Bologna is the lively, historic capital of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy. It is the seventh most populous city in Italy and its history dates back to at least 1000 B.C. In the course of time, Bologna has earned various nicknames. But La Rossa, La Dotta, and La Grassa sound most familiar as they present the most prominent features of this wonderful city.
La Rossa (the red one), La Dotta (the learned one), and La Grassa (the fat one) are the most common nicknames of Bologna. All these names ring true because Bologna is the kind of city where you can stroll under the graceful porticoes of terracotta medieval buildings, visit Europe’s oldest university in the world, and feast like a Roman emperor.
The first thing in Bologna that visitors might notice is the amount of terracotta medieval buildings. They dominate most of the city centre and are all adorned by matching porticoes. But unlike in many other places where a portico is just a porch leading to the entrance of a building, those in Bologna are interconnected. Some are even extended as colonnades, with the longest unwinds itself for nearly 38 kilometres. Many have roofs over the walkway, supported by columns or enclosed by walls. These structures make it easy to stroll around the city centre. You can go shopping or walk from one museum to another under a safe shelter, away from both torrential rain and the scorching sun.
Another interesting fact about Bologna is that it houses the oldest university in Europe, the University of Bologna. Founded in 1088, this institute was renowned for its teaching of canon and civil laws. It was also the first place of study in the continent to use the term universitas for the corporations of students and masters. The university has continuously operated for the last nine centuries. Today, it remains one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Italy and Europe. The university has a total of 11 schools and around 85,000 students enroll there.
In this University Quarter, you will also find the Fontana di Nettuno (Neptune Fountain) and the symbolic tower of Bologna – Le Duo Torri (The Two Towers). The taller tower is called the Asinelli (right), while the smaller but more leaning tower is called the Garisenda (left). According to local lore (or rather rumour among students), whoever climbs the Asinelli can no longer graduate. So if you are a superstitious student and want to complete your studies, it’s wise to wait for another time to climb these towers.
Despite all the above-mentioned nicknames, the one that I remember most would be “La Grassa”. Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region boasts a rich food legacy, with so many delicious dishes. It is the birthplace of tagliatelle al ragù – flat ribbon pasta smothered in a delectable meat sauce. A dish that has been the source of inspiration for spaghetti bolognese. Legend suggests that when British and American servicemen passed through this area in WWII, they were immediately enamoured of tagliatelle al ragù. After returning home, they tried to replicate the dish. But clearly, something was lost in the translation, and thus spaghetti bolognese was created. Spaghetti bolognese is heavy on tomato sauce, while tagliatelle al ragù is all about meat.
A good address to try this dish is Trattoria dal Biassanot. The restaurant is located just a few steps away from the Window of Venezia and could be easily recognised by the check-clothed tables. Other specialities of the region are parma prosciutto, balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan. Of course, a visit to Bologna isn’t complete without trying gelato. The best gelateria in town is Cremeria Funivia located near Piazza Cavour. You won’t be able to miss it thanks to a very long queue in front of the store.