Bologna Introduction Walking Tour, Bologna

Bologna Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Bologna

Bologna is the Emilia-Romagna region's capital. This large northern city is the seventh most populous city in Italy and has been a vital cultural center for millennia.

Archeological discoveries indicate the area has been settled since the third millennium BC. First, the Etruscans settled the area, then the Celts, and then the Romans. During the Middle Ages, Bologna was a free municipality and one of the largest cities in Europe.

During the fifth century, Bishop Petronius, later Bologna's patron saint, rebuilt Bologna after the Goths damaged it. The University of Bologna, established in 1088, is the oldest in the Western world. Long-standing educational tradition gives Bologna an energetic character.

Today, visitors can soak up the fascinating history, gorgeous architecture, and vibrant culture of old Bologna. The Piazza Maggiore is the cultural and geographical heart of the city. Many of the magnificent buildings in the square date to the 14th and 15th centuries.

Visitors will find the Accursio Palace, home of the Salaborsa Library. From the library, visitors can see ruins dating back to the seventh century BC. The Basilica of San Petronio dates to the late 14th century and dominates Piazza Maggiore. The Fountain of Neptune is another don't-miss site in the ancient square.

Visitors interested in the religious history of Bologna will love the St. Stephen Complex. Seven historical sites remind the faithful of Jerusalem and Jesus's life and resurrection. The oldest church in this complex, the Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola, was built before 393 AD. Several impressive towers dominate the skyline. Visitors will love climbing the tallest leaning tower in Italy, the Asinelli Tower.

Take this self-guided tour to explore the impressive history and culture of Bologna.
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Bologna Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Bologna Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Bologna (See other walking tours in Bologna)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Piazza Maggiore (Main Square)
  • Basilica of San Petronio
  • Archiginnasio of Bologna
  • Santa Maria della Vita (Church of Holy Mary of Life)
  • Mercato di Mezzo (Mezzo Market)
  • Santo Stefano (St. Stephen Complex)
  • Two Towers (Asinelli and Garisenda)
  • Via Rizzoli (Rizzoli Street)
  • Biblioteca Salaborsa (Salaborsa Library)
  • Fountain of Neptune
  • Cattedrale di San Pietro (St. Peter Cathedral)
  • Torre Prendiparte ( Prendiparte Tower)
  • Via Indipendenza (Independence Street)
Piazza Maggiore (Main Square)

1) Piazza Maggiore (Main Square) (must see)

Piazza Maggiore is an ancient square that serves as the heart of old Bologna. Its origins date back to 1200 AD when the Municipality sought to bring city activities together in one spot. The square was expanded in the 14th century, and many grand buildings were added in the 16th century. This grand square is one of the oldest in Italy.

Today, many landmarks surround Piazza Maggiore. Visitors will find the impressive Basilica of San Petronio, the Notary Palace, the Accursio Palace and the Clock Tower, the Podesta Palace, and the Bianchi Palace. In the center of the square, visitors will also find the magnificent Fountain of Neptune.

The square features a raised area referred to as Crescentone, as it resembles a Crescenta style bread. During the Allied operation that freed Bologna in 1945, Allied tanks damaged the Crescentone. The Bolognese left the damage to commemorate this historic day.

In July and August, the Under the Stars Cinema film festival is held in the square. Over 3,000 chairs are placed on the Crescentone and the square turns into one of Italy's largest outdoor cinemas.

In addition to the large concentration of gorgeous and historic buildings, Piazza Maggiore has many cafes and restaurants. Dine outdoors and watch the activity in the busy square.

Why You Should Visit

The historic square is home to beautiful architecture, historic buildings and is the cultural heart of Bologna. The main streets of Bologna radiate from Piazza Maggiore.


The main tourist office is located in the square and is a great resource for visitors.
Basilica of San Petronio

2) Basilica of San Petronio (must see)

The Basilica of San Petronio is dedicated to the patron saint of Bologna, Saint Petronius. The church has been called the most imposing church in Bologna and is one of the most significant buildings on the Piazza Maggiore. It's the sixth-largest church in Europe.

Work on the Basilica began in 1390 and continued throughout the centuries. In the 1500s, a new architect planned to enlarge the Basilica to compete with St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. However, the work was too complicated and never completed. The Basilica was consecrated in 1954. In 2000, Saint Petronio's relics were moved from the Santo Stefano Church to the Basilica.

The current facade was begun in 1538 but has never been completed. It was designed using cosmological and esoteric "diagramming." The facade is divided into two horizontal bands. The upper band is unfinished and shows exposed brick. The lower band was covered in red and white marble during the 16th century.

