Porticos as a colonnade, Bologna

The Familiar Nicknames of Bologna

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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.

La Rossa

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.

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La Dotta

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.

University of Bologna – Europe’s oldest university
Porticoes inside the university

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.

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La Grassa

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.

Tagliatelle al ragù – the iconic dish of Bologna
A plate of parma prosciutto
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39 thoughts on “The Familiar Nicknames of Bologna”

  1. Oh I sooo wanted to visit Bologna, given its status on food :). These pictures are so enticing! Thank you so much for the write-up! Love it!

    1. Many thanks! Bologna’s food is very great and affordable. You can really eat like a king there without breaking the bank 🙂

  2. Mel & Suan – Singapore – Mel works his day job for a living, but lives for antiquities, history and geography at all other times. He enjoys writing and thought sharing and obviously traveling. Suan is a homey person, who like girlie stuff such as cross stitching etc. Enjoys shopping & modeling for Mel. What a match!
    Mel & Suan says:

    38km of porticoes and 666 arches! Wow. Sure shelters from the rains and the blazing sun! Maintaining them would surely be a challenge. And good to know its Tagliatell al ragu is really what was created here and not Spaghetti bolognese! LOL

    1. The name is really misleading, isn’t it? Before visiting Bologna, I had the same thought as well. I traveled to Bologna to seek authentic Spaghetti Bolognese 🙂

      1. Mel & Suan – Singapore – Mel works his day job for a living, but lives for antiquities, history and geography at all other times. He enjoys writing and thought sharing and obviously traveling. Suan is a homey person, who like girlie stuff such as cross stitching etc. Enjoys shopping & modeling for Mel. What a match!
        Mel & Suan says:

        Now we know! LOL. When we look at menus we are now “expert” enough to ‘correct’ them…

  3. Nano @ Travels With Nano – Tokyo, Japan – Hi, I'm Nano! Welcome to my site! Travels With Nano is filled with everything I am passionate about: uncovering the world one sight, bite and cultural experience at a time. I'm here to share savvy travel tips and inspire (not influence!) your future travel adventures. Needless to say, I am thrilled to have you here reading!
    Nano @ Travel With Nano B. says:

    When I visited Italy for the first time we head up North via Florence to Venice, and wanted to spend some time in Bologna so much, but sadly didn’t have time. Looks like I definitely have to go back, SO MUCH good food and scenery!

    1. You definitely should! The food alone is more than enough for a visit 🙂 Bologna is also less touristic than Florence or Venice, so you can genuinely experience the Italian’s “dolce vita” there.

  4. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    Le Duo Torri were the first things I learned about Bologna when I was a kid. I vaguely remember reading that both towers were more leaning than the Tower of Pisa — I wonder if they still do. Such fresh and crisp images of Bologna! If I ever come to this city I wonder if I will end up gaining so much weight. 🙂

    1. Yes! You will surely gain weight if lingering here too long. The food is really great and affordable. To be honest, Bologna’s cuisine was the main reason that I visited this city 🙂
      I have never been in Pisa so I cannot make a comparison. But I can confirm you that Garisenda (the smaller tower) must tilt at least 30 to 40 degree. From afar, it looks like it is collapsing on the other one.

  5. Rossa, Dotta, Grassa… seems about right for Bologna 😛

      1. And delicious!

  6. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
    Jolene says:

    Hey Len, sorry to bother you – given your experiences travelling across Europe, would you say that it is still safe? Or do you have any safety advice, especially in light of the recent attacks in the region?? I was trying to find a Contact link on your page but couldn’t find one. Thanks heaps!

    1. Thanks for reminding me that I forgot to put “Contact” on my homepage 🙂 I knew that my page is missing something.
      Well, I think those maniacs are everywhere so absolute safety cannot be guaranteed. Especially now as they are using cars as weapon, so it is impossible to predict or prevent attacks (except if cars could be banned from the city centers).
      I think you should travel as planned. We should not let fear overcome us, because that is what those lunatics want. Maybe more vigilant at big cities and avoid crowded events like a street parade or so. But overall I could say it is safe to travel in Europe. After all, those crazy people are just minority.
      If you want to visit museums or major tourist attractions, do it early or late afternoon to avoid the peak hours and the crowd.

      1. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        Thanks Len. Banning cars from city centres doesn’t sound like a bad idea… The Australian government puts it quite well: be alert, but not alarmed.

