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Bologna See And Do

1 Piazza Galvani
Italy 40124
Tel: 39 051 276 811

Students from all over Europe come to study at Bologna's university, the oldest on the Continent, founded in 1088. By the 16th century, most of its colleges and departments were consolidated in this palazzo, which now houses the Civic Library and a wealth of antique manuscripts, drawings, and photos. The building's walls and ceilings are lined with coats of arms of former rectors, professors, and students. On the upper floor is the wood-paneled Teatro Anatomico, where faculty conducted human dissections in centuries past. Two wooden scannati, or skinned bodies, support a canopy over the professor's chair. A papal emissary once watched these procedures through a grate opposite the chair, making sure the brain and heart (two body parts the church considered off-limits) were not touched by the knife.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 9 am to 1 pm.


Every day is market day in Bologna. Locals and tourists alike haggle for fresh fruits and veggies, spiffy leather handbags, and antique furniture at these center-city street fairs. (Watch your wallet though: Pickpockets have been known to "shop" there too.)

The largest is La Piazzola (Piazza VIII Agosto, 348/006-2204, every Friday and Saturday), a great place to pick up shoes, crafts, fabrics, and a huge selection of vintage clothes. For produce and seafood, don't miss the Mercato di Mezzo (Via Pescherie Vecchie) and Mercato delle Erbe (Via Ugo Bassi, 051/230-186).

Collectors love bargaining for antiques and knickknacks at Celo' Celo' Mamanca (Piazza San Martino and Via Valdonica every Thursday) and San Stefano (Via San Stefano, second Sunday of the month except July and August). The Decomela market (Via San Giuseppe) is the place for arts and handicrafts.

There are ten regular markets and various seasonal markets selling holiday sweets and Christmas decorations. Check the tourism office's Web site for the entire schedule (, click on the link for "events" and then go to "markets").

Museo di Arte Moderna di Bologna
14 Via Don Minzoni
Italy 40121
Tel: 39 051 649 6611

Inaugurated in December 2007, the Museo di Arte Moderna di Bologna—a.k.a. MAMbo—finally gives the city a contemporary art space worthy of its reputation as a creative hotbed. Housed in the former municipal bakery, not far from the train station, the new museum hosts regular exhibitions, performances, film screenings, and concerts. There's also a permanent collection (previously exhibited in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna), with works of mostly local artists from the end of the 18th century to the present day. A well-stocked bookshop and funky café-restaurant complete the MAMbo experience.

Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm.

Museo di Palazzo Poggi
33 Via Zamboni
Italy 40125
Tel: 39 051 209 9398

The present-day home of the University Rectorate as well as a number of faculties, Palazzo Poggi is a huge frescoed pile that dates back to the mid-16th century. On the upper floor, a series of museums and exhibition spaces chart the history and scientific pursuits of the university. Highlights include naturalist Ulisse Aldrovandi's herbarium and collections of natural wonders (including giant tortoise shells), and an extraordinary (and often gruesome) collection of wax anatomical and medical models. The Museo della Specola, housed in a purpose-built observatory that dates back to 1721, features astrolabes, sundials, and armillary spheres. The spiral staircase that leads to the top of the tower was the site of a 1790 experiment that allowed Gian Battista Guglielmi to prove that the earth spins on its axis—by observing the tiny vertical deviations of objects dropped from the top.

Open Mondays through Fridays 10 am to 1 pm, Saturdays 2 to 4 pm, and Sundays and public holidays 10:30 am to 1:30 pm and 2:30 to 5:30 pm.

Museo Ducati
3 Via Cavalieri Ducati
Italy 40132
Tel: 39 051 641 3343

A sharply designed tribute to the city's legendary red motorbikes and 50 years of motorcycle racing, the Ducati Museum is housed in an annex of the company's factory in the eastern suburbs of Bologna. The main area consists of an illuminated racetrack on which 33 bikes—from the cute postwar Cuccciolo to the mighty modern Desmosedici—are arranged in chronological order. Seven themed rooms then take visitors through the history and significant technical advances of the company in more detail. Admission is via guided tour: Weekdays require booking, but on Saturdays, just arrive and hook up with a tour.

Tours Mondays through Fridays from 11 am to 4 pm, Saturdays 9:30 am to 1 pm.

