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THE U-AREA: where history meets art

Posted on 01 June 2020 From Fondazione Innovazione Urbana

Via Zamboni is a historic street connecting the Two Towers to Porta San Donato. Its Renaissance palaces, churches and chapels overlook its course.
It is a homogeneous area, filled with porticoes that stretch along the main street connecting it with many historical buildings’ through their cloisters.

Via Zamboni finds its center in Piazza Verdi, in front of the Municipal Theatre.
The museums disseminated along the street hold magnificent examples of a million-centuries old cultural heritage, that rely on civic protection and custody.

Description for Visually Impaired Visitors
The starting points are Piazza Maggiore, Via Rizzoli, Piazza di Porta Ravegnana: places where the traffic coming from various streets of the city converges. From there you can enter the ageless silence that permeates the narrow and rocky alleys of the Jewish Ghetto, often full of parked cars. Continue on Via dei Giudei, Via Canonica, Via dell’Inferno to get to Piazzetta Biagi. Though Via Valdonica you reach the Jewish Museum of Bologna: the entrance isn’t easy to spot, the audio guide is good but there is little that can be touched.
Following Via Valdonica, Vicolo Luretta and Via Marsala you reach Via Zamboni. On the other side of the street stands San Giacomo Maggiore Basilica. The width of the inside of the Basilica is a sharp contrast if compared to the narrow alleys of the Ghetto. The buzz of the street outside, on the other hand, brings the visitor back to present times. Along the portico on the right in the direction of the Viali, we find the Oratorio di Santa Cecilia. It hosts periodical concerts as well as the cycle of St. Cecily and her husband Valeriano, which consists of ten large frescoes that are also reproduced in relief. The reliefs can be visited under request.
Near the Basilica there is also a nice hidden little garden.
Later, the pavement of the portico descends in long steps into Piazza Verdi, where the silence of the Ghetto is long forgotten. Proceeding with your walk, you find Piazza Scaravilli on your left. The square got its name from the one of a  partisan who died fighting during the Italian Resistance. After the square you meet Via delle Belle Arti and the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna (National Gallery of Bologna), full of masterpieces dated back up to the  14th and the 18th Centuries. It offers only a limited number of works that can be touched, among which the relief of “Saint George and the Dragon” by Vitale da Bologna. When coming back to the centre, take Via del Guasto and follow a steep but brief way to visit the Guasto Gardens. The way back towards Piazza Ravegnana can offer you the chance to take a break in one of the many dehors you will find on your path.

Description for Visitors with Hearing Disabilities

The starting point is Piazza di Porta Ravegnana, the little square behind the Two Towers. There there is an old map that is hard to read and written in a very complex language, without images provided.

due torri

In the past Bologna was one of the cities that had the most towers in all Italy: it counted more than 200 towers just in the first circle of walls.
The two towers of Bologna, Asinelli and Garisenda, are the most famous landmark of Bologna. They were built  between the 12th and 13th Century, at the time when Italian medieval Communes reached their highest development.
The highest tower, Asinelli, was built between 1109 and 1119 and was famous eversince for its height of 97 meters. It never fell even if it got struck by lightnings and earthquakes many times. At the base of the tower there is a rocchetta that hosted soldiers on lookout.
It was firstly built in wood, than in 1488 in bricks and in 1921 it was restored.
The other tower, Garisenda, is lower than the Asinelli’s and measures 48 meters.
It presents a steep overhang due to a subsidence of the land and the foundations. Because of that, its construction was interrupted for a while. In the 14th Century it was lowered and, for this reason, it has been called torre mozza (chopped-off tower) until today.

The walls of the two towers are wider in their lower part and are made of two layers of bricks combined with cobblestone and lime. The bases are covered in blocks of selenite coming from Monte Donato.

