It’s no mystery why Bologna is recognised as one of the main food capitals of Europe. It's enough just walking down any street in the centre and noticing all the delicacies offered by numerous restaurants, bars, and food shops. But Bologna is also a real treasure of art, where every building and church tells a story of how the city once was. To fully appreciate this ancient town, you have to explore it deeply by visiting these 5 hidden gems and discovering its rich artistic history.
Church of Santa Maria della Vita
Located in the central Quadrilatero area (via Clavature 10), just few steps from the majestic San Petronio, the exterior of this church might not draw your attention but inside you can admire one of the most important masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. The "Compianto del Cristo Morto” (Lamentation over the Dead Christ) by Niccolò dell’Arca was completed in 1463, but still nowadays looks impressive for its realism and raw depiction of grief. The emotion of these seven life-sized terracotta sculptures brings them to life, creating a stunning and intense atmosphere. The original church was built for the religious confraternity known as the “Compagnia dei Battuti,” active in Bologna as early as 1260, to offer shelter to pilgrims and treat the sick. The building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1686 and was completely rebuilt. Above the church, there is also a 17th-century baroque oratory, which houses the “Transito Della Vergine" by Alfonso Lombardi, another remarkable piece of art.
Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio
Inside the amazing building of The Archiginnasio, commissioned by Cardinal Borromeo between 1562 and 1563, you can find a true hidden gem of Biologna: the Anatomical theatre. Made of carved wood, it was built in 1637 for anatomy lessons and one can only wonder what it was like to attend a lecture in such surroundings. Though the majority of it was destroyed during the World War, it was rebuilt according to the original layout, including the famous statues of the Spellati - Skinless - by Ercole Lelli. Entry costs 3 Euros, but with the same entrance ticket you can admire another spectacular room named “Stabat Mater”, the old lecture hall where law students used to spend hours and hours.
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Ark of Saint Dominic
The Basilica of San Domenico is one of the major churches in Bologna. The saint died in 1221, and soon the devoted monks decided to build a bigger church where they could honor St. Domenico. As in the following years the veneration for this man grew massively, a marble grave to host his remains was commissioned. This remarkable piece of art then saw the participation in the following centuries of several great artists, who completed the different part of the ark. Niccolò dell’Arca (the same sculptor of The Lamentation over the Dead Christ) , Alfonso Lombardi and even a young Michelangelo, who added the statues of St. Petronius and St. Procolus.
This church has more points of interest to discover: the chapel decorations (Glorificazione di S. Domenico – St. Domenico's glorification by Guido Reni), the evocative cloisters and San Domenico’s cell. In particular, the wooden choir by the monk Damiano from Bergamo is a masterpiece of the Renaissance period (1528-51) - Emperor Charles V even wanted to check with his sword if the figures were actually inlaid and not painted.
Oratory of St.Cecilia and Valeriano
In Bologna, it’s easy to take advantage of the comfort that the 38 km of porticos provide and neither search for hidden gems nor spot concealed entrance ways. That’s the case of the Oratory of St. Cecilia, located in the crowded university street of via Zamboni. The entrance is free and you’ll soon realise how charming this discovery will be. Previously a Romanesque church, built as a family chapel for Bologna Lord Giovanni II Bentivoglio, the building is most renowned for its exquisite series of frescos. Dating back to 1505, the frescos showcase the mastery of some of Bologna’s most important Renaissance artists, including Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia, Amico Aspertini and Raffaello Sanzio. Stretching over ten panels, the elaborate scenes depict the life of Saint Cecilia and her husband Valentine, while the church’s main altarpiece was so impressive, it’s now on display in the National Art Gallery of Bologna.
Tagliavini Collection - Museum of San Colombano
Bologna is renowned for its food, culture, an ancient university and a free spirit. But you probably don’t know that in 2006 Bologna became a UNESCO Creative City of Music: a prestigious acknowledgment celebrating its rich musical tradition and its lively music scene. For Bologna, music is tradition, creativity, and identity. Housed in the beautiful deconsecrated church of St. Columban, the Tagliavini collection gathers over 70 musical instruments from the early 16th to the early 20th century. The instruments are part of the collection of Luigi Tagliavini, a Bolognese organist, harpsichordist and musicologist who dedicated his entire life to find and buy rare pieces around Europe. The collection is fantastic, amongst these instruments are early keyboards (spinets, harpsichords, early pianoforte, clavichords, 2 or 3 organs) which are all in a very good condition. Every piece is really beautiful, historically very interesting, and ready to be played on. And the collection continues acquiring new pieces thanks to the generous donation of the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation in Bologna.
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