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Bologna (Italian pronunciation: [boˈloɲːa], from the Latin Bononia, Bulåggna IPA: [buˈlʌɲːa] in Bolognese dialect) is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley (Pianura Padana in Italian) of northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River.
Home to the oldest university in the Western world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088, Bologna is one of the most developed cities in Italy. Bologna often ranks as one of the top cities, in terms of quality of life in Italy: it was ranked 5th in 2006, and 12th in 2007, out of 103 Italian cities. This is due to its strong industrial tradition, its wide range of highly-developed social services, and its physical location at the crossing-point of the most important highways and railways in the country.
Etruscan and Roman times
Bologna was founded by the Etruscans with the name Velzna—Latinised as Felsina—(c.534 BC) in an area previously inhabited by the Villanovians, a people of farmers and shepherds. The Etruscan city grew around a sanctuary built on a hill, and was surrounded by a necropolis.
In the 4th century BC, the city was conquered by the Boii, a Gallic tribe, from which came the ancient name Bononia of the Roman colony founded in c.189 BC. The settlers included three thousand Latin families led by the consuls Lucius Valerius Flaccus, Marcus Atilius Seranus, and Lucius Valerius Tappo. The building of the Via Aemilia in 187 BC made Bologna a road hub, connected to Arezzo through the Via Flaminia minor and to Aquileia through the Via Aemilia Altinate.
In 88 BC, the city became a municipium: it had a rectilinear street plan with six cardi and eight decumani (intersecting streets) which are still discernible today. During the Roman era, its population varied between c. 12,000 to c. 30,000. At its peak, it was the second city of Italy, and one of the most important of all the Empire, with various temples and baths, a theatre, and an arena. Pomponius Mela included Bononia among the five opulentissimae (“richest”) cities of Italy. Although fire damaged the city during the reign of Claudius, the Roman Emperor Nero rebuilt it in the first century AD.
The city’s prosperity continued, although a plague at the end of the sixteenth century reduced the population from 72,000 to 59,000, and another in 1630 to 47,000. The population later recovered to a stable 60,000-65,000. In 1564, the Piazza del Nettuno and the Palazzo dei Banchi were built, along with the Archiginnasio, the seat of the University. The period of Papal rule saw the construction of many churches and other religious establishments, and the renovation of older ones. Bologna had ninety-six convents, more than any other Italian city. Artists working in this age in Bologna established the Bolognese School that includes Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, Guercino and others of European fame.
With the rise of Napoleon, Bologna became the capital of the Cispadane Republic and, later, the second most important centre after Milan of the Repubblica Cisalpina and the Italian Kingdom. After the fall of Napoleon, Bologna suffered the Papal restoration, rebelling in 1831 and again 1849, when it temporarily expelled the Austrian garrisons which commanded the city until 1860. After a visit by Pope Pius IX in 1857, the city voted for annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia on June 12, 1859, becoming part of the united Italy.
Over the centuries, Bologna has acquired many nicknames: “the learned one” (la dotta) is a reference to its famous university; “the fat one” (la grassa) refers to its cuisine.
“The red one” (la rossa) originally refers to the colour of the roofs in the historic centre, but this nickname is also connected to the political situation in the city, started after World War II: until the election of a centre-right mayor in 1999, the city was renowned as a bastion of socialism and communism. The centre-left regained power again in the 2004 mayoral elections, with the election of Sergio Cofferati. It was one of the first European towns to experiment with the concept of free public transport.
The city of Bologna was appointed a UNESCO City of Music on 29 May 2006. According to UNESCO, “As the first Italian city to be appointed to the Network, Bologna has demonstrated a rich musical tradition that is continuing to evolve as a vibrant factor of contemporary life and creation. It has also shown a strong commitment to promoting music as an important vehicle for inclusion in the fight against racism and in an effort to encourage economic and social development. Fostering a wide range of genres from classical to electronic, jazz, folk and opera, Bologna offers its citizens a musical vitality that deeply infiltrates the city’s professional, academic, social and cultural facets.”
