"Bologna" Bologna by MM212
Bologna Travel Guide: 1,230 reviews and 3,806 photos
One of Italy's best kept secrets, if such a thing were possible, Bologna is a treasure overlooked. It has a unique identity, rich in art, music, architecture and history, and boasts Europe's oldest university. Its renowned gastronomic tradition, arguably the best in Italy, gave us tortellini, ragù and mortadella, to name a few, while its vibrant industries made us Maserati, Ducati and Lamborghini. It is a city of preserved mediaeval towers, Gothic churches, Renaissance palaces, and vaulted porticoes. Bologna's many strong traditions have earned it several nicknames: la turrita (the "towered" one), la rossa (the red one), la grassa (the fat one) and la dotta (the "learned" one), for its towers, architecture, gastronomy and university, respectively. Yet despite its many distinctive traits, Bologna has somehow, thankfully, managed to escape the same mass tourism that has infested Rome, Florence, Pisa and Venice.
Bologna lies at the foot of the Appenines, where the mountains descend into the flat agricultural Po valley to the north. While the area was first inhabited by a tribe known as the Villanovia during the Iron Age, Bologna as a settlement came into existence in the 5th century BC, under the Etruscans, who named it Felsina. In the 4th century BC, a Celtic tribe, the Boii, invaded and occupied Felsina until the Romans displaced them in 196 BC. During Celtic rule, Felsina was renamed Bononia, a name thought to have derived from Boii and evolved into today's Bologna. With the establishment of the Roman road of Via Aemilia in 189 AD, which ran through Bononia, the Roman colony rose as an important commercial centre until the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Bologna then suffered a period of decline, during which it came under various powers and occupations, from the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines) to the Lombards and to Charlemagne. As a free city, it once again began to rise to prominence in the 11th century, when the University of Bologna - Europe's oldest - was founded, and Bologna grew into one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe. During this period, Bologna transformed into a centre of religion, knowledge and commerce. Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians established a base here, while wealthy and competitive bolognesi families built fortified towers to assert their power and dominance, such that the city possessed as many as 180 towers!
The Plague and war with the modenesi led Bologna to seek the protection of the Pope in the 14th century. For the next four centuries, it was at first within Papal influence, then strictly part of the Papal States. Nevertheless, Renaissance was a period of prosperity with flourishing artistic and architectural achievements, in the form of art and sculpture, palaces, churches and porticoes, that have survived to this day.
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