What is Bologna, why I am here?
Bologna is an important cultural and artistic centre in the north of Italy and it is also the capital of the Emilia-Romagna Region. With a population about one million in its metropolitan area, it is the home of the oldest university in the world, Università di Bologna, which is my Alma Mater.
The reason why I chose Bologna, to a large extent, was due to its dynamic atmosphere of the students and for the students. As a matter of fact, I fell in love with the city in the visit to my friend as an exchange student from China two years ago. Its renown historical monuments notwithstanding, Bologna is not perceived, at least in Asia, as a destination on the top-list for tourists. Yet to my surprise, its well-preserved centro storico (historical centre) brought me back to the Medieval era like no other city could do.
This article does not intend to be another tourism brochure that you can probably find on the internet. Instead, I would like to show you some of its facets that only a resident might discover throughout the time. Up until now, I have lived here for almost 2 years and I believe that I’ve approached quite much to the spirit core of this hub of Italian lifestyle.
Let’s talk about the Portico
Portico, the porch of Bologna remains its most significant architectural heritage for centuries. A tourist might be first impressed by its simple beauty and practical functionality: one does not have to worry too much about not taking an umbrella with himself on an rainy day, plus the porch prevents people from being exposed to the sunlight radiation on a hot summer day.
Nonetheless, what a tourist might not notice, it that the porch doesn’t have an homogeneous style. Rather than that, the structure varies from one district to another and they have been completed in different historical epochs.
As one of my local friend has told me, the porch was first built for the students that flowed into Bologna in the later middle age due to the insufficient living space. Basically the porch was a spontaneous solution to expand the living area by not occupying streets and other public space.
As you can see in the photo, by constructing the additional wooden structure to settle the newcoming students, the portico 1.0 came into being. Since then, building the porch has been a tradition of local people and the function has reached far beyond its original purpose: it was added with high aesthetic value and even the noble families have participated in such a fashion in order to show their artistic taste.
As you can see in the photo on the right taken by me at the Piazza Santo Stefano, the composition has evolved into a far more sophisticated style, in the contrast to the almost shabby former version. I doubt whether this was finished in the time of renaissance judged by the relief carved on the pillars of porch.
While for the porch on the Via Ugo Bassi, a far more recent style was chosen. The pillars are square shaped, expressing a strong sense of force. It’s wider, higher and somehow tedious according to my point of view. It would be interesting to track its origin.
Don’t ignore its modernity
Having talked so much about its traditions, behind this facet lies a much industrialised modern core: situated at the crossroad for the highways and trains of North Italy, there are headquarters of many important mechanical, electronic and nutritional industries.
Well-known names like Lamborghini and Ducati were originated in Bologna and various exhibitions in the field take place every year. I took this picture last year in September at the Piazza Minghetti, where many owners of Maserati owners, among them many foreigners, came by for a gathering.
Apart from automobile and other heavy industries, it is also equipped with a strong tertiary sector with companies operating in financial, insurance and retail. A relevant example is Unipol, which has its headquarter in a skyscraper, one of few in town. The more I know about the city, the more ignorant I have to admit I am, since Bologna always has ability to surprise you with something unexpected. Personally I deem that Bologna has more Italianness than its neighbours like Florence and Milan. Fortunately it has not been too much commercialised by tourism and it manages to retain its competitiveness with its own outstanding education and innovation.
In brief, by living physically in the city, Bologna means already more than a dwelling place for me: it represents a mentality, a way of thinking that so far has been interiorised into my mind, branding myself as a young man à la Bolognese.