio, named after the founder of the eleventh-century Bologna school of law, and, at number 42, we can visit the University Botanical Garden, one of the oldest in Italy, established in 1568 and developed on about two hectares holding three greenhouses and five thousand specimens of local and exotic plants, including tropical, medicinal and ornamental plants, as well as succulents, wood species and so on.
From Via Irnerio or Via Belle Arti, we reach Via Indipendenza, to admire the Cathedral of San Pietro: it is of early Christian origins, but the actual cathedral was built in the tenth century, then again in 1141 after being destroyed by a great fire, and gradually retouched until the mid-eighteenth century, with the latest works directed by Architect Alfonso Torreggiani.
Bearing witness to this long period of work, the interior of the Church contains works of great importance by Alfonso Lombardi, Ludovico Carracci and Donato Creti. Another interesting evidence of the subsequent rebuilding is the bell tower with a rectangular base, 70 metres high, which encloses the ancient bell tower with a circular plan of paleo-Romanesque origin.
A hundred metres from the Cathedral is the Sala Borsa Library, with entrance in front of Fountain of Neptune. It is the busiest of Bologna’s public civic libraries and located in an ancient public place for city merchants; the entrance leads into a large two-storey covered square with high coffered ceiling and crystal floor, created to admire ancient archaeological excavations and the settlements of various civilizations in a scenario of harmony and light. That is how we can relive centuries of history, from the first settlements of huts of the Villanovan civilization of the seventh century BC, to Etruscan Felsina, and Roman Bononia. Sala Borsa spreads out along Via Ugo Bassi, where directly on the wall of the library stands the Old Fountain (Fontana Vecchia), built in 1564 by Tommaso Laureti, who only a year before had designed the Fountain of Neptune, built with Jean de Boulogne. The building ends at the corner on Via Venezian, created by Torrone, one of the towers of Bologna, whose name also renders well the intimidating role it played for three centuries as an ecclesiastical court, until Napoleon Bonaparte and his French troops arrived in 1796.
• Library of the Giovanni Battista Martini conservatory
•Palazzo Poggi university museum
•Teatro Comunale Municipal Theatre
•University Botanical Garden
•Cathedral of San Pietro
NOT TO BE MISSED
•Bentivoglio Chapel in the Basilica of S. Giacomo Maggiore
•Pinacoteca Nazionale Art Gallery
•Sala Borsa library with exposed floor excavations
•26-metre Diplodocus at the Capellini Museum
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