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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Renaissance Cities--Bologna, Italy

Bologna's iconic Neptune Fountain located in the center of the city,
the work of sculptor, Giambologna, completed about 1567
Bologna--one of Italy's most important
cities during the Renaissance.
I've spoken of this before, and I shall probably do so again, reacting in disgust, despair, and dismay as to how inwardly focused Americans are when it comes to the world in which we live. That complaint falls across the line to include, culture, poli-tics, economics, geography, en-tertainment, and any number of other areas. For example, if you mention the Renaissance city of Bologna, Italy, the first thing Americans think of is lunchmeat. We've even destroyed any rela-tionship of this culinary favorite to its city of origin by coming to call in "baloney." I dare say, most Americans are only vaguely aware (if at all) that there even exists a city in Italy called Bologna. Yet this city is home to the oldest university in the world. Its artists, intellectuals, scientists, and educators are respected the world over, both now and in the past. Famed also for its covered walkways, the city boast the longest continuous arcade in the world (some four miles in length) leading from the city center and climbing up a nine-hundred foot mountain (okay, a fair-sized hill) some 666 arches to a monastery, parts of which are a thousand years old. The city itself is more than twice that old, the earliest settlements dating back to the Etruscans of pre-Roman times around 1000 BC.

Postcard views of Bologna's old city, its walls, its gates, its churches, it's arcades,
its fountain, even its own "twin towers."
le Due Torri
Like virtually every city of any size and of similar age on the Italian peninsula, Bologna has had a long, colorful, turbulent, and tragic history. Having been along the invasion route for every foreign conqueror and raider raining down on the ancient Roman Empire, the city has seen its share of war, death and destruction while having only brief periods of self-rule. And even during those periods, "peace" was a rare commodity as dozens of wealthy families fought little internecine feuds, battles, and wars among themselves for political and economic dominance. At one time during the 12th and 13th-centuries as many as 180 fortress watchtowers, each the home of a different wealthy family, dotted the maze of ancient Roman streets (and this in the days before elevators). The place looked like a medieval version of lower Manhattan (below). Today only about twenty still exist their upper levels long since torn down. Only two, the Asinelli and Garisenda Towers (referred to as the "le Due Torri") survive as soaring landmarks rising above the city skyline. Your eyes aren't deceiving you, they do tend to lean a little.

WW II bombs and urban development have eliminated all but a few such towers today.
Bologna has seven major churches dating from the Renaissance era when Bologna was one of several papal states ruled by the church after Pope Julius II (yes, Michelangelo's nemesis) conquered the city in 1508. One of them, San Petronio, was intended to be larger than St. Peter's in Rome until the city ran out of money (or the Pope put a stop to such foolish daydreams). It would seem they also ran out of money when it came to completing the facade of the church (below), begun in the 17th century, it remains less than half finished to this day. As many as four famous architects, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Vignola, Andrea Palladio and Alberto Alberti submitted designs to complete the project, but no one could agree on which one to choose, so they chose not to choose.

Bologna's San Petronio, begun in 1390 and named for a 5th-century local saint.
Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna
One or two other churches in Italy lack facades, but San Petronio is the only one with a half-completed facade. They may not agree on the outside, but inside each church the effect is nothing short of magnificent. Inside each of Bologna's seven churches, the Italian appre-ciation for Gothic interiors with Baroque dec-orations makes itself felt (below). The city's Bas-ilica of San Domenico is Romanesque in design but relies upon frescoes as well as sculptural works for it's embellishments. San Petronio is a little easier on the eyes, favoring lighter, masses, and the light and delights of Gothic stained glass over massive walls and immense, heavily adorned arches. Vignola was chief architect of the Fabbrica, which includes some twenty-two chapels, named for and paid for by the city's wealthiest families. It was a time when each of Bologna's powerful families bought their own chapel and built their own skyscraper.

The interior of Bologna's Basilica San Petronio
If you should visit Bologna on a rainy day, the city has you covered (literally). In the summer, Bologna tends to be a rather hot and muggy city, prone to long periods of rainfall and corresponding periods of drought. Each year since 1433 there has been a traditional procession down from the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca overlooking the city carrying an icon purported to be a painting of the Virgin Mary and Jesus painted by Saint Luke. Everyone knows you should never allow a painting to get wet--hence the Portico di San Luca--all four miles of it. The whole thing seemed like such a good idea to the Bolognese that they constructed another twenty-four miles of such covered porticos around and about the city. By the way, there's now a road up the hill, which replaced a cable car discontinued in 1976.

A pilgrimage not for the faint of heart (unless you have a car).
The Bolognese School of painting flourished in Bologna, during the Italian Renaissance beginning around 1500 through the Mannerist and Baroque periods to around 1700. Bologna rivalled Florence and Rome as the center of painting. Its most important representatives include the Carracci family, Ludovico and his two cousins, the brothers Agostino and Annibale. Later, Bologna was the home of several prominent Baroque painters such as Domenichino and Lanfranco, and eventually Guercino and Guido Reni, students at the Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna, run by Lodovico Carracci. The Carracci studio sought innovation and invention, pursuing new ways to break free from traditional modes of painting while looking for inspiration from their literary contemporaries. The studio formulated a style that was distinguished from the recognized manners of art in their time. This style was seen as both systematic and imitative, borrowing motifs from the past Roman schools of art while at the same time pursuing a modernistic approach.

Wars, political infighting, an plague have been hard on the city,
but a surprising amount antiquity has survived.

If the upper map looks a bit strange, it's because I inverted it to
correspond with the modern-day tourist map just above.


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