Bologna's fame is closely linked to the reputation and prestige of the Alma Mater Studiorum. Renowned throughout Europe, the University of Bologna has always attracted students from all over the world. Bologna is not a city which attracts mass tourism, but instead it welcomes curious and attentive visitors.
Bologna is a city with turrets and porticos which stretch out for kilometers, but it is not ostentatious. Often, the city's most valuable treasures can be found tucked away in magnificent Renaissance palaces, in churches which have been reconsecrated and restored, beneath gateways or inside courtyards.
The city attracts a considerable amount of visitors each year to a variety of exhibitions. It offers an excellent infrastructure and quality services, which facilitate visitor's stays and help render them as pleasant and enjoyable as possible.
The historic city center, which is separated from the rest of the city by ancient walls, the Porte and a ring-road, is still reminiscent of an ancient Roman castrum (fortification), with its network of roads, intersected by both major and minor decumani (Roman roads). Inhabited by both locals and students, this area represents the focal point of the city's cultural, economic and social life.
The political and religious heart of the city can be found on the Medieval Piazza Maggiore , which can be accessed via the symbolic Piazza del Nettuno on which stands a statue of the Roman god Neptune. The piazza - a popular spot for daily walks - is living proof of the city's glorious history. It is dominated by the incomplete façade of the Basilica di San Petronio as well as numerous other elegant Medieval buildings. Even today, it evokes memories of a bygone era when Bacchanalian parties and public feast days were held here.
Another area which has retained its original structure is the Ghetto Ebraico (or Jewish Ghetto). This fascinating district is characterized by its narrow, labyrinthine streets and craftsman's workshops.
Beyond the city walls, the rest of the city looks different. This is a result of the urban development which took place after the Second World War. The reconstructions which took place after the bombings radically altered the appearance of the city, particularly in the area around the train station. One of the plans which were set in motion for this urban renewal was the widening of the Vie Ugo Bassi, Rizzoli and Indipendenza, to enable them to accommodate more shops and businesses in the name of commercialization.
Bologna is divided up into districts, the names of which are taken from those of the gateways in the ancient city walls. Much of Bologna's charm is derived from its beautiful gardens which are dotted throughout the built-up urban areas. These render the areas an altogether more pleasant place to live.
The exhibitions district is relatively modern. It is characterized by the extremely modern Kenzo Tange Towers, and was perhaps originally constructed with the aim of glorifying Bologna's historic Due Torri (Two Towers). The district is also home to the Galleria Comunale d'Arte Moderna (Municipal Gallery of Modern Art), which is housed in a building designed by Leone Pancaldi. This building is linked to the Palazzo dei Congressi which was conceived by Melchiorre Bega.
Another typical feature of Bologna is its hills. Here, you can take long walks and visit ancient villas, convents and sanctuaries. The unmistakable Santuario della Beata Vergine di San Luca (Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of San Luca) stands on the della Guardia hills. From the top, it is possible to take in a magnificent panoramic view of the plains.
There is no denying that Bologna is noted for its academic culture; the presence of one of the world's oldest universities here is testament to this fact, but there are also many other cultural aspects of which Bologna can be proud. Its cuisine, for example, never fails to delight visitors to the city: it has a culinary tradition which successfully manages to combine the traditional and the modern while never sacrificing creativity. For this reason, Bologna is known as "La Grassa", or the Fat One.
Puff pastry dishes are extremely characteristic of Bolognese cuisine. Other typical dishes include the famous, aromatic mortadella, tiny tortellini in stock and pale yellow tagliatelle in ragù (meat sauce) - which is a very popular home-cooked dish.
These tempting, fragrant dishes are always accompanied by excellent regional wines including Barbera, Bianco, Cabarnet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pignoletto, Pinot bianco, Riesling italico, Lambrusco, Sangiovese, Albana and Trebbiano Doc.
On April 16, 1972, an unusual tale about tagliatelle was recorded. Apparently, a strand of the pasta was made, measured by experts and found to be 8mm when cooked. This was worked out to be a decimal fraction (12,270) of the height of the Torre dei Asinelli (dei Asinelli Tower). A model of the strand of pasta was kept in the archives of the Chamber of Commerce. Many other bizarre stories such as this one have been recorded about the legendary Bolognese sauce.
According to popular legend, tortellini was invented by a cook who was so enchanted after having seen Venus's navel, that he decided to attempt to reproduce it with his own hands. This legend is echoed in a poem by Giuseppe Ceri entitled Venus Navel in which the last verse tells of a cross-eyed man from Bologna who was inspired to make tortellini after having seen Venus's navel!
Porta Piera The historic city center is full of pubs, pastry shops, ice cream parlors and small restaurants which serve up traditional dishes in a friendly, rustic environment. These include Belle Arti and Al Caminetto d'Oro are located a stone's throw from Piazza XVIII Agosto. The city center is also home to numerous expensive restaurants which are known throughout the country, particularly I Carracci where you can dine on haute cuisine surrounded by beautiful frescoes by the Caracci brothers themselves. If you take a walk down Via Indipendenza, one of the most well-known streets in the city, you will eventually reach the Ristorante Diana . Not far from here, down a side street off Via Indipendenza, you will find Franco Rossi . For great ethnic cuisine, and close to the train station if you're near just for a stopover, try Ru Yi for Chinese or the Piedra del Sol for Mexican.
Porta Stiera One of the most popular ethnic restaurants in the city is India , which also has another restaurant in Fiesole, near Florence.
Porta Ravegnana Not far from the tourist sights, Pappagallo - which is famous throughout Italy - is situated near the historic towers. There are plenty of pizzerias in Bologna, but it is safe to say that pizzas are not a big specialty here. As pizza is part of the southern culinary tradition, it tends to be more popular down south. Pizzerias in the city include Il Doge and Piedigrotta , both near Piazza Maggiore.