Bologna Things to Do
monuments and museums
basilica di san petronio
Named after the city's patron saint, this vast basilica is Bologna's largest church, but was intended to be even larger. Construction started in 1392 to a plan that would have made the basilica bigger than St Peter in Rome, but the Vatican forbade this attempt to build something bigger than its church. Despite the papal mandated downsizing, the basilica is still the fifth largest in the world.
On the eastern side of the basilica, along the Via Archiginnasio, you can see semi-constructed apses jutting from the basilica walls and an incomplete facade. The central doorway, by sculptor Jacopo della Quercia, dates from 1425 and has exquisite carvings of scenes from the Old and New Testament and a beautiful Madonna with Child. The chapels inside contain frescos by Giovanni da Modena and Jacopo di Paolo.
basilica di santo stefano
Southeast along the elegant Via Santo Stefano is the triangular piazza before the Basilica di Santo Stefano. This basilica consists of catacombs, crypts, and four beautiful churches: the main basilica, with an altar with an angel carved by Michelangelo; the fifth century Santi Vitale e Agricola; the octagonal Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro (Church of the Holy Sepulchre); and the Romanesque Chiesa del Crocefisso (Church of the Crucifixion).
The Chiesa del Crocefisso has a stone basin in its courtyard which many believe to be the place where Pontius Pilate washed his hands after condemning Christ; others point out that the basin dates from the eighth century and was made by Lombards from Northern Europe.
fontana del nettuno
An enormous fountain, the Fontana del Nettuno, graces the wide street connecting Piazza Maggiore with Piazza del Nettuno. The fountain, built in 1566, has a bronze statuary by a Flemish sculptor, Jean Boulogne de Douai, who became so famous for the job that he was nicknamed "Giambologna". A massive figure of Neptune stands on top of the fountain, trident in hand. Neptune is attended by four angels, symbolizing the four winds and four sirens representing the four continents known to the Renaissance world.
le due torri
Bologna has given many contributions to Italy's collection of leaning towers: rising above the Piazza di Porta are two of the most famous: the Torre degli Asinelli (Tower of the Asinelli) and the Torre della Garisenda (Tower of the Garisenda). The Torre degli Asinelli is taller and on the left, with a lean of 4.2 feet, and 498 steps for you to climb if you're so inclined. The Torre della Garisenda is closed to the public because its lean of 10.4 feets puts it in jeopardy if it is climbed.
Bologna's town hall, the Palazzo Comunale, sits on the western side of the two main piazzas. Its grandiose central staircase, attributed to the Renaissance architect Donato Bramante, was built wide enough for horse-drawn carriages to transport their noble occupants up to the first floor. The palazzo houses an extensive collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings, sculpture, and furniture. Outside the Palazzo you will see a huge panel covered with photographs of Italian partisans killed during the WWII. Such displays are common in the region of Emilia-Romagna, which was a center of fierce partisan resistance to the German occupation.
At the center of the oldest part of Bologna, Piazza Maggiore is surrounded by some of the's most impressive medieval and Renaissance buildings and monuments.
oratorio di santa cecilia
Nicknamed the "Sistine Chapel of Bologna", it is known for its extraordinary ceiling frescoes depicting the life of St. Cecilia.
pinacoteca nazionale (national gallery)
Visit the extensive art gallery focusing on Bolognese artists.
Enjoy some refreshments in the bars and cafes of the University Quarter, the heart of the more contemporary, radical "Red" Bologna. This thriving little district is northeast of the two towers, down the Via Zamboni.
As one of the great cultural centers of Europe, Bologna enjoys religious, art, music, and film festivals throughout the year. The Cinema dei Paesi Arabi film festival is held once every two years (even-numbered years) in January. Carneval, from February to March, is a time of parades, costumes, feasting, and general high jinks before Lent.
After Lent's time for some music, the Bologna Festival of classical music is held at different venues around the city in May and June, and the Sinto Assoli festival of jazz and contemporary music is held from May to July. The Bologna Sogna Open Festival of film, theater, and music runs from June to August, and the Made in Bologna outdoor pop festival takes place under the summer sun in July. The Santo dal Mondo ethnic music festival takes place in November.