Bologna (Italian pronunciation: [boˈloɲɲa] ( listen); Emilian: Bulåggna pronounced [buˈləɲɲa]; Latin: Bononia) is the largest city (and the capital) of Emilia-Romagna Region in Northern Italy. It is the seventh most populated in Italy, heart of a metropolitan area (officially recognized by the Italian Government as a città metropolitana) of about one million.
The city, the first settlements of which date back to at least one 1000 BC, has always been an important urban centre, first under the Etruscans (Velzna/Felsina) and the Celts (Bona), then under the Romans (Bononia), then again in the Middle Ages, as a free municipality (for one century it was the fifth largest European city based on population). Home to the oldest university in the world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088, Bologna hosts thousands of students who enrich the social and cultural life of the city. Famous for its towers and lengthy porticoes, Bologna has a well-preserved historical centre (one of the largest in Italy) thanks to a careful restoration and conservation policy which began at the end of the 1970s, on the heels of serious damage done by the urban demolition at the end of the 19th century as well as that caused by wars.
An important cultural and artistic centre, its importance in terms of landmarks can be attributed to homogenous mixture of monuments and architectural examples (medieval towers, antique buildings, churches, the layout of its historical centre) as well as works of art which are the result of a first class architectural and artistic history. Bologna is also an important transportation crossroad for the roads and trains of Northern Italy, where many important mechanical, electronic and nutritional industries have their headquarters. According to the most recent data gathered by the European Regional Economic Growth Index (E-REGI) of 2009, Bologna is the first Italian city and the 47th European city in terms of its economic growth rate.
Bologna is home to prestigious cultural, economic and political institutions as well as one of the most impressive trade fair districts in Europe. In 2000 it was declared European capital of culture and in 2006, a UNESCO “city of music”. The city of Bologna was selected to participate in the Universal Exposition of Shanghai 2010 together with 45 other cities from around the world. Bologna is also one of the wealthiest cities in Italy, often ranking as one of the top cities in terms of quality of life in the country: in 2011 it ranked 1st out of 107 Italian cities.
The area around Bologna has been inhabited since the 9th century BC, as evidenced by the archeological digs in the 19th century in nearby Villanova. This period, and up to the 6th century, is in fact generally referred to as villanovian, and had various nuclei of people spread out around this area. In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Etruria began to have an influence on this area, and the population went from Umbrian to Etruscan. The town was renamed Felsina.
In the 4th century BC, the city and the surrounding area were conquered by the Boii, a Celtic tribe from Transalpine Gaul. The tribe settled down and mixed so well with the Etruscans, after a brief period of aggression, that they created a civilization that modern historians call Gaul-Etruscan (one of the best examples is the archeological complex of Monte Bibele, in the Apennines near Bologna). The Gauls dominated the area until 196 BC, when they were sacked by the Romans. After the Battle of Telamon, in which the forces of the Boii and their allies were badly beaten, the tribe reluctantly accepted the influence of the Roman Republic, but with the outbreak of the Punic Wars the Celts once more went on a war path. They first helped Hannibal’s army cross the Alps then they supplied him with a consistent force of infantry that proved itself decisive in several battles. With the downfall of the Carthaginians came the end of the Boii as a free people, the Romans destroyed many settlements and villages (Monte Bibele is one of them) and then founded the colonia of Bononia in c. 189 BC. The settlers included three thousand Latin families led by the consul Lucius Valerius Flaccus. The Celtic population was ultimately absorbed into the Roman society but the language has survived in some measure in the Bolognese dialect, which linguists say belongs to the Gallo-Italic group of languages and dialects. The building of the Via Aemilia in 187 BC made Bologna an important centre, connected to Arezzo by way of the Via Flaminia minor and to Aquileia through the Via Aemilia Altinate.
In 88 BC, the city became a municipium: it had a rectilinear street plan with six cardi and eight decumani (intersecting streets) which are still discernible today. During the Roman era, its population varied between c. 12,000 to c. 30,000. At its peak, it was the second city of Italy, and one of the most important of all the Empire, with various temples and baths, a theatre, and an arena. Pomponius Mela included Bononia among the five opulentissimae («richest») cities of Italy. Although fire damaged the city during the reign of Claudius, the Roman Emperor Nero rebuilt it in the 1st century AD.
