If it weren’t for Radiohead, I would probably not have included Bologna in my travel itinerary. Although we eventually landed up booking the concert in Amsterdam, Bologna stayed stuck in my list of places to visit in Italy. Something about it was intriguing, and the fact that it’s not as ‘touristy’ as some of the other Italian destinations, despite being the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy, worked for me. On reading up about Bologna, it was interesting to learn that over the years it has acquired many monikers and it still continues to do so, in the recent years being declared as UNESCO City of Music and European Capital of Culture before that. On my first day itself in Bologna, I came across a band by the streetside playing amazing jazz. So from classical to electronic, jazz, folk and opera, there’s much to tune into.
Three of its other nicknames stayed pinned in my memory, and during my time in Bologna, I couldn’t help but relate my sightings to those nicknames, more so because they were so evident.
La Dotta, meaning ‘the learned one’, is with reference to Bologna being a popular hub for scholars and students as it houses the oldest university in the Western world. You can take a tour of the university, which is beautifully maintained with polished woodwork, exquisite wood carvings, colourful wall paintings, dramatic wall frames and plaques and high arches that evoke an old world charm.
The Anatomical Theatre is a prime attraction with a lean table at the centre, which was used for studies of the human body through the presentation of autopsy. Eery enough for goosebumps! Even before stepping into the classical building, and having seen pictures of the Anatomical Theatre before, I had wondered if I would be able to locate it at all. But soon enough, walking around an upstairs floor I had wandered right into it.
La Rossa implies ‘the red one’. Much like other Italian cities, Bologna’s red terracotta rooftops are unmissable. Despite many wars, and having undergone various changes, Piazza Maggiore, the square right in the heart of the historical centre, has been well-preserved. I walked around aimlessly, and couldn’t help but marvel at the old architecture with myriad textures, endless porticoes, high towers and marvellous churches. Every tiny lane was charming too with tall windows leading out to a little balcony and antique street lamps lighting up the way.
For as much as it’s dominant colour and architectural hues, La Rossa also alludes to the city’s Leftist political leaning, particularly during and after World War 2. The city was a stronghold of the Resistance during the war, and endured occupation from September 1943 up until it’s liberation in April 1945. Situated alongside Piazza Maggiore, next to the city’s famous Fountain of Neptune is a memorial made up with tablets of portraits of all the martyrs who were executed by fascists during WW2. The numbers are shocking, revealing a very dark history.
La Grassa translates to ‘the fat one’. Italians’ love for food is no secret, and in Bologna you get to savour the best of Italian ingredients and produce from around the region such as Parma Ham, Parmesan, Balsamic Vinegar, Cured Meats, Antipasti and Bologna’s very own Mortadella!
Though the famous Spaghetti Bolognese is commonly associated with Bologna, in reality, the locals have never heard of any such dish. A pasta they love is Tagliatelle, which they toss up with ragu. And then there are endless Gelateria, which can make anyone give in to temptation and indulge.
If you love cooking, a walk through the local market is a delight where you can pick fresh and vibrant veggies and fruit, or go about eating an endless array of Italian delicacies.
At the end of your stay, don’t be surprised when you come up with another nickname for
Bologna. Afterall, it has so much to offer.