The University of Bologna, founded in 1088, is the oldest existing university in Europe, and was an important centre of European intellectual life during the Middle Ages, attracting scholars from throughout Christendom. A unique heritage of medieval art, exemplified by the illuminated manuscripts and jurists’ tombs produced in the city from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, provides a cultural backdrop to the renown of the medieval institution. The Studium, as it was originally known, began as a loosely organized teaching system with each master collecting fees from students on an individual basis. The location of the early University was thus spread throughout the city, with various colleges being founded to support students of a specific nationality.
In the Napoleonic era, the headquarters of the university were moved to their present location on Via Zamboni (formerly Via San Donato), in the north-eastern sector of the city centre. Today, the University’s 23 faculties, 68 departments, and 93 libraries are spread across the city and include four subsidiary campuses in nearby Cesena, Forlì, Ravenna, and Rimini. Noteworthy students present at the university in centuries past included Dante, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, Pope Nicholas V, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Peter Martyr Vermigli, and Copernicus. Laura Bassi, appointed in 1732, became the first woman to officially teach at a college in Europe. In more recent history, Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of biological electricity, and Guglielmo Marconi, the pioneer of radio technology, also worked at the University. The University of Bologna remains one of the most respected and dynamic post-secondary educational institutions in Italy. To this day, Bologna is still very much a university town, and the city’s population swells from 400,000 to over 500,000 whenever classes are in session. This community includes a great number of Erasmus, Socrates, and overseas students.
The University of Bologna is also the birthplace of the Kappa Sigma Fraternity. It was founded by Manuel Chrysoloras in 1400. The fraternity was formed for mutual protection against Baldassare Cossa, who extorted and robbed the students of the university, and later usurped the papacy under the name John XXIII.
Bologna is renowned for its culinary tradition. It has given its name to the well-known Bolognese sauce, a meat based pasta sauce called in Italy ragù alla bolognese but in the city itself just ragù as in Tagliatelle al ragù. Situated in the fertile Po River Valley, the rich local cuisine depends heavily on meats and cheeses. As in all of Emilia-Romagna, the production of cured pork meats such as prosciutto, mortadella and salame is an important part of the local food industry. Well-regarded nearby vineyards include Pignoletto dei Colli Bolognesi, Lambrusco di Modena and Sangiovese di Romagna. Tagliatelle al ragù, lasagne, tortellini served in broth and mortadella, the original Bologna sausage, are among the local specialties.
Another nickname for Bologna is Basket City, referring to Bologna’s obsession with basketball, which is somewhat unusual in football-dominated Italy. The local derby between the city’s two principal basketball clubs, Fortitudo and Virtus (often called after the clubs’ principal sponsors), is intense, as you can see here and here. However, the rivalry will temporarily lie dormant in the upcoming 2009–10 season, because Fortitudo are no longer in the country’s professional ranks. After the 2008–09 season, Fortitudo were relegated from the top-level Lega A to LegADue, and then were relegated further to the nominally amateur Serie A Dilettanti for financial reasons. The impact of basketball in the city is not limited to Fortitudo and Virtus; the Italian Basketball League, which operates both Lega A and LegADue, has its headquarters in Bologna.
Football is still a highly popular sport in Bologna; the main local club is Bologna F.C. 1909, which is currently in Serie A.
Between the 12th and the 13th century, the number of towers in the city was very high, possibly up to 180 (see also below). The reasons for the construction of so many towers are not clear. One hypothesis is that the richest families used them for offensive/defensive purposes during the period of the Investiture Controversy.
Besides the towers, one can still see some fortified gateways (torresotti) that correspond to the gates of the 12th-century city wall (Mura dei torresotti or Cerchia dei Mille), which itself has been almost completely destroyed.
During the 13th century, many towers were taken down or demolished, others simply collapsed. Many towers have subsequently been utilized in one way or the other: as prison, city tower, shop or residential building. The last demolitions took place during the 20th century, according to an ambitious, but retrospectively unfortunate, restructuring plan for the city. The Artenisi Tower and the Riccadonna Tower at the Mercato di mezzo were demolished in 1917.