> Corrado Ricci and Guido Zucchini, Guida di Bologna, with updates by Andrea Emiliani & Marco Poli, new ed. illustrated, San Giorgio di Piano, Minerva edizioni, 2002, pp. 129-130

Fun fact…
On April, 7th, 1878  Luciano Monari, a 19-years-old lantern maker, climbed down the Asinelli tower hanging on its lightning rod.
On May, 4th of the same year Luigi Galloni, a 26-years-old bricklayer, climbed up and down the tower in only 22 minutes and while performing gymnastic exercises.
Since that moment, many tried to climb up until the top of the tower despite the restrictions of the authorities. 

> Cent'anni fa Bologna. Angoli e ricordi della città nella raccolta fotografica Belluzzi, edited by Otello Sangiorgi & Fiorenza Tarozzi, Bologna, Costa, 2000, pp. 68-69

*Lantern Maker: maker, seller or keeper of lanterns.

Continuing on Via Zamboni, through Via dei Giudei you reach the Jewish Ghetto.

antico ghetto ebraico

The ancient Jewish ghetto, located in the Medieval heart of Bologna, still retains its original structure: many little streets with covered bridges and tiny windows. Here lived an entire community that, starting from 1556, was forced to live in this specific part of the city by the State and the Church. Jews in Bologna lived in this area until 1569, when they have been forced to move before receiving a permission to return to their homes. Then, in 1593, though, the last 900 jews remained,were definitely expelled.

For the next two centuries, Jews were not allowed to live in Bologna.

The Jewish neighbourhood had several entrances, all constantly monitored, which were opened in the morning and sealed at sunset: one was located at the beginning of via de’ Giudei, another one at the intersection between via del Carro and via Zamboni, and the third in via Oberdan up to  the arch which gives on vicolo Mandria.

The Ghetto is one of the most interesting areas of city centre, defined by the walls of buildings that belonged to wealthy Jewish merchants and bankers and full of many craft shops.

You can immediately notice a change in sound when you walk through its streets as there’s a pleasant quietness and only a few people walking. To visit the Ghetto you can follow the stops indicated by the map in the shape of the Hand of Miriam, a Jewish symbol.

via dell'inferno

After the Aquaderni gallery, turn left into Via Canonica and then right into Via dell’Inferno, walk straight on until Piazzetta Marco Biagi, that takes its name from a labour law expert that was killed in Via Valdonica in 2002. At the end of the street you find the Jewish Museum. At the entrance there is a gate that is always closed, in order to visit it it’s necessary to ring the doorbell.

museo ebraico

The Bologna Jewish Museum is located in Via Valdonica 1/5 , in the former Jewish Ghetto. It’s inside a 16th Century palace that once belonged to the Pannolini family and is now owned by the Municipality of Bologna. It measures 500 square meters and is divided in three different sections: the ground floor hosts the permanent and temporary sections, whereas the first floor is home of the documentation centre.

The permanent collection presents the theme of the Jewish identity by talking about the history of the Jewish people in the course of almost 400 years.

There’s a strong continuity between ancient, medieval and modern history until contemporary Hebraism because the new generations have always maintained strong contacts with the previous ones. Two rooms of the museum are dedicated to Jews residing Bologna and Emilia Romagna from the Middle Ages until today.
The temporary activities  section includes spaces dedicated to exhibitions, meetings, debates and educational activities for children.
Here are held conferences, workshops, seminars and book presentations organized by the museum. There is also a bookshop.

The Section of the Documentation Centre  includes a specialized library and a centre of cultural promotion that is partnered with museums, universities, libraries and research centres in Italy, Europe, Israel and the USA.

If you come back to Via Valdonica and continue until Vicolo Luretta, a narrow alley filled with parked cars, and then take Via Marsala, you go back to Via Zamboni. You have come back to the buzz and chatter typical of the University area where streets are crowded again. House numbering on doors has been the same one since the end of the 18th Century and follows the district-classification.

House numbering
There’s a strong relation between odonyms*, therefore the names of the streets in a city, and the numbering systems employed.