After the fall of the Empire, this area fell under the power of Odoacre, Theodore the Great (493-526), Byzantium and finally the Longobards, who used it mostly as a military centre. In 774, the city fell to Charlemagne, who gave it to Pope Adrian I.
Porta Maggiore, Strada Maggiore (Maggiore Street) and Torre degli Asinelli
After a long decline, Bologna was reborn in the 5th century under Bishop Petronius. According to legend, St. Petronius built the church of S. Stefano. After the fall of Rome, Bologna was a frontier stronghold of the Exarchate of Ravenna in the Po plain, and was defended by a line of walls which did not enclose most of the ancient ruined Roman city. In 728, the city was captured by the Lombard king Liutprand, becoming part of the Lombard Kingdom. The Germanic conquerors formed a district called «addizione longobarda» near the complex of S. Stefano. Charlemagne stayed in this district in 786.
In the 11th century, Bologna began to aspire to being a free commune, which it was able to do when Matilda of Tuscany died, in 1115, and the following year the city obtained many judicial and economic concessions from Henry V. Bologna joined the Lombard League against Frederick Barbarossa in 1164 which ended with the Peace of Costanza in 1183; after which, the city began to expand rapidly (this is the period in which its famous towers were built) and it became one of the main commercial trade centres thanks to a system of canals that allowed large ships to come and go.
Traditionally said to be founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is widely considered to be the first university. The university originated as an international centre of study of medieval Roman law under major glossators, including Irnerius. It numbered Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca among its students.
In the 12th century, the expanding city needed a new line of walls, and at the end of the 13th century, Bologna had between 50,000 and 60,000 inhabitants making it the fifth largest city in Europe (after Cordova, Paris, Venice, and Florence) and tied with Milan as the biggest textile industry area in Italy.
The complex system of canals in Bologna was one of the most advanced waterway systems in Europe, and took its water from the Savena, Aposa and Reno Rivers. The main canals were Canale Navile, Canale di Reno and Canale di Savena. Hydraulic energy derived from the canal system helped run the numerous textile mills and transport goods. Now these canals are located under the city and some can even be visited on organized rafting tours.
In 1256, Bologna promulgated the «Paradise Law», which abolished feudal serfdom and freed the slaves, using public money. At that time the city centre was full of towers (perhaps 180), built by the leading families, notable public edifices, churches, and abbeys. In the 1270s Bologna’s politics was dominated by Luchetto Gattilusio, a Genoese diplomat and man of letters who became the city Governor. Like most Italian cities of that age, Bologna was torn by internal struggles related to the Guelph and Ghibelline factions, which led to the expulsion of the Ghibelline family of the Lambertazzi in 1274.
After this period of great prosperity, Bologna experienced some ups and downs: it was crushed in the Battle of Zappolino by the Modenese in 1325 but then prospered under the rule of Taddeo Pepoli (1337–1347). Then in 1348, during the Black Plague, about 30,000 inhabitants died, and it subsequently fell to the Visconti of Milan, but returned to Papal control under Cardinal Gil de Albornoz in 1360. In the following years, Republican governments like that of 1377, which was responsible for the building of the Basilica di San Petronio and the Loggia dei Mercanti, alternated with Papal or Visconti resurgences, while the city’s families engaged in continual internecine fighting.
Bologna in 1640.
In 1337, the rule of the noble Pepoli family, nicknamed by some scholars as the «underground nobles» as they governed as «the first among equals» rather than as true nobles of the city. This noble family’s rule was in many ways an extension of past rules, and resisted until March 28, 1401 when the Bentivoglio family took over. The Bentivoglio family ruled Bologna, first with Sante (1445–1462) and then under Giovanni II (1462–1506). This period was a flourishing one for the city, with the presence of notable architects and painters who made Bologna a true city of art. During the Renaissance, Bologna was the only Italian city that allowed women to excel in any profession. Women had much more freedom than in other Italian cities; some even had the opportunity to earn a degree at the university. The School of Bologna of painting flourished in Bologna between the 16th and 17th centuries, and rivalled Florence and Rome as the centre of painting.