The main doorway features a variety of carved scenes. The pillars feature scenes from the Old Testament. The archivolt features carvings of 18 prophets. The architrave has scenes from the New Testament, and the tympanum has a Madonna and Child, Saint Petronius, and Saint Ambrose. Michelangelo called the evocative Madonna and Child the most beautiful of the 15th century.

The side doors were originally built in 1500 and decorated by different artists throughout the years. The campanile was constructed in the 1400s and is an impressive 65-meters tall. The four bells are hand rung using traditional techniques.

The Basilica of San Petronio houses the world's longest indoor meridian line. The line measures 66.8 meters (219.16 feet) and was inlaid in 1656. A sunray enters from a hole in the vault 27 meters high and precisely hits the line, allowing for accurate time measurement.

An impressive 22 side chapels beckon visitors to explore. The chapel of San Petronio contains two important organs. The 1475 organ is one of the oldest organs in existence. This chapel also hosts the Four Crosses, one of the oldest Christian symbols in Bologna. These crosses may have been placed on top of Roman columns by San Petronio to spiritually defend the city.

Why You Should Visit

This impressive church is packed with history and beauty. It can host up to 28,000 people and has hosted many important ceremonies, including the 1530 coronation of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor.


Entrance is free, but if you wish to take photos, there is a small fee. There is an additional fee to enter Chapel of the Three Kings, which houses a controversial 15th-century fresco. There is a dress code; shoulders and knees must be covered. The Basilica is open every day from 7:45 am to 2:00 pm and 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
Archiginnasio of Bologna

3) Archiginnasio of Bologna (must see)

The Achiginnasio was commissioned by Cardinal Borromeo and completed in 1563. The Achiginnasio was designed to create a centralized university where students could study Legisti, or Law, and Artisti, or philosophy, mathematics, medicine, natural sciences, and physics. Previously, these disciplines were always housed in separate buildings.

The University moved to the Poggi Palace in 1803. Various primary schools used the building until 1838 when the Achiginnasio became the home of the Municipal Library.

The Municipal Library was originally created to store books collected when Napoleon ordered the closure of religious orders. The library has over 850,000 books and pamphlets, including about 15,000 handwritten and printed items from the 16th century.

The building was rebuilt after being damaged by World War II bombs in 1944.

The Archiginnasio has an imposing porch with 30 arches. Two stairways lead to the second floor, where university students attended classes. The upper floor has two wings, one wing was originally used by law students, and the one wing was used by the students of other disciplines.

Each wing has a great hall. One hall now houses a reading room. The other hall is known as "Stabat Mater Room" in honor of Rossini's Stabat Mater, which debuted in this hall in 1842.

The walls of the library are painted with 6,000 coats of arms. These coats of arms represent University student leaders.

Originally built in 1636, the Anatomical Theater houses anatomy displays such as statues of skinless men. Sculptures represent famed physicians Hippocrates and Galen.
Santa Maria della Vita (Church of Holy Mary of Life)

4) Santa Maria della Vita (Church of Holy Mary of Life) (must see)

When Franciscan monk Raniero Fasani arrived in Bologna in 1260, he established a church and hospital to look after the sick. The original church was destroyed in 1686.

Construction on the ornate Baroque-style church that stands today began in 1687 and was completed in the 1700s. The exterior facade is simple with pilasters. The interior has ornate baroque decorations with numerous paintings. The side chapels are lavishly decorated.

One of the most remarkable attractions in the Church of Holy Mary of Life is the Lamentation of Christ. Artist Niccolò dell'Arca created this series of terracotta statues in the 15th century. The masterpiece shows mourners gathered around the body of Christ.

The adjacent oratory was completed in 1617 and hosts several artworks. Visitors will find various statues dating to the 16th century. The Madonna with Child and Saints was completed by artist Nosadella in 1550. The Transit of the Madonna features 14 terracotta statues. This artwork was created by artist Alfonso Lombardi in 1522.

Statues of St. Proculus and St. Petronius by Aseeandro Algardi adorn niches in the walls. Visitors will also find St. Francis and St. Domenic statues by Giulio Cesare Conventi.

The Church of Holy Mary of Life is often overlooked, but its fabulous interior and important artworks are worth seeing.
Mercato di Mezzo (Mezzo Market)

5) Mercato di Mezzo (Mezzo Market) (must see)

The Mezzo Market has been a central location for trade and good food since Medieval times. The market is housed in a 19th-century pavilion and underwent redevelopment in 2014. Today, as in the past, the market draws locals and visitors with fabulous food, wine, and gourmet choices. It's open daily until midnight and offers a fabulous way to immerse yourself in Italian culture.

The covered pavilion is three stories high and has a variety of choices. Try pizza, cheeses, craft beer, espresso coffee, and taste pastries from Bologna's favorite bakery.