Identifying every house, every door that gave access to a private property had two main uses:
providing an effective instrument for taxation
facilitating the job of postmen
Until almost all of the 18th Century post was considered as goods and was subject to customs taxes which made the postal service very costly. After the French revolution, the modern postal service as we know it was born. Napoleon demanded new guidelines based on the creation of a safe, controlled and state-regulated system which was accessible to everybody (therefore, with very low costs).

The first numbering system in Bologna has also been introduced in 1794 thanks to the influence of the innovative ideas of the French that entered Bologna on June, 12th, 1796 and were greeted as liberators. The census of the households became useful for the Papal Government of the time for taxation purposes as well.

*Odonyms= theoric and linguistic study of the names of the streets and squares of a city.
The first house numbering in Bologna was organized in districts. Houses were numbered starting from number 1 until the last house at the end of the district.

In 1801 the pro-French government introduced the “lapidette” (little milestones made of stone) with street names, but the numbers had already been placed next to the house doors.

During the Middle Ages Bologna had four districts: Porta Stiera, Porta Procola, Porta Ravennate and Porta Piera.

The situation at the end of the 18th Century was more chaotic. Districts didn’t have administrative offices (as they do today) and perishes were often used to combine households together. 

There weren’t any defined borders between the districts as there had never been any need to define ones.

Following the decision to number each district, the Local  government was forced to trace the exact borders between the districts, that were also renamed.

On September, 6th, 1794 it was decided that the four districts would attain to the main city gates: Porta S. Felice, Porta Galliera, Porta Maggiore and San Mamolo. The borders of the districts became the streets that brought to the city gates. Nevertheless, this decision was not carried out and the division followed a different scheme:
San Francesco district extended from Via San Felice to Via San Mamolo.
San Domenico District from Via San Mamolo to Via Santo Stefano.
Santa Maria dei Servi district from Via Santo Stefano to Via San Vitale.
San Giacomo district from Via San Vitale to Via San Felice.
The borders of the districts converged in the heart of the city centre, specifically along Ugo Bassi and Rizzoli streets (that at the time were called Via dei Vetturini and Via di Mezzo).
The border was traced in the centre of the street, so that, for instance, the buildings of the South side of Via San Felice belonged to San Francesco District whereas the ones on the Northside to San Giacomo District. 

At first, it was suggested to colour the house signs with different colours referring to the different districts. Therefore, the first result of the first numbering was the following:
1444 red numbers for San Francesco District.
1553 black numbers for San Domenico District.
979 blue numbers for Santa Maria dei Servi District.
3378 yellow numbers for San Giacomo district.
The use of different colours was abandoned in 1801, after the lapidette (little milestones) bearing the name of the districts were introduced. This created cases of confusion in the border streets.
These number signs resisted until 1878 (many of them are still visible today).
With the unification of Italy in 1861 the new government issued a norm that forced the city to review its numbering system.
Between 1873 and 1874 Bologna considered a reform for what concerns both toponyms (names of places) and house numbering.
These events are described in detail in the book “Le Vie di Bologna, saggio di toponomastica storica” (Bologna, 2000) by Mario Fanti.
In the chapter “Dall’odonomastica popolare all’odonomastica ufficiale” (From Popular to Official Odonyms) the author describes three different periods:
1st period “of the archaic or spontaneous odonymy”: Since its origins up until 1801. Absence of official odoniymy. Absence of a numbering system. First initiatives of house numbering.
2nd period or “period of the contemporary pre-unification odonymy: From 1801 to 1878.
Official odonymy through Lapidette and numbers per district.
3rd period or period of contemporary, post-unification or mature odonomy: since 1878 until today.
Reviewed odonomys (abolition of many generic urbanistic names), attempt to standardize the system through the use of the word Via for streets, Vicolo for alleys and Piazza for squares and introduction of the modern numeration system that takes the street as reference.
To continue the tour, turn left to visit  San Giacomo Maggiore Basilica. Inside you can find beautiful works of Renaissance art. Don’t miss the Bentivoglio and Poggi chapels.
There aren’t any descriptive panels inside the Basilica.

