The question I asked myself once arrived in Bologna was: ‘Can I love a city like it was a person?’. And immediately the answer was ‘yes, absolutely yes’.
Italy is full of worldwide famous cities. Rome, Venice and Florence are icons of Italian art, history and food, while Naples is probably the most folkloristic and bizarre city in the whole country. ‘Once you see Naples, you can die happy’ is a quip all Italians have heard in their life. Milan, on the contrary, is the European city par exellence, the centre of business, fashion and welfare. It is the typical place where ‘public transport always arrives on time’, and it represents the opposite soul of Italy.
A hidden gem
Although all of these cities are famously worth visiting, there is another probably less known one that will steal your heart. I’m talking about Bologna, a beautiful and unique city in the North of Italy. The Italian novelist Italo Calvino, in his Invisible cities (1972) writes: ‘You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours’. I understood what he meant only after arriving in Bologna, so I decided to start living there. It is impossible to explain how immediately Bologna can make you feel at home, you just have to go there, wander around the colourful, tangled streets and soak up the atmosphere. And you will find yourself in a huge, old house, full of art and history to discover.
Indeed, Bologna has a long and stratified past. Settled around 1000 BCE, it was later founded as an Etruscan city. In 196 BCE, it was colonised by the Romans under the name of Bononia. But the height of its splendour was during the Middle Ages, when it became one of the largest cities in Europe by population. So far, nothing really different from lots of other Italian cities. However, if we move on to the 20th century, we can see how much Bologna represented a mirror of the Italian post-war era, with its deep changes and contradictions.
Almost destroyed by massive aerial bombardments during the World War II, this city became a very important centre of the Italian resistance movement against the Fascist regime and, in early Republican age, it was the stronghold of the Communist Party. During the last decades of the century, Bologna went through a turbulent period of violent street clashes between the police and the Movimento del ’77, a spontaneous political movement founded by groups of the extra-parliamentary left. Moreover, the beginning of the 80s was characterized by a tragic explosion of a bomb in the Central Station that killed 85 people and wounded over 200. After a 15 years-long trial, the attack was attributed to three members of the NAR (Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari), a neo-fascist terrorist organization. Finally, it has been proved the responsibility of the headmasters of the Masonic, ultra-right association, P2, and of the Italian Military Intelligence and Security Service as well for investigation diversion.
The oldest unviersity in the World
Nowadays, conflicts, protests, heart-felt ideas and political ferment are still typical aspects of Bologna, also thanks to its animated University. Founded in 1088, it is considered the oldest university in the World. It has always attracted scholars form the whole of Italy and from Europe as well, including Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Copernicus and, in more recent times, the inventor of the radio, Guglielmo Marconi. With more than 80,000 students every year, the University of Bologna is the oxygen of the city and is still one of the most prestigious public universities in the country.
Last but not least, Bologna has a well-established culinary tradition. The Bolognese sauce (ragù, in Italian) is famous worldwide, but also tortellini, lasagne, tagliatelle (no, ‘spaghetti bolognaise’ does not exist in Italy!) are typical dishes you can find in every restaurant and especially in the very informal, noisy and easy-going ‘osterie‘. Food is a very serious thing for Italian people, as it represents something to prepare for your loved ones and to be shared with them. If you ask an Italian to associate something to a sweet childhood memory, he will probably mention ‘the smell of the Sunday lunch’, when all the family usually get together. This atmosphere is perfectly recreated in the osterie of Bologna, where you can find those smells and, therefore, the feeling of being at home.
Only you, Bologna
Going back to the quote by Calvino, the question I asked myself once arrived in Bologna was: ‘Can I love a city like it was a person? A place that makes me feel at home, that gives me the feeling I have always been part of it but that, at the same time, astonishes me every single day as if it was the first time we meet?’. And immediately the answer was ‘yes, absolutely yes’.