The Emilia Romagna wine store offers over 60 different wines, including organic options. Romanzo sells meat from a farm that breeds cows and pigs on nearby hills, so you know you are getting local farm-fresh goods.

For take-out, try fried fish from Pescheria Pavaglione. At the Rosso Pomodoro pizzeria, you can watch the pizza dough resting. Don't miss the Baladin microbrewery in the basement. The basement also hosts stalls with great hamburgers and salads. As you tour the market, don't miss trying the variety of Italian pasta.
Santo Stefano (St. Stephen Complex)

6) Santo Stefano (St. Stephen Complex) (must see)

This complex of religous buildings is also known as Seven Churches or Holy Jerusalem.

Tradition states that Saint Petronius built the complex over a temple dedicated to Isis. Saint Petronius wanted to emulate the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The Saint Stephen Church or of the Holy Crucifix dates back to the eighth century. Artist Simone dei Corcifissi created the crucifix in 1380. In addition, 15th-century frescoes depict the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen. A crypt with five naves is located underneath the church.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates to the fifth century. It was built by Bishop Petronius, who was later venerated as Saint Petronius. Petronius wanted to emulate the Constantinian Sepulcher of Jerusalem and reproduce where Christ's remains were held. A shrine holds San Petronio relics. The church was damaged in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 11th century.

The Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola is the oldest in the complex. The remains of the venerated saints Vitale and Agricola were moved from the church in 393 AD. This indicates that the church was built sometime before 393 AD.

In the 1400s, a sepulcher with the inscription Symon was found. When pilgrims began coming to the church to look for Saint Peter's tomb, the Pope had the church filled with earth for seventy years. The interior features a Roman mosaic floor.

The Courtyard of Pilate commemorates the place where Jesus was condemned to death. In the courtyard center is a limestone basin known as Pilato's Cat. The basin dates to the eighth century. Visitors will also find a 14th century stone rooster to symbolize the denial of Jesus.

The Church of the Trinity or of the Martyrium is also known as the Church of the Holy Cross or of Calvary or Trinity. This church was planned to emulate the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem but was unfinished. Inside the church, visitors will find a 12th-century life-sized wooden nativity scene.

Finally, don't miss the St. Stephen's Museum, which houses various relics, artworks, and religious objects.

Why You Should Visit

The oldest parts of the complex date back to Roman times. Visitors will find a Roman mosaic floor in The Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola. This complex is full of history and provides insight into medieval religious customs.


Benedictine Monks sell souvenirs and their special liquor in the gift shop.
Two Towers (Asinelli and Garisenda)

7) Two Towers (Asinelli and Garisenda) (must see)

The Two Towers of Bologna are ancient leaning structures. The towers are named after the families who built them. The taller tower is known as Asinelli, and the smaller tower, which has a greater lean, is known as Garisenda. The legend states that the towers were built between 1109 and 1119 as a competition between the two families to show which family was more powerful.

The Asinelli Tower was originally about 70 meters tall and was later raised to its current 97 meters. It has a 1.3-degree slope and is the tallest leaning tower in Italy.

In the 14th century, the Asinelli Tower was used as a prison. In 1824 a lightning rod was installed to prevent fires and damage caused by frequent lightning strikes.

The Asinelli Tower was used by 17th and 18th-century scientists to study the earth's rotation. During WWII, the tower was used as a lookout post to direct rescue operations.

The Garisenda Tower is currently 48 meters tall. It was originally 60 meters tall but was lowered in the 14th century when its slant became dangerous. The Garisenda Tower was cited in Dante's Divine Comedy and The Rime. Dickens featured the towers in his book Pictures from Italy.

The Asinelli Tower is open to visitors. You can climb 496 wooden steps to reach the top and admire the views.
Via Rizzoli (Rizzoli Street)

8) Via Rizzoli (Rizzoli Street)

The Rizzoli Street is a historic road that links Piazza Maggiore with the Two Towers. Two thousand years ago, this road was the Roman road Via Aemilia.

Today, it is named after Francesco Rizzoli, a famous orthopedist who founded Rizzoli Orthopedic Institute, one of the top orthopedic institutes in Italy.

On hot days, the porticos offer pedestrians shade and a break from the sun. The porticos also have gorgeous mosaic flooring, adding a Roman flair to this historic street. The Rizzoli Street is lined with shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. Most of Italy's high-end designers have storefronts on this street.

Visitors will be treated to fabulous views of The Two Towers as you walk this busy street. On the weekends, The Rizzoli Street is closed to traffic. During busy times, you'll be treated to various street performances.
Biblioteca Salaborsa (Salaborsa Library)

9) Biblioteca Salaborsa (Salaborsa Library) (must see)

The Salaborsa Library opened in 2001 in part of the Accursio Palace building.