san giacomo maggiore

The Church of San Giacomo Maggiore was built between 1267 and 1315 by the Eremite friars of Sant'Agostino. Renovated at the end of the 15h century, San Giacomo presents forms deriving from a pastiche of different styles: Romanesque on the outside, Gothic (The Sacristy and some Chapels) and late Renaissance (nave and some Chapels) on the inside. Inside there is a single large and bright nave with two famous art treasures:  the Bentivoglio Chapel and the Poggi Chapel.
The first, desired by the Bentivoglio family, was commissioned in 1445 by Annibale I Bentivoglio and then enlarged in 1486 by the will of Giovanni Bentivoglio. It’s still today one of the masterpieces of the early Renaissance in Bologna.
The second chapel was designed in 1561 by Pellegrino Tibaldi for Cardinal Giovanni Poggi. The architect Tibaldi decorated it with many paintings among which the Baptism of Christ, the Stories of St. John the Baptist and other works of art:

the tomb of Anton Galeazzo Bentivoglio decorated by Jacopo della Quercia in 1453;
San Rocco painting by Ludovico Carracci;
two wooden crucifixes by i Jacopo di Paolo of the 15th Century
several gothic and precious Polyptychs* of the 16th and 17th Centuries and, in the Chapels, of the 17th Century.

*Polyptych: is a painting (usually panel painting) which is divided into sections, or panels.

The Renaissance portico that flanks the church is extremely elegant, with its fluted columns in sandstone that are rich of carved friezes. In the portico there are many gothic  sections that are painted and house the tombs.
The portico leads to the church of Santa Cecilia, decorated with splendid frescoes that depict episodes from the life of Saint Cecilia and San Valeriano, executed in 1504-06 by the best masters of the Bolognese school.

Source: “Curia Arcivescovile e le Chiese di Bologna (l’inchiostro blu)”

Turn right on Via Zamboni until the Oratory of St.Cecilia. At the entrance there is a hidden little garden to welcome you.
oratorio santa cecilia

The Oratory of Saint Cecilia and Valeriano is situated along the portico near the church of San Giacomo Maggiore.
It was previously a roman church. Giovanni II Bentivoglio, lord of Bologna, made it smaller and commissioned the frescoes to preserve its paintings, that are among the most important works of the Bolognese Renaissance.

The paintings were started by some of the most well-known artists of the Bentivoglio court, such as Francesco Francia, Lorenzo Costa and Amico Aspertini, and they were completed by less famous artists.

The frescoes cover the right and left walls at the oratory entrance. In ten panels, divided by pilaster strips* decorated with grotesques*, events of St. Cecily's life and her husband Valeriano are described. They are set at the age of Pope Urbano 1st, when the two saints became martyrs because they did not recant their Christian faith.

*Pilaster strip: Architectural term for a narrow, low-relief, vertical pillar in a wall.
*Grotesque: Decoration on walls or sculpture in the form of fantastical plants or creatures intertwined with human figures, animals and oddly-deformed masks.

Proceed along the portico until Piazza Verdi, located at the centre of Via Zamboni.
piazza verdi
It is the heart of the university district, used as crowded meeting point of students or location for demonstrations. On the square faces also Teatro Comunale, whose entrance is in Largo Respighi.

The Teatro Comunale stands on the site where previously stood the Bentivoglio palace, which was destroyed in 1507. The theatre was designed by Antonio Galli Bibbiena and was inaugurated in 1763. Later over the years, the inside of the theatre was frescoed and several renovations were carried out.

