Getting red, learned and fat in Bologna

The Italians refer to Bologna as “La Rossa, La Dotta, La Grassa” – The Red, The Learned, The Fat. So our aim for a day in Bologna was to cover those bases.

The Red refers to the colour of the buildings – with a back-hand reference to politics. Bologna does have a lovely old town and there is a predominant red feel. But really, if you want to talk architecture and Bologna, the distinctive feature is the porticos. In the 1200s a law was passed that all new buildings had to have a portico to provide protection to people walking down the streets. Now walking through Bologna is a delight as you pass pass under the gentle curves of the covered walkways protected form Sun and rain as much today as almost a thousand years ago.

The Learned is because Bologna has the oldest university in Europe as well as remaining a center of learning. The Archiginnasio is the symbol of that history being the place where they centralized the university in the 1600s. It’s a beautiful building decorated with the coats of arms of lecturers and students. It is also the site of an interesting theatre where they used to do anatomical dissections. But the winner for us was the library which although you cannot enter you can photograph through the bars of a door…

Our other bit of learning for the day we found inside the enormous Basilica de san Petronio. There is a long line inscribed on the floor with numbers along it and stages with the names of months. It’s a meridian line created by Casini in 1655. The Sun hits the line at the right date at noon every day. It helped show that Galileo, only 30 years earlier, was right about the Earth going round the Sun.

The Fat is really about how rich the city is, but also plays into the fact that Bologna is famous for its food. Our priority was of course bolognese sauce, which is generally referenced here just as tagliatelle al ragu. Perfetto!

Of course a three-word epithet doesn’t do Bologna justice. There’s so much more. My personal favourite is the Neptune fountain with its nude Neptune and mermaids shooting water from their nipples – I love it because the contrarian in me can only smile at something so many reviewers find offensive even while, mistakenly, thinking it was made by the Romans. Can’t help thinking that there are some overweight tourists who should be learning some facts to save their red faces.

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