The earliest structure at the Accursio Palace site housed famed Roman jurist Accursius in the 13th century. In the 14th century, the building housed the Anziani, or Elders, the commune's magistrates. The Accursio Palace was renovated in the 15th and 16th centuries. The clock tower was added in the 15th century.

Visitors can access the library through Piazza Nettuno. Visitors to the library can enjoy the rows of books and gorgeous interior.

In addition, visitors can see ruins through the crystal floor in the center of the library. This archaeological area shows ruins from the first Villonovan civilization in the seventh century BC, to the Etruscan people, to the ancient Roman city of Bononia, which was founded in 189 BC.

These ruins prove that the site has been the center of human occupation for millennia.
Fountain of Neptune

10) Fountain of Neptune (must see)

The massive Fountain of Neptune, located in the Piazza Maggiore, was completed in 1563 by architect Tommaso Laureti. Cardinal Legate Charles Borromeo commissioned the fountain to commemorate Borromeo's uncle's election as Pope Pius V.

Artist Giambologna had submitted his design in a bid for the Florence's Fountain of Neptune; however, he lost the bid. Giambologna then used the design for Bologna's commemorative fountain.

A city block was demolished to make room for the impressive fountain. The base of the fountain is covered by marble from Verona. The fountain features Nereids, cherubs, and dolphins. The dolphins represent the major rivers known at the time: the Ganges, the Nile, the Amazon, and the Danube.

In the center of the scene is the magnificent Neptune, placating the seas. This symbolizes the new Pope ruling Bologna and the world.

The Fountain of Neptune is one of Bologna's most iconic landmarks. The Bologna-based Maserati brothers incorporated Neptune's trident into their now-famous car company logo.
Cattedrale di San Pietro (St. Peter Cathedral)

11) Cattedrale di San Pietro (St. Peter Cathedral) (must see)

A cathedral has stood at the site of St. Peter Cathedral since at least 1028. The original church was destroyed, and a new church was consecrated in 1184.

The high portico was added in 1396. In the 15th century, a series of frescoes were added. Unfortunately, these frescoes were heavily damaged in later reconstructions. An extensive remodel was started in 1575; however, the work was so damaging that the vaults collapsed, and the church was destroyed. The new building started construction in 1605, and a new facade was completed in 1747.

The majestic Baroque style interior houses several important artworks. A 12th-century Romanesque crucifix was carved from cedarwood. Ludovico Carracci painted a beautiful annunciation fresco. A 16th terracotta sculpture series by Alfonso Lombardi shows "Lament over the Dead Christ". Visitors will also find paintings by Donato Creti, Ludovico Carraci, and Prospero Fontana.

The bell tower stands 70 meters tall and houses "La Nonna". This impressive bell weighs 3,300 kilograms and is the largest bell used in the traditional Bolognese bell-ringing method.
Torre Prendiparte ( Prendiparte Tower)

12) Torre Prendiparte ( Prendiparte Tower)

The Prendiparte Tower is also known as Coronata Tower. This 60-meter high tower was built in the 12th century by the Prendiparte family. The imposing Prendiparte Tower features Bolognese red bricks and was built for defense. It is the second tallest Bolognese tower, after the Asinelli Tower.

The Prendiparte family was firmly on the Pope's side when the town was divided between the Catholic faithful and those who wanted independence from the Catholic church.

In the 1500s, the Catholic church took over the tower and used it as a seminary and later used it as a prison. Visitors can still see the light graffiti and inscriptions left by prisoners.

Visitors can climb to the top floor and stand on the outdoor terrace. You'll see over the roofs and buildings of Bologna and out to the countryside. The lower floors were used as a house during Napoleon's reign. The lower floors are now used as a bed and breakfast. The B&B has just one multi-level suite and is a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Via Indipendenza (Independence Street)

13) Via Indipendenza (Independence Street) (must see)

The Independence Street is one of Bologna's main streets. It starts at Piazza Maggiore and ends at Central Station. The road was traced along the original Roman Maximus between 1885 and 1890.

The Independence Street is a popular shopping area with a variety of clothing stores, cafes, restaurants, chocolatiers, and fine wine sellers. Along the Independence Street, visitors will also find the Arena del Sole historical theatre. The Independence Street passes through Piazza VIII Agosto. The stunning Basilica of San Pietro is also located on this historic street.

Don't miss the Majani building, built-in 1908 for the Majani chocolate makers. Since then, it has housed a tea hall and a ballroom. Today, it houses a clothing megastore.

The word "T" is well-known to locals. The T refers to the crossroads of streets that form the heart of Bologna: the Independence Street, the Rizzoli Street, and the Ugo Bassi Street. T Days refers to days when these vital streets turn into pedestrian-only streets. T Days are usually weekends and public holidays.

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