Of the numerous towers originally present, fewer than twenty can still be seen today. Among the remaining ones are the Azzoguidi Tower, also called Altabella (with a height of 61 m), the Prendiparte Tower, called Coronata (60 m), the Scappi Tower (39 m), Uguzzoni Tower (32 m), Guidozagni Tower, Galluzzi Tower, and the famous Two Towers: the Asinelli Tower (97 m) and the Garisenda Tower (48 m).
Recently, the city’s architectural tradition of tower building has been given a new lease with the “towers” of the Trade show district by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange.
The construction of the towers was quite onerous, the usage of serfs notwithstanding. To build a typical tower with a height of 60 meters would have required between three and 10 years of work.
Each tower had a square cross-section with foundations between five and ten meters deep, reinforced by poles hammered into the ground and covered with pebble and lime. The tower’s base was made of big blocks of selenite stone. The remaining walls became successively thinner and lighter the higher the structure was raised, and were realised in so-called “a sacco” masonry: with a thick inner wall and a thinner outer wall, where the gap was filled with stones and mortar.
Usually, some holes were left in the outer wall as well as bigger hollows in the selenite to support scaffoldings and to allow for later coverings and constructions, generally on the basis of wood.
The towers actually must have crowded Bologna in the Middle Ages and there has been considerable debate about their peak number, before the first ones were demolished to avoid that they collapse by themselves or taken down because of other reasons.
The first historian to study the towers of Bologna in a systematic way was Count Giovanni Gozzadini, a senator of the Italian kingdom in the 19th century, who studied the city’s history intensively, not least to raise the prestige of his home town in the context of the now united Italy. He based his analysis mostly on the civic archives of real estate deeds, attempting to arrive at a reliable number of towers on the basis of documented ownership changes. His approach resulted in the extraordinary number of 180 towers, an enormous amount considering the size and resources of medieval Bologna.
More recent studies pointed out that Gozzadini’s methodology might have led to multiple counts of buildings, that could have been referred to in legal documents by different names, depending on the name of the family who actually owned it at a given moment. More recent estimates reduced therefore the number to a total between 80 and 100, where not all towers existed at the same time.
The Two Towers, both of them leaning, are the symbol of the city. They are located at the intersection of the roads that lead to the five gates of the old ring wall (mura dei torresotti). The taller one is called the Asinelli while the smaller but more leaning tower is called the Garisenda. Their names derive from the families which are traditionally credited for their construction between 1109 and 1119. However, the scarcity of documents from this early period makes this in reality rather uncertain. The name of the Asinelli family, for example, is documented for the first time actually only in 1185, almost 70 years after the presumed construction of the tower which is attributed to them.
It is believed that the Asinelli Tower initially had a height of ca. 70 m and was raised only later to the current 97.2 m (with an overhanging rock of 2.2 m). In the 14th century the city became its owner and used it as prison and small stronghold. During this period a wooden construction was added around the tower at a height of 30 m above ground, which was connected with an aerial footbridge (later destroyed during a fire in 1398) to the Garisenda Tower. Its addition is attributed to Giovanni Visconti, Duke of Milan, who allegedly wanted to use it to control the turbulent Mercato di Mezzo (today via Rizzoli) and suppress possible revolts. The Visconti had become the rulers of Bologna after the decline of the Signoria of the Pepoli family, but were rather unpopular in the city.
Severe damage was caused by lightning that often resulted in small fires and collapses, and only in 1824 was a lightning rod installed. The tower survived, however, at least two documented large fires: the first in 1185 was due to arson and the second one in 1398 has already been mentioned above.
The Asinelli Tower was used by the scientists Giovanni Battista Riccioli (in 1640) and Giovanni Battista Guglielmini (in the following century) for experiments to study the motion of heavy bodies and the earth rotation. In World War II, between 1943 and 1945, it was used as a sight post: During bombing attacks, four volunteers took post at the top to direct rescue operations to places hit by allied bombs. Later, a RAI television relay was installed on top.
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