      2. Agree! There is no reason to be panic and stop travelling because of those lunatics. Besides, I believe that there are more heroes out there than killers 🙂

      3. Jolene – Sydney, Australia – Jolene is a banker by trade, a writer at heart, and is a contributor to Thought Catalog. You are welcome to peek into her adventures and reflections on films and life at "SoMuchToTellYou", her ultimate love affair with words.
        Jolene says:

        I hope so Len.

  7. Great post – gosh, your photos are so beautiful and well put-together!

  8. Forestwood – A philosophic Australian writes here, one who admits to loving Scandinavia. I'm interested in global politics, but scratch the surface and you'll find I am a practical Environmentalist with an Egalitarian bent trying to unleash a little creativity. Scandinavian culture, literature and traditions are close to my heart, even though I am Australian. Travel broadens the mind, so I travel whenever I can. I am an avid reader, I enjoy photography, writing and a variety of crafts, particularly traditional art forms. You are always welcome to stop by at S.t.P.A.
    Forestwoodfolkart says:

    Wonderful post. I love how you mix history with food! Intriguing that long long portico!! And the University – so old. I can only imagine the legacy of being a student there!

  9. Megha's World – I’m a mother of a smart and energetic seven-year-old. I started expressing myself creatively since the last two years. Since then I have been continuously inspired by events in my life and around me which has helped me in penning my thoughts. I’m an avid reader, loves to sing, an ardent lover of poetry and sometimes can scribble few lines too. Loves to dance in the rain, have an undying love for nature, can watch the beautiful sunset for hours. Love to kiss and hug my loved ones. I have worked in the IT field for almost a decade as a manager, worked crazy hours and traveled around the world. In that busy schedule, I never got the time to creatively express my thoughts. Now every time I finish a poem, free verse anything it fills me with so much happiness and excitement and a feeling to have created something of my own. I’m planning to post at least one creation of mine weekly. Lastly, a million thanks to all who visit, like or follow my tiny bits of creation. Every time you do that, I get to know one more beautiful person in my life and get the chance to see their creation too.
    Megha's World says:

    These are so breathtaking beautiful pictures. If you keep posting them I surely have to plan my visit for next year.

    1. Thank you! I am glad that you like them. If you have any question, feel free to ask. I have not been in many places yet, but I will try my best to answer your questions 🙂

  10. Kelly MacKay – After a successful 13 years career as a professional female jockey. I now teach fitness to our Canadian Forces soldiers' at Canadian Forces Base Gage town, In Oromocto, New Brunswick. I love what I do. In my off time, I enjoy travel sometimes to exotic places ( recently to Kenya) most often within in my local province. I also enjoy photography both landscape and wildlife. I participate in camping hiking cycling, and I love to go off the regular tourist trail. I have an interest in, art, history, geology, natural history, bird watching. I love to read and write. I enjoy cooking Vegan meals.
    Kelly MacKay says:

    Great info.

  11. I’ve not been to Bologna, but having feasted on the marvellous food in other Italian cities, the name La Grassa definitely hits a chord. The university looks stunning and I’m amazed at how long it has been a centre of higher education. Lovely photos!

    1. Many thanks, Caroline! The food in Bologna is really good. Even now I can still imagine the taste of tagliatelle al ragù 😛

  12. Alison and Don – Occupation: being/living/experiencing/travelling In our sixties, (Don is now 77) with apparently no other authentic option, my husband Don and I sold our apartment and car, sold or gave away all our stuff and set off to discover the world. And ourselves. We started in Italy in 2011 and from there have travelled to Spain, India, Bali, Australia, New Zealand, SE Asia, South America, etc. - you can see the blog archive. We will continue travelling until it's time to stop - if that time ever comes. So far it suits us very well. We are interested in how the world works, how life works, how the creation of experience works, how the mind works. As we travel and both "choose" our course, and at the same time just let it unfold, we discover the "mechanics" of life, the astounding creativity of life, and a continual need to return to trust and presence. Opening the heart, and acceptance of what is, as it is, are keystones for us both. Interests: In no particular order: travel, figure skating (as a fan), acceptance, authenticity, walking/hiking, joy, creativity, being human, adventure, presence, NOW. Same for Don except replace figure skating with Formula One motor racing.
    Alison and Don says:

    Well everything about this post is delicious, from your stories about the city, to the gorgeous buildings, to your photographs, to the food! Who can resist a good Italian meal? I’ve not been to Bologna, but I think I must!
    Alison

    1. Defintively! An Italian meal is good. But a Bolognese meal is addictive! One small tip: don’t mention “Spaghetti Bolognese” in the restaurant. I accidentally said that and the waiter gave me an icy glare. No joke 🙂

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