Archiginnasio, Bologna

Archiginnasio, Bologna

Untitled photo

Sun, 23 Sep - Florence to Bologna

Catching the high-speed trains is a bit of a challenge for the uninitiated. First, it pays to book in advance, for both availability and price reasons. The booking is for a designated seat in a designated carriage in a designated train, so you don't want to miss it! At the station, they don't give you much warning as to which platform your train will be coming in to, and when you get onto your correct platform you have to find where your carriage will stop (and they are long trains), usually indicated on an overhead monitor. Finally, the train has a little display panel on the side of the carriage telling you which end of the carriage your row should board from. Getting yourself and your suitcases up two high steps is a bit of an effort, and then where to stow your luggage ...? Some carriages have luggage areas at each end, but this particular one did not, so Paul foolishly tried to lift his case onto an overhead rack which it was never going to fit, wrecking his right shoulder in the process. The woman sitting opposite kindly pointed out a space on the floor between two seat-backs.

And the turnaround time for the whole process is 10 mins maximum. 

The Florence-Bologna journey is non-stop, about 35 minutes, about two-thirds of which is in tunnels, as the route crosses under the Apennine mountain range.

Navigating one's way out of Bologna Centrale station is a nightmare. The station is one of the main participants in this narrative. It forms a vital fulcrum in Italy’s excellent high speed rail system, with the main trunk from the South (Naples, Rome and Florence) branching to either Padua and Venice to the North-East or Milan and Turin to the North-West, forming a sort of Y-shape.

So far, so good. But since the neo-fascist terrorist explosion in August 1980, and then later, in preparation for the opening of the high-speed lines in 2008/9, the station has been reconstructed in a way which defies comprehension.

There are two wings and four levels, the high-speed platforms being at the bottom. But the lifts don’t take you from level 0 to level -1, -2, to -3. No, you go down one level, then walk along a long underpass, find another lift, etc. etc. It’s so complicated that there are spivs who pretend to be helpful and guide you to your correct platform, only to demand €10 for the favour. I’m afraid we got duped on one occasion.

Bologna Centrale Railway Station

But I’m running ahead of myself ... The last part of my journey was easy, as the Mercure Hotel is directly across the road from the station, a very basic hotel but a very convenient location. I was checked in just after lunchtime.

In this photo of the station, you probably won't be able to make it out clearly, but there is a clock on the left wall of the main block, just above the red bus, which remains fixed at 10:25 (a.m.), the time of the 2 August 1980 explosion, which killed 85 people and injured more than 200. ​Sorry about all the overhead wires, which will mess up many of these photos.

Mon, 24 - Wed, 26 Sep - Bologna

As you will have gathered, we tend to try to avoid the main tourist "attractions", but confess to one apparent contradiction - the City Red hop-on hop-off busses which operate now in most major cities. We find them an excellent way to get a quick introductory overview of somewhere. In Bologna, the route actually starts from almost directly outside the Mercure, so Paul was the first passenger on board for the first "circuit" of the day at 10:00am.

On subsequent days, it was easy to get around by a combination of the normal city bus service and walking.

Bologna lays claim to the oldest university in the world, established in 1088 (Oxford dates from 1096). It still retains an academic atmosphere. Perhaps paradoxically, in the late seventeenth century Bologna was the most mechanised city in Europe, with over a hundred silk factories. In modern times, it likes to think of itself as the food capital of Italy, if not the world. Above all, it is a city of colonnades and porticos.

Basilica di San Petronio

It's not all about Cathedrals. Italian civic buildings can also be quite spectacular, as these photos (below, and the page header) of a Post Office and the beautiful Archiginnasio public library prove.

The library seems to be part of a complex including a Palazzo and also one of the earliest anatomical study theatres. It's worth exploring the Archiginnasio web site - there is a smallish section in English, but even the Italian pages are fascinating for their illustrations, and for the exhibitiions and resources that are available online. A bit of a combined library cum museum cum art gallery, it seems. Unfortunately I wasn't able to return to view the interior.

  • It's a Post Office! Palazzo de' Toschi, Bologna.

