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Bologna - Attractions

Reading, Piazza Maggiore

Basilica di San Petronio

Named after the city's patron saint, this vast basilica is Bologna's largest church, but was intended to be even larger. Building started in 1392 to a plan which would have made the basilica bigger than St Peter's in Rome, but the Vatican forbade this overweening attempt to build something bigger than the Pope's home church. On the eastern side of the basilica, along the Via dell'Archiginnasio, you can see semi-constructed apses jutting from the basilica walls and an incomplete facade. Despite the papal downsizing, the basilica is still the fifth largest in the world. The central doorway, by sculptor Jacopo della Quercia, dates from 1425 and has exquisite carvings of scenes from the Old and New Testament and a beautiful Madonna and Child. The chapels inside contain frescos by Giovanni da Modena and Jacopo di Paolo.

Basilica di Santo Stefano

Southeast along the elegant Via Santo Stefano is the triangular piazza before the Basilica di Santo Stefano. This basilica consists of catacombs, crypts and four beautiful churches: the main basilica, with an altar with an angel carved by Michelangelo; the fifth century Santi Vitale e Agricola; the octagonal Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro (Church of the Holy Sepulchre); and the Romanesque Chiesa del Crocefisso (Church of the Crucifixion). The Chiesa del Crocefisso has a stone basin in its courtyard which many believe to be the place where Pontius Pilate washed his hands after condemning Christ; others are churlish enough to point out the basin dates from the eighth century and was made by Lombards from Northern Europe.

Fontana del Nettuno

The wide street connecting Piazza Maggiore with Piazza del Nettuno is graced by an enormous fountain, the Fontana del Nettuno. The fountain, built in 1566, has bronze statuary by a Flemish sculptor, Jean Boulogne de Douai, who became so famous for the job he was nicknamed 'Giambologna'. A massive figure of Neptune stands on top of the fountain, trident in hand. Neptune is attended by four angels, symbolising the four winds, and four sirens - gleefully watching water spouting from their own breasts - representing the four continents known to the Renaissance world.

Le Due Torri

Bologna has many contributions to make to Italy's ever-popular collection of leaning towers: rising above the Piazza di Porta are two of the most famous; the crazy pile of bricks are the Torres degli Asinelli (Tower of the Asinelli) and the Torres degli Garisenda (Tower of the Garisenda). The Torres degli Asinelli is taller and on the left, with a lean of 1.3m (4.2ft), and 498 steps for you to climb should the mood take you. The Torres degli Garisenda is closed to the public because its lean of 3.2m (10.4ft) has been officially declared just too crazy and if climbed it might fall down.

Palazzo Comunale

Bologna's town hall, the Palazzo Comunale, sits on the western side of the city's two main piazzas. Its grandiose central staircase, attributed to the Renaissance architect Donato Bramante, was built wide enough for horse drawn carriages to transport their noble occupants up to the first floor. The palazzo houses an extensive collection of medieval and Renaissance paintings, sculpture and furniture. Outside the Palazzo you'll see a huge panel covered with photographs of Italian partisans killed during the WWII; such displays are common in the region of Emilia-Romagna, which was a centre of fierce partisan resistance to the German Occupation.

Piazza Maggiore

At the centre of the oldest part of Bologna, the broad open spaces of the Piazza Maggiore is surrounded by some of the city's most impressive medieval and Renaissance buildings and monuments. But this huge pedestrian square, like the adjoining Piazza del Nettuno, is not a rarefied, contemplative place; in the midst of all the splendour you'll see hundreds of busy Bolognesi carrying on with their everyday business, meeting in cafes, and crowding around the many musicians and street performers.

University Quarter

After all the high art it might be time for a couple of drinks in the bars and cafes of the University Quarter, the heart of the more contemporary, radical 'Red' Bologna. This thriving little district is northeast of the two towers, down the Via Zamboni. A proviso though: this being Italy you're never very far from a church or a gallery, and before you can't stand up properly you should go and look at the extraordinary Oratorio di Santa Cecilia, dubbed the 'Sistine Chapel of Bologna' for its ceiling frescoes depicting the life of St Cecilia. Also head for the nearby Pinacoteca Nazionale (National Picture Gallery) which focuses on Bolognese artists. After all that art, you'll have earned a drink.

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