Museu Morandi
6 Piazza Maggiore
Italy 40121
Tel: 39 051 203 332

This museum is located on the top floor of 14th-century Palazzo d'Accursio (Bologna's town hall). Giorgio Morandi, the city's most famous contemporary artist, was obsessed by still lifes, painting endless arrangements of bottles, jars, jugs, and the occasional tin. On rare occasions, just to vary the diet, he painted what he could see from the window of his studio: rooftops or a tangle of trees in the courtyard. His study and writings are also on display here.

Open Tuesdays through Fridays 9 am to 3 pm; Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays 10 am to 6:30 pm.

Piazza Maggiore

This huge pedestrian square is the center of Bolognese life. It's a great place for people-watching (locals on their daily strolls, well-dressed workers sitting at café tables sipping their cappuccinos, children squealing at street performers) or for starting a guided tour (information and times at the IAT tourist office in the square), as most major attractions and historical monuments are within walking distance. The piazza is also flanked by several architectural gems: the Palazzo d'Accursio (whose clock tower is Bologna's Big Ben), Palazzo Podesta (the city's law court in the 14th century), and the imposing Basilica di San Petronio, with its rugged, unfinished facade.

Pinacoteca Nazionale
56 Via delle Belle Arti
Italy 40125
Tel: 39 051 420 9411

The city's main gallery features a heavyweight collection of paintings of the Bolognese and Emilian schools from the 14th century to the present, including works by Vitale da Bologna, Raphael, Perugino, the Carracci brothers, and Guido Reni. Highlights include Raphael's exquisite Ecstasy of Santa Cecilia and Reni's gloriously camp Samson Victorious.

San Petronio
Piazza Maggiore
Italy 40121
Tel: 39 051 225 442

Designed by Antonio di Vincenzo in 1390, Bologna's unfinished cathedral is one of Italy's finest and largest Gothic buildings. Of particular note, the main entrance contains a striking collection of bas-relief panels of Old Testament scenes by 15th-century sculptor Jacopo della Quercia. Inside, treasures include the country's oldest organ, an ancient sundial (a small hole in the roof provides the beam of sunlight), archways, historic glass windows, a canopy above the high altar by Vignola, and frescoes by Giovanni de Modena with scenes from Dante's Divine Comedy. The church was originally designed to be larger than St. Peter's in Rome, but the Pope called a halt to construction several centuries after work began. Today, the Basilica's wide steps are a great place to take in the everyday street theater of Piazza Maggiore.

Santo Stefano
24 Piazza Santo Stefano
Italy 40125
Tel: 39 051 223 256

Located in a quaint cobbled square, Santo Stefano is a magnificent complex of churches, cloisters, and courtyards dating back to the fifth century, all apparently built over a Roman-era temple of Isis. Veined alabaster windows fill the Byzantine church of Santi Vitale e Agricola with a glowing orange light; next door, the 12-sided Chiesa di Santo Sepolcro, with its Roman columns and central tomb of Bolognese patron saint Petronius, feels more pagan temple than Christian shrine. Under the arcades that run along the south side of the square, young Bolognesi can be seen skating in the evenings.

Santuario di San Luca
36 Via di San Luca
Italy 40135
Tel: 39 051 614 2339

A Bolognese landmark with breathtaking views, the sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca sits atop a hill two miles from the city center. Once a year, locals make the pilgrimage there to worship a Byzantine icon of the Virgin during Ascension. Nearly two and a half miles of walkway (consisting of 660 porticos) link the shrine with town and provide a shelter for the procession, which has occurred every year since 1433. Energetic visitors and joggers also make the trek on a daily basis. The path is covered all the way, so it can be done rain or shine.

Torre degli Asinelli
Piazza di Porta Ravegnana
Italy 40126

More than 200 towers, built by the aristocracy as symbols of wealth and power, once pierced Bologna's skyline. Thirty remain today, many incorporated into later palazzi. Two of them—skewed,157-foot Garisenda and its more upright companion, 321-foot Asinelli—are the city's iconic towers. You can climb Asinelli's worn wooden staircase for a panoramic view of the city; the 498 steps are a lung-busting workout. But there's a payoff: One of Bologna's best photo ops awaits up top.

Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, April through October, and 9 am to 5 pm, November through March.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.