Sunday 18 December 2011

Bologna and Ferrara - June 2011

When we visit Emma in Zürich we usually manage to fit in an additional short break.  This time it was all the way to Italy, to the region of Emilia-Romagna which sweeps down from the southern banks of the river Po to the mountains of Tuscany and central Italy.  We stayed in Bologna and also visited Ferrara.  It was a wonderful break and we were blessed with warm, sunny weather.  In the middle of a dark and cold Scottish winter, this is a good time to remember the heat and sunshine of Italy.
Bologna is the capital of the region and is also the biggest city.  In the centre is a very large piazza, suitably named Piazza Maggiore.  You can see one view of it above.  It is usually very crowded and is surrounded by narrow side streets with lots of cafés, bars and restaurants.  The narrow side streets were a feature of Bologna and here are three of them in the collage below.
A rather strange feature of Bologna we found was that once you got away from the main square the surrounding streets became almost empty of people.  There were hardly any shops and very few bars or cafés.  Most strange.  Another rather disconcerting facet of Bologna was the very poor state of the buildings in the old town.  The façades of just about all the old buildings had been left unkept and were covered in peeling plaster and often ugly grafitti.  Here is an example.
Of course the city does have some wonderful examples of Renaissance and medieval architecture.  Here are two doorways to admire.
One of Bologna's famous nicknames is la dotta (the learned), which refers to its university, which is apparently the oldest in not just Italy, but the whole of Europe.  Many of its faculties are located just off the city centre in some lovely old buildings.  Here is Kathleen by a very old courtyard with an even older statue behind her.
Another nickname is la grassa (the fat one), and this harks back to Bologna's fame as a centre of cuisine.  We can certainly attest to this as we ate very well while there.  Just off the centre is a small area of very narrow streets which must have been the home to the old markets of the city.  Here you can still find a lovely and appetising array of little shops selling just about everything you need to make a delicious gourmet meal.  Here are a few of the shop fronts.
In addition to Bologna we took in a day trip to Ferrara.  This is another very old city, though a much smaller one.  It is the capital of the province of the same name and is clearly home to a lot of very rich people, past and present.  Like Bologna, Ferrara has a very large and grand central square.  This is not really a square, but a longuish rectangle and goes by the grand name of Piazza Trento e Trieste.  One side of the piazza is mostly taken up by the side façade of the cathedral.  As you can see from the photo below, the good burghers of Ferrara were quite happy to mix religion with commerce.  The street level is used for shops.  
Just round the corner you get to see the marvellous Romanesque front façade.  Another stunning part of the cathedral is the campanile, which dates from Renaissance times.  Inside, you are just overwhelmed by the richness of the place.  It is full of richly ornate sculptures, painting and decorations.  Clearly Ferrara was once a very wealthy place.  Probably still is.  Here is the front façade and the campanile.
Another similarity with Bologna was the narrow streets that led away from the main square.  Some were busy with shoppers, but most were pretty empty.  Here are some.
Like almost all Italian cities, Ferrara has some truly outstanding and beautiful buildings.  Here is one, which is not a particularly famous one, but is lovely in its harmony and the colour of its façade.
Not everything in Ferrara was old or formal.  On the corner of one of the main streets we came across this little bear blowing bubbles.  We all loved it, especially Alessio, who could have spent the whole day chasing the bubbles.
Just going over these photos has warmed me up a bit.  Roll on next summer.

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