From the historical centre, along the record-breaking portico, up to the Basilica hill.
Bologna is famous in the world for being the city of arcades, almost all very old and with centuries of service to protect from rain and the sun, while strolling through the city.
This itinerary that leads up to Colle della Guardia, for example, can be completed entirely under porticos, and, in the stretch that starts from Porta Saragozza, boasts the record length of 3,796 metres of a single portico, including a street elevated (and covered) crossing.
Following a common thread that also concerns the Basilica of San Petronio, we can start from the arcade of Archiginnasio, along the side of the Basilica, and continue along Via Farini and Via De’ Carbonesi: at the corner with Via Collegio di Spagna, the Church of San Paolo Maggiore dominates the space, with its broad facade standing out like a stage.
The Church was built starting in 1606 by the Clerics Regulars of St. Paul (the Barnabites) by father Giovanni Ambrogio Mazenta (1565-1635), Architect and priest of the same confraternity.
The front, impressive and harmonious at the same time, was completed in 1636 by Ercole Fichi, a Romagna sculptor who was very active in Bologna. The interior impresses visitors for its richly painted vaults by Antonio and Giuseppe Rolli, which depict St. Paul in the Athens aeropagus.
We can also admire works by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri), Giuseppe Maria Crespi and Ludovico Carracci, and a beautiful high altar with a sculpture group by Alessandro Algardi: the Decollazione di San Paolo (The Beheading of St. Paul), dated 1644.
The Church stands on the side of the Collegio di Spagna, where King Charles I of Spain also stayed for a few months when, in 1530, he was crowned by Pope Clement VII, in San Petronio, as Charles V Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Who knows how many times Charles himself may have walked under these porticoes to reach Piazza Maggiore from his lodgings. The Collegio di Spagna was built in 1364 by effect of a legacy of Archbishop of Toledo, Egidio Carilla Albornoz, who was appointed pontifical legate to Bologna. The building housed the Spanish students who arrived to attend the Studio, as the University was formerly known.
Works were entrusted to Matteo di Giovannello, an Umbrian artist known as Gattapone, to whom Cardinal Albornoz had already entrusted some tasks for military fortifications, including the fortress of Spoleto; for this reason, the building shares structural similarities with the fortress, especially in the courtyard.
After Charles V stayed in the building, its name changed to Real Collegio di Spagna, and, since then, all successors to the Spanish throne renewed their royal patronage in this Spanish enclave in the heart of Bologna.
The College also overlooks Via Saragozza, and continuing – under the arcades – along this street, we get to ring boulevards and the Porta Saragozza gate. This structure is one of the twelve ancient entrance gates to the city and is testament to the powerful stone walls built to protect Bologna in the fourteenth century, replacing the wooden one. The walls were demolished in 1902 as a result of the urban expansion of the period. The longest portico in the world, which leads up to the top of the Colle della Guardia and the Basilica of San Luca, starts just at Porta Saragozza, across the boulevards.
There are 3,796 metres of covered and well paved paths, made of 316 arches for the flat walk from Porta Saragozza to the arch of Meloncello, and 350 arches for the hilly section from Meloncello to the sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, for a total of 666 arches.
The number of arches has profound symbolic meaning: 666 symbolizes the devil and the long sinuously curving portico recalls the serpent, or the devil, and its ending at the foot of the sanctuary refers to the iconography of the devil defeated and crushed under the foot of the Madonna.
The walk to climb up to the top of Colle della Guardia is a tradition that began in the twelfth century, when the first church was built to protect and safeguard a Byzantine icon depicting the Madonna with Child, which religious tradition attributes to Saint Luke.
The cult of this Madonna of San Luca was immediately such that the influx of pilgrims required a larger and more adequate Church; for this reason, in 1194 the first stone of construction was laid directly from Rome and blessed by Pope Celestine III.
For centuries, therefore, thousands of pilgrims traced the ascent to the hill simply with the work of their steps: first a simple path and then a mule track, eventually paved to facilitate the journey.
Everything changes, however, in 1674, when the work of the portico began, destined to be the longest existing in the world until today. The construction of the portico was completed by local Architect Carlo Francesco Dotti (1670-1759) to whom we also owe the construction of the new Basilica of San Luca and the Arco del Meloncello, the point where the portico begins the path uphill to the summit of Colle della Guardia.
The portico deserves to be visited in its entirety, all the way to the Basilica: the panorama from the top of the hill is a worthy reward, as well as the great feeling of moving inside this long corridor of arches and columns. Those who want to stop before, can do so at the Arco del Meloncello, before the ascent begins: leaving the Via Saragozza portico for the one of the Dall’Ara stadium, with a short walk you can reach the Church of San Girolamo della Certosa, an ancient monastic centre later used as a city cemetery. Its origins date back to the establishment of the Carthusians in 1333.
The Church was completed in the seventeenth century, with its mighty bell tower overlooking the building. Its interior is rich in works of art, with notable works by masters of the Bolognese school, and a beautiful inlaid wooden choir realized by Biagio De’ Marchi in 1539.
The Church is surrounded by some very interesting cloisters, like that of the Chapel or of the Madonnas, enriched by various sacred images, transferred from other Bolognese churches during the Napoleonic suppression at the end of the eighteenth century.
•Arcades and changes in style and flooring between one building and another
•Church of San Paolo Maggiore
•Byzantine icon of the Madonna in the Basilica of San Luca
NOT TO BE MISSED
•Sculptural group by Alessandro Algardi in the Church of San Paolo Maggiore
•Walk under the portico of San Luca
•View from the top of Colle della Guardia
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