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Emilia Romagna /
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La Dotta, La Grassa, La Rossa: Bologna, A City Dotted by Red Buildings and Rich Trattorias

“Bologna is like a friend, one of those who put on a long dress and come with you to a premiere and the next day sit on the pavement eating pizza with a beer in her hand.”

“Along the motorway from afar, I will see you

There are the lights of San Luca

Entering the centre, the car gets a bit ruined

Bologna, every street has a pothole

First I eat a pizza at Altero’s

There’s a funny bartender, a black guy

Bologna, you know I missed you a lot”

~Lucio Dalla


Some cities are missed like people, those you think back to with a smile as your heart warms up; Bologna is easily one of them. It is so for those who have lived there like me, but also for those who have only spent a few hours or a few days in the sun, perhaps on a Saturday at the Montagnola market. And it is not only for its excellent cuisine, its trattorias, its porticoes, its parties in the squares and the hills all around, for the big smiles and the soft accents of its inhabitants but rather for its unique character that oscillates between that of a “posh lady” and the most irreverent and revolutionary student. 

Bologna is like a friend, one of those who puts on an evening gown, comes with you to a premiere and the next day sits on the pavement eating pizza with a beer in her hand. Bologna knows how to be elegant and noble as well as spontaneous, direct and accessible to all. It has always been a non-conformist and pleasure-loving city, although very religious, anarchic and at the same time incredibly supportive. Bologna is “la dotta” (the erudite) because it is home to the oldest university in Europe, which conventionally dates back to 1088. Still, it is also “la grassa” (the fat) for its trattorias and “la rossa” (the red) for the colour of its buildings. Bologna belongs to everyone and welcomes everyone. In Bologna, you go to study, but you find yourself falling in love, you go to eat, but you find yourself (also) living. The city is so steeped in history in every corner that it is impossible to remain indifferent. There are arrows stuck from the Middle Ages in the wooden ceiling of the porticoes of Palazzo Isolani, there are the remains of a 2nd-century B.C. basilica under the glass floors of Sala Borsa, inside the ancient Palazzo d’Accursio, there are palaces such as the Archiginnasio where the history of university teaching is encapsulated, or churches such as the Basilica of Santo Stefano which houses seven others from different eras.

Strolling along the 38 kilometres of porticos that run through the streets of the city centre, you feel constantly enveloped in history and protected. In Bologna, you can go out without an umbrella because there are porticos. You can get around Bologna by bike because everything is 20 minutes away. The city’s urban planning ensures continuity and that no one, not even the most significant noble palace, can isolate itself and stand out from the others. In Bologna, the Middle Ages go hand in hand with the Renaissance while winking at the remains of the Roman era. The illustrious figures of history who have walked along its avenues, under its porticoes, in its squares, have been artists, poets, scholars, singers, jurists and architects. If you come to Bologna, you will feel like an artist because it can bring out just that from those who allow. And so when you stroll through Piazza Cavour (the Piazza Grande sung by Lucio Dalla), when you queue up at the Osteria dell’Orsa to eat the best-fried gnocco in town, or at Vito’s for lasagne and shin of pork in the hope of meeting Guccini, when you have just ordered a coffee at the Bar La Linea under the arches of Palazzo Re Enzo, or two squares of pizza at Altero’s in Via Indipendenza, or you are driving on the tangenziale and find your way home thanks to San Luca lit up on the hills, you will know that you belong to this city forever and, like when you think of a friend, you will start to smile.