A lowland port, underground canals, monuments and Manifattura delle Arti.
The relationship between Bologna and water is centuries-old and in the period in which its maximum city power was in the making, it was not only its “Studio” (University) that served as a pole of attraction and distinction: starting from the twelfth century, the City created a series of artificial canals fed by the waters of the Aposa creek (on whose banks Etruscan Felsina was founded), which intersected with the two canals connected to the Reno and Savena rivers, also built to carry waterways inside Bologna.
This abundant supply of water was used to create the energy needed to fuel craftsmanship activities: mills, grindstones, tanneries, spinning plants, knitting machines, fulling mills and, last but not least, all the activities for which a water source immediately available for energy and for processing made the difference between slow work and production of significant commercial importance. Of course, the canals were also used to transport goods and people and, when the dirt roads were slow and very bumpy, the ability to move about on boats was a viable alternative, and in some cases, also much more convenient and practical for long distances. In 1548, Bologna began construction of its port within city walls. replacing the existing ones outside the walls. It was designed by Jacopo Barozzi (Il Vignola) and remained in operation almost until 1930s, when the navigable canals were covered.
The whole area between the Via Irnerio, Via Dei Mille and Via Don Minzoni axis on one side, and the Via Riva di Reno, Via Righi and Via delle Moline axis on the other, still preserves the memory of Bologna surrounded by waters in some toponyms, starting from Via del Porto; in some places, we can still admire some glimpses of canals flowing through buildings and meadows, as in the case of the Cavaticcio canal, which gives its name to the park in which it flows, in the heart of Manifattura delle Arti, an area named in honour of shops once in operation there thanks to canal mills, and which today brings together some of Bologna’s cultural excellences, such as the Cineteca and the MAMbo (Museum of Modern Art of Bologna) on Via Don Minzoni 14, housing the permanent collection of the Morandi Museum along with regular periodic exhibitions, and immediately nearby, the Salara, the ancient port salt depot now transformed into exhibition hall and multipurpose venue of the Cassero. Right in the space between the MAMbo – Museum of Modern Art in Bologna and the Salara, Parco del Cavaticcio (Cavaticcio Park) was created recently, which takes its name from the canal showing off along a strip of green yielding a glimpse of impressive, yet peaceful urban landscape.
The viewpoint on Via Don Minzoni allows a perspective view of both park and canal, as it was at the time of the port from the customs offices, which are long gone. The Manifattura centre also includes the DAMS laboratories of the University of Bologna, featuring an experimental theatre, film laboratory, auditorium for music, plus offices and services. There is also the new seat of the Cineteca di Bologna library, a true international documentation centre with over 40,000 volumes, 18,000 audiovisuals and hundreds of thousands of photographs and film posters.
The Cineteca and the DAMS area are close to Via Riva Reno, where we can visit the Church of Santa Maria della Visitazione, built after the plague of 1527 to give homage to the averted danger: the Church stood surrounded by the waters of the now covered Reno canal. Along the same road, we come across Angolo della Pioggia (Rain Corner) at the intersection with Via Galliera: it is a very special corner which gives visitors the impression of being in a village rather than in the heart of the city, so suggestive is the enveloping feeling it yields.
The whole area revolves around rain; rather, it is a tribute to the Madonna della Pioggia, who, as tradition has it, saved Bologna from a drought, and gives its name to the Church of Santa Maria della Pioggia, built from the original thirteenthcentury complex and later dedicated to the Madonna after the procession that in 1561 brought the rain that put an end to a long heat spell.
The Church houses a painting of the Madonna that was carried in procession: a work by Michele di Matteo, a Bologna-native painter active in the mid-fifteenth century. From nearby Via Righi, we can see glimpses of Bologna waters that have not been covered, starting with the one near the big vault of Via Malcontenti, to continue with the lookout on Via Piella and then Via Oberdan, in addition to the view of nearby Via Capo di Lucca, at the corner with Via Delle Moline.
On Via Oberdan, near the canal waters in view, we arrive at the Church of San Martino (building number 25), built in the first half of the fourteenth century and worth a visit to admire the works by Paolo Uccello, Amico Aspertini and Ludovico Carracci, to cite a few, as well as the beautiful sixteenth-century organ, so precious for its decorations and sounds.
Almost in front of the Church, we find Via Marsala, where, at building number 12 stands Palazzo Grassi, one of the few residences that bear witness to the urban layout of medieval Bologna.
The portico is one of the few still standing with wooden beam columns in a typical crutch shape, and features an entrance door surmounted by a pointed ring. It is a typical example of thirteenth-century architecture in Bologna.
•Canals between Via Piella, Via Oberdan and Via Capo Di Lucca
•Canal at the Cavaticcio Park
•Church of Santa Maria della Pioggia
•Wooden porch of Palazzo Grassi
NOT TO BE MISSED
•MAMbo – Museum of Modern Art of Bologna
•Works of art and the organ of the Church of San Martino
WHEN BOLOGNA WAS ALSO A PORT CITY
Despite the great distance of the city from the sea, boats were for centuries the most used loading and transport means in Bologna, since a dense network of canals reached all the main towns of the plain towards Ferrara and up to the coast, in addition to connecting with the Po river and reaching into Venice. The canals served to transport goods and people, and when the roads were slow and bumpy, being able to move about by boat was a viable, very convenient and practical alternative, even for long journeys. As a result, there were moorings and warehouses in Bologna, though they were located outside the city walls. Over the centuries, the main port was moved as close as possible to the city; in 1548, work began to build the final port inside city walls, behind Porta Lame. The project was endorsed by Pope Paul III and entrusted to Jacopo Barozzi (Il Vignola); it was a work that transformed the area of the current Via del Porto into a real urban shopping centre; storage warehouses, areas for boat maintenance and even customs, and public facilities were created alongside moorings and docks. The port inside Bologna worked for centuries with additions and improvements, such as the salt deposit built in the late eighteenth century, called Salara, which is still one of the symbols of the “city of water”.
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