  • Archiginnasio

One of the Archiginnasio's current exhibitions features Marco Minghetti (right), the bicentenary of whose birth in Bologna occurs this year. When the unified state of Italy was created in 1860, Minghetti became Minister of the Interior, and by 1863 he became the 5th Prime Minister of Italy. (They obviously went through PMs with Australian rapidity!). He only lasted 18 months, being deposed as a result of opposition in Turin to his plan to transfer the capital from that city to Florence, part of a deal with France which saw Napoleon III withdraw from Rome.

Minghetti regained the Prime Ministership in 1873, and this time held it for almost 3 years. The date on his statue, 1896 (?), looks as though it was erected to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.

Bologna also has a great musical tradition, so my main target on Tuesday morning was the Museo internazionale e biblioteca della musica, (web site here, and this Wikipedia article is quite comprehensive.) The displays were mainly of scores and instruments, but also portraits marking the city's links with such as Mozart and JS Bach. Ottorino Respighi was born on 9 July 1879 in an apartment at Via Guido Reni 8, literally just around the corner from the Museum, which is at Strada Maggiore 34. Nearby, the Teatro Communale (the opera house) sits on the corner of Piazza Verdi and Largo Respighi, and near here also is a plaque commemorating Rossini. Though to keep things in balance, there is almost as much emphasis on the building where Maserati was founded in December 1914. (Ferrari originated in Modena, not far from Bologna.)

By accident I discovered a real little gem, the Oratory of Santa Cecilia, she being the patron saint of music. Unfortunately photography was not allowed, so we have to rely on web pages like San Giacomo Maggiore (its mother church) or the Web Gallery of Art, which concentrates on the frecoes, and of course Wikipedia. The Oratory these days is used mostly for recitals.

For the sake of balance, it has to be said that beside the beauty and magnificence, much of modern Italy is downright shabby. Here are a couple of examples from the same area of Bologna as many of the other shots. Other cities were no better.

Thu, 27 Sep - day trip to Ferrara

One of the reasons for choosing the Mercure Hotel was its proximity to the railway station to facilitate day excursions. There were many candidates, such as Parma (ham, cheese), Modena (balsamic) and Ravenna (history/art), but I decided to leave them until I returned with Anne later in our visit. Today, Ferrara was the destination of choice. Why? Simply because in researching for the holiday, it looked interesting. And so it was. And it's only 26 mins on the train.

One of Ferrara's most famous sons was Girolamo Savonarola, a fire-brand Dominican preacher, "scourge of vice and tyranny", who was born there 21 September 1452. In control of Florence for considerable periods, he was known for his prophecies of civic glory, the destruction of secular art and culture, and his calls for Christian renewal. He denounced clerical corruption, despotic rule and the exploitation of the poor.

In 1495 when Florence refused to join Pope Alexander VI's Holy League against the French, the Vatican summoned Savonarola to Rome. He disobeyed and further defied the pope by preaching under a ban, highlighting his campaign for reform with processions, bonfires of the vanities, and pious theatricals. In retaliation, the Pope excommunicated him in May 1497, and threatened to place Florence under an interdict.

A trial by fire proposed by a rival Florentine preacher in April 1498 to test Savonarola's divine mandate turned into a fiasco, and popular opinion turned against him. Savonarola and two of his supporting friars were imprisoned.

On 23 May 1498, Church and civil authorities condemned, hanged, and burned the three friars in the main square of Florence. [Wikipedia]

Another prominent feature in Ferrara is Castello Estense, which means 'of the Este family', a dynasty which ruled here from around 1264 until ​1598, when it was forced out by a combination of economic weakness and the lack of a legitimate heir or even a successor who might be recognised and supported by the Church.

​The castle in its present form, described as an "architectural fairytale hybrid something between a court palace and castle", mostly dates from the end of the 15th century. It is now used as a museum and art gallery, and for some musical events.

Untitled photo

Speaking of musical events, I also found the "Teatro Comunale Claudio Abbado Ferrara" - I don't know what the connection is with the famous conductor, except that the University of Ferrara awarded him an honorary doctorate. He died in Bologna in 2014.

I thought the entrance to the Teatro was pretty grotty, until I realised that I was at the stage door. Unfortunately they only do tours on Saturdays, so I had to pinch this photo from their web site. Looks wonderful!

Nor was I able to get into the Cathedral - closed for major renovations.

Other Bologna photos

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