Giovanni’s reign ended in 1506 when the Papal troops of Julius II besieged Bologna and sacked the artistic treasures of his palace. From that point on, until the 18th century, Bologna was part of the Papal States, ruled by a cardinal legato and by a Senate which every two months elected a gonfaloniere (judge), assisted by eight elder consuls. In 1530, in front of Saint Petronio Church, Charles V was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Clement VII.
Then a plague at the end of the 16th century reduced the population from 72,000 to 59,000, and another in 1630 to 47,000. The population later recovered to a stable 60,000–65,000. However, there was also great progress during this era: in 1564, the Piazza del Nettuno and the Palazzo dei Banchi were built, along with the Archiginnasio, the centre of the University. The period of Papal rule saw the construction of many churches and other religious establishments, and the reincarnation of older ones. At this time, Bologna had ninety-six convents, more than any other Italian city. Artists working during this period in Bologna established the Bolognese School which includes Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, Guercino and others of European fame.
Piazza del Nettuno in 1855, looking towards Piazza Maggiore.
In 1796, Napoleon took Bologna with his French troops, and with the rise of Napoleon, Bologna became the capital of the short lived Cispadane Republic. After the fall of Napoleon, and the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Bologna once again fell under the sovereignty of the Papal States, rising up in 1831 and again in 1849, when it temporarily expelled the Austrian garrisons which controlled the city. After a visit by Pope Pius IX in 1857, on 12 June 1859 the city voted in favour of annexation by the Kingdom of Sardinia, soon to become the Kingdom of Italy.
Bologna was bombed heavily during World War II. The strategic importance of the city as industrial and railway hub connecting northern and central Italy made it a strategic target for the Allied forces. On July 16, 1943 a massive aerial bombardment destroyed much of the historic city centre and killed scores of people. The main railway station and adjoining areas were severely hit, and 44% of the buildings in the centre were listed as having been destroyed or severely damaged. The city was heavily bombed again on September 25. The raids, which this time were not confined to the city centre, left 936 people dead and thousands injured.
Aftermath of the 1980 station bombing.
During the war, the city was also a key centre of the Italian resistance movement. On November 7, 1944, a pitched battle around Porta Lame, waged by partisans of the 7th Brigade of the Gruppi d’Azione Patriottica against Fascist and Nazi occupation forces, did not succeed in triggering a general uprising, despite being one of the largest resistance-led urban conflicts in the European theater. Resistance forces entered Bologna on the morning of April 21, 1945. By this time, the Germans had already largely left the city in the face of the Allied advance, spearheaded by Polish forces advancing from the east during the Battle of Bologna which had been since April 9. First to arrive in the centre was the 87th Infantry Regiment of the Friuli Combat Group under general Arturo Scattini, who entered the centre from Porta Maggiore to the south. Since the soldiers were dressed in British outfits, they were initially thought to be part of the allied forces; when the local inhabitants heard the soldiers were speaking Italian, they poured out on to the streets to celebrate. Polish reconnaissance units of the Polish 2nd Corps entered Bologna from another direction on the same morning as the Friuli Combat Group. The fighting to oust the Germans from the town had been mostly undertaken by Polish troops.
After World War II, Bologna became a thriving industrial centre as well as a political stronghold of the Italian Communist Party, leading the Italian political «Red Quadrilateral». The city, from 1945 to 1999, had an uninterrupted series of left wing mayors, the first and best known of whom was Giuseppe Dozza. At the apex of the so-called Years of Lead, on August 2, 1980, a bomb exploded in the central railway station in Bologna killing 85 people, wounding 200: this event became known as the massacre of Bologna. Two people were convicted: Valerio Fioravanti and Francesca Mambro, both of them neo-fascists from the group Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari, while former Grand Master of the Freemason lodge P2 Licio Gelli, former agent of SISMI Francesco Pazienza, and military secret service officers Pietro Musumeci and Giuseppe Belmonte were convicted for hampering the investigation. In 1999 the long tradition of left-wing mayors was interrupted by the victory of conservative Giorgio Guazzaloca; this brief experience ended in 2004 when Sergio Cofferati, a former trade union leader, was elected. The next centre-left mayor, Flavio Delbono, elected in June 2009, resigned in January 2010 after being involved in a corruption scandal. He was eventually succeeded by Virginio Merola, who led a left-wing coalition composed by Democratic Party, Left Ecology Freedom and Italy of Values.