There are 38 kilometres of porticoes within the historic centre of Bologna

Bologna is the capital and main hub of the region of Emilia-Romagna, a part of Italy known world-wide for its tasty food produce, some exceptionally good wines and fast cars. Situated within short distance along the same Via Emilia trunk road axis are the towns of Parma, Modena, Reggio-Emilia, and on the Adriatic side, Rimini and Ravenna. The slightly more famous renaissance city of Florence just south of Bologna is in fact only a 30-minute train ride away, Milan about an hour to the north.

Header photo: Via San Vitale
This is a companion post to Portico walk to Madonna di San Luca in Bologna

What Bologna may lack compared to some of the more illustrious Italian art-cities and dare we say, overcrowded tourist hot-spots, she more than makes up for simply by being herself; inviting and vibrant, always buzzing, with her very own atmosphere. Where else do you find such an array of red, orange and rusty brown colours, lush and warm against deep, shadowy rhythms of massive portico columns and seemingly endless flights of arches. The variety of form and styles makes it all the more interesting to explore the town, street by street, under the porticoes. There are tall and elegant columns, some topped by ornate capitals, and there are the plain and practical kind, painted in a palette of classic Bologna tints and shades. Combined, there are around 38 kilometres of them – just within the relatively small historic centre – built between the 11th and 20th century.

Via San Vitale
Via San Vitale

Porticoes were a common feature of many medieval towns. They became popular especially in times of economic development and expansion since they filled the need for more public space on the street level as well as for private housing and shops in already congested, urban areas. Being a University town since the 13th century, students coming here from all over Europe needed inexpensive dwellings. These were typically built on the upper floors while the porticoes on the ground floor were utilized by shops and artisans. Porticoes also provide shelter from the heat of the summer sun or the rain or snow in winter.

Via Rizzoli Bologna Porticos
Via Rizzoli

Contrary to urban development elsewhere in Europe however, the porticoes in Bologna were defined by law (1288) to be compulsory for all major streets, both private and public, where they were considered useful. This law is apparently still in force today. Wooden pillars were banned in 1363 and they were slowly replaced by brick or stone in the following centuries. Examples of pillars made of wood can still be seen.

In the course of time a number of famous architects have contributed to the variety of portico styles in Bologna. In the 14th century, Antonio di Vincenzo built the portico in the Mercanzia Lodges. On the magnificent Piazza Maggiore, facing the beautiful facade of the San Petronio Cathedral, stands Palazzo del Podestà with porticos from the mid-15th century, designed by Aristotile Fioravanti. A century later, Antonio Morandi created the beautiful porticoes with sandstone pillars in the Archiginnasio, seat of the oldest university in the world.


The Tentative List – Future World Heritage

A Tentative List is, according to UNESCO; “an inventory of those properties which each State Party intends to consider for nomination”. A State Party is a country that has ratified and that adhere to the World Heritage Convention. Only properties on a State Party’s Tentative list may be eligible for nomination to the World Heritage list itself. The Porticoes of Bologna site was submitted to Italy’s Tentative List in 2006.

Italy already has more than 50 sites on the World Heritage list, more than any other country, plus around 40 sites on the Tentative List. So it’s anybody’s guess which site the Italian State Party (UNESCO) will choose to nominate the next time. Bologna is decidedly a strong contender.

This is a companion post to Portico walk to Madonna di San Luca in Bologna

Bologna Porticoes
Bologna Porticoes

All photos © Asgeir Pedersen, Heredajo
State Party Description of The Porticoes of Bologna
Italian sites on the Tentative List