The new theatre was inaugurated on May, 19th, 1805. During the autumn season of the same year, Gioachino Rossini, at the time 13-years-old, performed for the first time in Teatro del Corso (which no longer exists). He played the role of Adolfo in Paer’s opera Camilla. During those years Rossini, who would soon become the main protagonist of Italian Opera, was studying in Bologna in the new Bologna music school. Some years later, Rossini came back to the Teatro Comunale as a famous and established artist. In 1842  his opera “Stabat Mater”, directed by Gaetano Donizetti, came to Bologna and was performed in the old university building Archiginnasio.

Going back to Teatro Comunale and its history, in 1931 new adjustments were carried out following the fire that destroyed the stage. The front façade  was completed only in 1937. The square in front of the theatre is called Piazza Verdi and occupies the site that was once part of the Scuderie Bentivoglio, the stables of the Bentivoglio family, destroyed along with their palace.

In 1692 they became the headquarters of Monte della Canapa, the Mount of Pity of the city which is the first example of simple credit with anticipation of goods.
The lunette under the portico depicts the deposition with Saint Anthony and was made by Giovanni Francesco Spini in 1692.
After a few last steps in Via Zamboni, we reach Piazza Scaravilli which is often used as location for events and performances organized by the Municipality or the University.
piazza scaravilli

Piazza Antonino Scaravilli
The first documents in which the square figures with its current name date back to 1955. The square, though, was built after 1937. In 1941 it was already opened but didn’t include the quadrangle* that today opens onto Via Zamboni.

In order to build the square all the houses of Via Zamboni numbered between 40 and 54 were torn down. This is still visible today as the numbers of the buildings near the square pass directly from 38 to 56.

On July, 18th, 1955 the square was given its current name by a council resolution.

Quadrangle*: squared courtyard surrounded by a porch.

At the end of Via Zamboni you reach Piazza Puntoni and if you turn left you find the entrance to the National Gallery of Bologna (Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna)

pinacoteca nazionale

Description for visitors with motor disabilities: 

Starting from Piazza Maggiore reach the intersection with Via Rizzoli and then turn right. Walk along the porticoes of Via Rizzoli until the traffic lights and then cross on the crosswalk to reach Piazza di Porta Ravegnana.
torre asinelli
Via Zamboni is on the left side. From the beginning of Via Zamboni until the entrance to the porticoes on the left side of the street, in the direction of the Viali, the pavement is a bit bumpy.
The access to the porticoes doesn’t have any steps and the pavement underneath is smooth.
After Piazzetta Achille Ardigò, go to the right side of the porticoes as it doesn’t present any obstacles and then go on until you cross Piazza Rossini to reach San Giacomo Maggiore Basilica.

san giacomo maggiore

After that you arrive to the Oratory of Saint Cecilia.

san giacomo maggiore

The portico ends with a staircase just before Piazza Verdi and to continue the tour you must go back until Piazza Rossini, go outside the portico and stay along the bike path for a little, to then come back under the portico.
piazza verdi
When you reach Piazza Verdi turn slightly and stay on the right outside of the portico of Teatro Comunale because otherwise the way ends with two steps.

In order to enter the Theatre ask for the ramp. When you come back to Via Zamboni you can enter again the porticoes on the left side of the street until Piazza Puntoni as they don’t present any obstacles. You can cross it without difficulty and then turn left in Via delle Belle Arti to enter the National Gallery of Bologna. In order to do that, continue in Via delle Belle Arti until number 52 where you can find a ramp.

via belle arti

After that, go along the portico on the right whose pavement is smooth and you’ll find the entrance to the Gallery.


The door is very wide and it’s always open at opening hours. Immediately on the right you’ll find the ticket office: the desk is 114 cm tall. Just after the ticket office there’s a ramp that is 110cm wide.

This service was conceived during the co-designing process U-area for all as part of the European project ROCK. ROCK was financed by the Horizon 2020 Innovative Action program with the aim of promoting accessibility to cultural heritage in the University District of Bologna.




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