Strolling through the historic center
A prestigious, world-renowned university city, a thriving hub of art and culture, Bologna holds a unique appeal that has remained unchanged over its centuries of history.
A few steps from the hotel, this piazza is the physical and symbolic center of Bologna, the site of its most important civic, religious, and political events. Built between 1200 and 1203 after the establishment of the municipal institutions, it took on its current shape in the mid-1400s.
The central part of the piazza is characterized by a pedestrian platform called il crescentone. Built in 1934, this is a white and pink granite rectangle raised 15 cm above the ground, and its name derives from crescenta, a typically Bolognese savory focaccia.
The piazza is home to the Basilica of San Petronio, the favorite church of Bolognese Catholics and the fifth largest in the world. Dedicated to the city's patron saint, who according to legend drew its perimeter with four crosses which are still kept inside the basilica, it was begun in 1390 but the façade was never finished, nor were the side wings constructed. Its majestic interior is dominated by the central nave and six aisles built to a square plan, each with a side aisle; these in turn open onto twenty-two chapels full of works of art. The basilica also houses the largest sundial in the world: the Cassini sundial, completed in December of 1657, is 66.8 meters long.
A few meters from the Basilica of San Petronio, in 1563 Pope Pius IV commissioned Antonio Morandi to build the Archiginnasio as there was a need to bring together the schools of the Legisti and the Artisti, the law and liberal arts schools, in one building. This is where the University of Bologna was born. Built with a 139-meter arcade with thirty arches, it has ornate stairways with a one-of-a-kind heraldic collection: 700 coats of arms of scholars from Italy and beyond who held positions at the University.
Overlooking the square is Palazzo d’Accursio, which houses the municipal government. It is formed by three different buildings constructed between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. Inside Palazzo d’Accursio, one must-see is the Salaborsa: the city's multimedia and general information library, which opened in December of 2001: a rich, fascinating cultural space offering advanced technologies that give the public broad access to new information and telecommunications services. Also overlooking Piazza Maggiore is thirteenth-century Palazzo del Podestà, the seat of the podestà and his officials.
During the latter half of the fifteenth century, its Romanesque façade was renovated in Renaissance style by Aristotele Fioravanti, who placed the current bell (the Campanazzo) in the Torre dell'Arengo, which towers over the building.
Under the palazzo is the Voltone del Podestà, a large cross vault supported by four pillars at its corners (the statues atop them are the saints that protect the city: St Petronius, St Proculus, St Dominic and St Francis), under which hangings took place. When speaking softly into one of the four corners of the Voltone, anyone facing the wall in one of the opposite corners can hear loud and clear what is being whispered.
On the western side is the Palazzo dei Banchi, whose arcade once housed the money-changers' shops. Behind Palazzo del Podestà stands Palazzo Re Enzo, built between 1244 and 1246 to extend the municipal buildings. Also known as Palatium Novum, it owes its name to King Enzo of Sardinia, son of Philip II of Swabia, who was imprisoned within these walls from 1249 to 1272.
Having been first restored in the latter half of the eighteenth century, in 1905 it was subjected to a new, considerable refurbishment under Alfonso Rubbiani which restored its Gothic style by reconstructing its battlements, the arcade on the ground floor, and the fifteenth-century staircase. Today the building hosts conferences, conventions, cultural initiatives, company meetings, shows, and exhibitions.
Opposite the entrance to the Palazzo di Re Enzo stands the Fountain of Neptune in all its beauty, known by the Bolognese as the Giant (Zigant). It was built in marble and bronze by Giambologna to a design by Tommaso Laureti in 1563-1566. The statue symbolizes Papal power: as Neptune rules the waters, the Pope rules the world.