Streets of ancient suggestions,churches of Saints, palaces of the well-to-do and the Museum of the city history.
There is an area of Bologna in which the palaces of the ancient city power and the symbols of faith are close to one another, as if to bear witness to the two souls of the city: the free-city government and the area of papal influence. This area is between Via Santo Stefano, Via Castiglione and Piazza dei Tribunali. We are in the heart of historical Bologna: Via Castiglione starts right in the shadow
of the Asinelli tower, and, after a few steps, flanks Piazza della Mercanzia, where Via Santo Stefano begins. Palazzo della Mercanzia is the first symbol of the city government we come across: it has been overseeing trading rules in Bologna for six centuries. Built in 1384 under the direction of Antonio di Vincenzo and Lorenzo da Bagnomarino, over time the building was damaged by the collapse of nearby Torre Dè Banchi and WWII bombardments, though was eventually restored and rendered operational. Its front is adorned by a beautiful marble balcony from which rulings issued by the Merchants’ Tribunal were once read aloud. The side of the building on Via Castiglione still bears the early fifteenth century walled plaque to publicly remember the exemption from duties and other expenses in favour of the scholars of the Studio, the ancient name of the city University.
On the Via Santo Stefano side, after a few metres, we come across an open space which creates one of the most charming views of Bologna, featuring Palazzo Isolani on the left, and other palaces – symbols of the city’s lordships- on the right and Basilica di Santo Stefano in front of you. Palazzo Isolani dates back to the mid-fifteenth century and was built by Lapo Portigiani, Florentine of Fiesole in a seemingly transitional style bringing together both Gothic and Renaissance Tuscan influences. The façade is divided into two distinct horizontal orders, with round arches of the portico supported by the Corinthian capitals of the columns. The façade overlooks the pedestrian passageway of Corte Isolani, which connects the building with Casa Isolani along Strada Maggiore. The Court is an example of medieval Bologna city planning, with covered passages and ups and downs which create a gallery now home to boutiques, restaurants and bistros. On the opposite side, instead, side-byside buildings engender the effect of a single façade with porticoes and windows different from each other, but a homogeneous overview, with Casa Sforno on the forefront with only one arch of the portico, though the highest of all others. The entire scenery is dominated by the complex of Santo Stefano, which is part of the dedication to holy places of the pilgrimage that bishop Petronius (5th century) wanted to celebrate in Bologna. Indeed, the Basilica stands on the side of Vicolo Gerusalemme and in the past it was called Sancta Jerusalem. Other buildings were added between the tenth and thirteenth centuries to the original fifth-century nucleus: the Church of the Crucifix overlooks the square on the right, with the Church of the Calvary in the middle and that of the first Bolognese Christian martyrs Vitalis and Agricola on the left. All three are home to precious works of art and celebrations of faith such as the reproduction of the Sepulchre of Christ or the ancient sarcophagi of martyred saints.
Also worthy of attention is Cortile di Pilato (Pilate Courtyard) with its marble basin donated by the Lombards in the 8th century, the Trinity Church and the Benedictine cloister, one of the most notable of Emilian Romanesque, where the museum is also located with some valuable pieces from various eras. Next to Santo Stefano, the celebration of the holy places of Jerusalem continues, with a small square that opens at the end of a short uphill walk, where we find another symbolic building: the church of San Giovanni in Monte. The original fifthcentury construction was renovated in the 13th century and rebuilt in Gothic style two centuries later. The façade bears the eagle symbol of John the evangelist, built by Niccolò dell’Arca in 1481, and the interior with three naves still houses precious altarpieces, wooden works and beautiful stained glass windows. From San Giovanni in Monte, we descend to Via Castiglione, not far from the former Jesuit church of Santa Lucia, which occupies the scene with its imposing front: it is currently the seat of the University’s Great Hall (Aula Magna).
From there, it is easy to reach Piazza San Domenico, where you can see the Basilica that houses the remains of the Holy founder of the Dominican order. The construction dates back to the death of Dominic de Guzmán (1221) and shows art treasures, with works by Guercino, Ludovico Carracci, Filippino Lippi and others. Saint Dominic’s remains are preserved in a magnificent marble ark inside the chapel dedicated to him, with works by Guido Reni. The ark is embellished with sculptures by Nicola Pisano, an important third-century artist that left a deep mark in the artistic approach of art humanization, hitherto unknown in the Middle Ages. Over time, Saint Dominic’s ark has seen the addition of works by Niccolò dell’Arca, Alfonso Lombardi, Jan Baptiste Boudard.
Michelangelo too gave his contribution with the angel holding the candelabra on the right and Saints Petronius and Proculus on the back. The inlaid wood choir stalls are another work worthy of note: made by Fra’ Damiano da Bergamo (Damiano Zambelli 1490-1549), they were much admired by his contemporaries, who called them the eighth wonder of the world. In the square in front of the Basilica is the tomb of Rolandino Dè Passeggeri (1215-1300) one of the greatest jurists of the Middle Ages.
Again on via Castiglione, returning towards the Two Towers, building 8 is Palazzo Pepoli, home of the Museum of History of Bologna, from the Etruscan Felsina to the present day.
Through a series of thematic sections we view a past that reiterates the importance and particularity of Bologna over the centuries, a story told around emblematic episodes, anecdotes and transversal themes that highlight society and its evolution over the centuries, daily life and the relationship with the environment, especially with the water of the many Bolognese canals. Other important testimonies are Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande, built in the seventeenth century in front of Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio and hosting Quadreria Zambeccari: paintings by Emilian and Bolognese masters such as Ludovico Carracci, Francesco Albani, Guercino and others; and the Palace of Justice in Piazza dei Tribunali, designed by the great Palladio, Andrea Della Gondola (1508-1580).
Also the Church of San Procolo in via D’Azeglio 52 deserves attention: for the sarcophagus with the remains of Proculus, one of the first Christian Bolognese martyrs and for the art exhibited in its naves, with works, among others, by Lippo di Dalmasio and Bartolomeo Cesi. Returning to Via Santo Stefano, on the other hand, you can reach two very significant places: Casa Carducci, with the Museo Civico del Risorgimento and the Baraccano complex. Piazza Carducci opens onto Via Dante, and the house museum is immediately in plain sight: the building with Carducci’s apartment was purchased by Queen Margherita of Savoy in 1906 and donated to the Municipality the following year, when the poet died, so that it was kept in its original state and the memory of the great man of letters could be perpetuated. Casa Carducci occupies the first floor, with daily living items, objects and memories of a lifetime, as well as relics such as a framed fragment of Petrarch’s tunic.
Carducci’s library includes about 40,000 pieces including volumes, files, periodicals and extracts. In addition to the great cultural spirit of its owner, the house museum also offers an example of a middle-class bourgeois dwelling from the late nineteenth century. On the ground floor is the Museo Civico del Risorgimento, a review of the history of Bologna between the Bonapartist occupation of 1796 and the end of the First World War in 1918. The epic of the Italian Risorgimento is here developed not so much in the heroic sense of the battle as in that of the day-to-day social and cultural aspects, with a focus on Bologna.
• The plaque with the exemption for students on Palazzo della Mercanzia
• Palazzo Isolani and Corte Isolani
• Church of San Giovanni in Monte
• The Baraccano complex
• Casa Carducci
NOT TO BE MISSED
• The Santo Stefano complex
• The marble ark and wooden choir in the Basilica of San Domenico
• The Museum of the History of Bologna at Palazzo Pepoli Vecchio
• The Quadreria Zambeccari collection at Palazzo Pepoli Campogrande
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