Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 17, 2016

A Snapshot of Bologna

Today I’d like to take a brief look at the capital of the Italian state of Emilia-Romagna, Bologna.

134 Bologna Brad Nixon (640x475)

Our tour will be short because — as I previously explained — our itinerary only let us devote a portion of one day to a city that could consume a week, a month or a lifetime of study. I hope this glance may whet your own appetite to see it, because whether you’re interested in architecture, art, music, museums, food or thriving modern cities, Bologna offers them all in profusion.

Bologna has been an important city for more than 2,000 years, and has been occupied by the Etruscans, Celts and Romans before becoming a free municipality in the Middle Ages, followed by the usual cast of conquerors: Odoacer, Theodoric, Byzantium, the Lombards, Charlemagne, etc. It boasts the world’s first university, founded in 1088. The Romans built walls, as did later residents, and there are still numerous portions of fortifications to be seen as you travel the primarily grid-based streets based on the Roman settlement. During the Middle Ages there were as many as 180 fortified houses with defensive towers that are most commonly associated with San Gimignano in Tuscany. More than a dozen survive, the most famous being the Due Torri “Two Towers:”

135 Bologna Brad Nixon (508x640)

No, that’s not a trick of the photo lens; the towers are leaning. The tallest, named Asinelli, dates from 1108, and is mentioned by Dante in The Inferno. (He, along with Petrarch and Bocaccio, studied at the university.)

Two large public spaces feature several notable sites. The smaller Piazza Nettuno has at its center a large fountain featuring, naturally, Neptune.

130 Bologna Brad Nixon (509x640)

132 Bologna Brad Nixon (542x640)

It has some wonderful details that require no further description.

Neptune nereid Brad Nixon 131 (480x640)

The adjacent Piazza Maggiore is fronted by the massive Basilica of San Petronio, one of the world’s largest churches. It’s named for the city’s patron saint, who was Bishop of Bologna in the 5th Century.

It looms so large against the relatively small square, in fact, that I don’t have a satisfactory photo of it to show you. You’ll have to go see it yourself, or look it up.

The streets of central Bologna are largely given over to pedestrians, meaning that traffic can be heavy on the auto routes if you’re driving, and parking is a challenge. Take the train. While you walk and window shop in a staggering array of excellent shops, you’ll often be under the extensive system of porticoes that cover the sidewalks in the city, shading you from sun, rain or whatever the weather offers.

124 Bologna Brad Nixon (640x465)

We barely managed to squeeze in lunch in that city famed for its cuisine, finding a small trattoria just minutes before they closed for the afternoon. The Counselor acquitted herself admirably in ordering in that entirely local place, where no English whatsoever was spoken: not a typical experience in the large cities of Europe.

Bologna restaurant items Brad Nixon (513x640)

Our primary target for this visit was not food, architecture, history or even a look at the storied university. We spent a large portion of our time in a small museum devoted to the work of one of Bologna’s native sons, the painter Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964).

Morandi Museum 1 Brad Nixon (640x489)

Morandi was a master of still life, and the  Museo Morandi, though relatively small, has a large collection of his work, although his major works are scattered in museums and collections around the world. The museum is housed in a portion of the Palazzo a’Accursio, entered from the Piazza Maggiore. There are numerous things to see in the Palace itself, but I’ll only mention my favorite feature, a large ramp leading up from the courtyard to the second floor (which any European refers to as the first story) so that nobles could ride their horses up into a large formal hall.

For me, the highlight of the museum was the recreation of Morandi’s studio, which was originally in the apartment he shared for decades with his sisters.

Morandi 2 Brad Nixon (516x640)

There before you is the jumbled collection of bottles, jars, bowls seashells and other objects that Morandi collected, then obsessively arranged and rearranged again and again, not only visible in his paintings, but still residing there. It’s as if they’re ready for the hand and eye of the master to take them up, place them on the jury-rigged stand he built and begin again.

I’ll happily return to Bologna, and spend a week. Or a year.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017. Scans of Museo Morandi and Morandi studio interiors are the property of Museo Morandi. (Photography is not permitted in the museum.)



  1. Great photos!


  2. Wow, you two have really covered Italy! I did not realize that you had been to so many great cities and villages. Great pix to go with the evocative text. 😍


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