Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Tale of Three Cities

Typical Italian city scene.
Over a day and a half, we travelled slowly north from Tuscany, stopping at three interesting cities along the way. The first of these was Bologna, the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region. We found a parking spot, and headed off to explore, as always, on foot, although on this occasion, we did so without a map–at first.
Courtyard in the Palazzo d'Accursio
Palazzo d'Accursio
Before we found the local tourist information office, we stopped at the Mercato della Erbe looking for lunch (after all, this is a city known for its food). Then we found our way to the Palazzo d'Accursio, once the city's town hall. From the windows there, we looked out towards the Piazza Maggiore of Bologna, the spot we were looking for, the centre of the city.
Chairs set up in the Piazza Maggiore
Inside the Salaborsa
Here we found the local information office, and a much needed self-guiding walking tour of the city. There, we also got a feel for Bologna's cultural life, as the piazza was set up for a film festival that day. Nearby, we visited the Biblioteca Salaborsa, the main library of the city, once its stock exchange. On this day, its main hall was festooned with retro movie posters advertising the same event.
Palazzo Re Enzo with the scaffolded Neptune fountain beside it.
Inside the basilica
We did not see the famous Neptune fountain in the square as it was under scaffolding, but we saw everything else. Across from the Salaborsa is the Palazzo Re Enzo, a 13th century building with a long history. The most imposing building in this central area is the Basilica di San Petronio. It is very large, but its interior is much more striking than its exterior. It certainly paled in comparison to the Tuscan churches we had visited over the previous week.
The façade of the basilica is quite plain
Via dell'Archiginnasio
Our walk took us south from the Piazza Maggiore through a very ritzy shopping area under cooling Italian arcades. Our destination was the Biblioteca Archiginnasio, once the main building of the University of Bologna. Now it is a museum.
Inside the Archiginnasio of Bologna 
Coats of Arms on the ceiling
What a building it is! Commissioned by Pope Pius IV in the 16th Century, this edifice is architecturally and artistically stunning. The hallways are decorated with frescoes, as well as heraldry with six thousands coats of arms on display.
I stand in front of the professor's podium in the Anatomical Theatre
Typical hallway
The most impressive room in the building is the Anatomical Theatre. Its warmth comes from the fir wood used to construct it, while its statuary represents great doctors of the past. I really enjoyed being in this room.
I stand in front of the church with the column to San Dominica behind me
The Arc of Saint Dominic which contains the remains of the saint by that name
Continuing on our tour, we stopped for a couple of photos outside San Domenico before entering its confines. Here is where the saint who began the Dominican order of priests is buried. Like so many others in this country, this church was beautiful, and was a repository of much beautiful art.
Santo Stefano
A corner of the church
Further along, we encountered a most unusual church, actually seven churches in one. Santo Stefano is a large complex, with various chapels built over or beside each other. The earliest of these goes back to the fifth century. Inside there is a warren of pathways and staircases, leading from one chapel to another. We could have gotten lost in there.
An older chapel
A small cloister
In fact, we lost each other for a time, as there were so many corners to see. How interesting it was to explore these churches, representing so many styles of architecture and all in one place!
Another chapel

Two church entrances at Santo Stefano
Heading back into the centre of the city, we sought out the towers of Bologna, those symbols of prestige so popular in the middle ages. There are only two of them now while once there were one hundred and eighty.
The towers of Asinelli and Garisenda
A Bolognese canal
From there, we headed north passing by several University buildings where we sought out Bologna's underground canals. We found only one of them, thanks to our written guide which led us to a bridge and a view through a window to the water. Thus ended our tour of Bologna.
City Hall–Modena
The tower of the Duomo
Our destination for the night was about a half hour away, Modena, a city famous for its association with balsamic vinegar. Our hotel was in the centre of town, a bit hard to find with so many "pedestrian only" streets around it, but well located for exploring both in the evening and the morning of our stay.
Balsamic steak
Evening gathering 
For dinner, on the recommendation of the hotel concierge, we chose to eat at a restaurant which served local fare. I chose a steak absolutely covered in balsamic vinegar. It was very, very tasty!
The Duomo as seen from the Piazza Maggiore
Part of the interior of the Duomo
Our morning walk through the city was very enjoyable. It was a warm and sunny day and Modena looked beautiful under a cloudless sky. Returning to the Piazza Maggiore, we first visited the Duomo. It always impresses me that these great churches are all unique, but share common elements. In this case, the lionine pulpit was reminiscent of many we had seen in Italy, but the raised presbytery was quite unusual, creating a two story look to the interior.
Too early for the cafe to open. 
Pastel walkway
The buildings opposite the Mercato Albinelli 
As we roamed the streets of Modena, I was struck by the lovely pastel hues of the buildings that lined the streets. The Italians have a way with colour. In their hot climate, the light colours work somehow.
Statue outside San Francesco d'Assisi
San Barnaba
We visited several other churches that morning: the San Francesco d'Assisi church was covered in scaffolding so we photographed the statue and the fountain outside of it instead; other churches, San Barnaba and San Bartolomeo were modern by European standards, clearly from the baroque period, with ceilings covered in religious art. The exterior of San Domenico indicated that it was erected during the same period, but it was closed, so we did not see the inside.
Baroque ceiling of San Bartolomeo
Exterior of San Domenico
We also visited the local market, the Mercato Albinelli, where the produce looked very tempting. The Italians certainly love fresh food, and have much of it grown locally. Another stop along the way was a museum, the Museo Lapidario Estense, where we witnessed a pair of actors rehearsing a scene. We did not enter the exhibition there, but merely explored the entranceway.
Busy morning at the market
Actors rehearsing in the Museum
On the outer boundary of the old part of the city, we went looking for a former convent but only found a large abandoned building. This was a shame but we took pictures anyway. Nearby, we saw statuary honouring Italian heroes.
Sad to see a once great building abandoned.
Eventually we arrived at the very impressive Ducal Palace, now the home of a military academy. It is a gorgeous building, made even more magnificent with its position at the base of a large square, Piazza Roma. Unlike the Piazza Maggiore, this area was very quiet.  Our impression is that Modena is not a major tourist centre but we enjoyed our time there nevertheless.
The baroque Ducal Palace
Another view of the Ducal Palace
After lunch, we headed north to Mantua (known locally as Mantova), a town I was familiar with only because it is mentioned in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It was the smallest of our three cities, but with the designation, "Italian Capital of Culture", we expected a very good experience.
The exterior of the Duomo is a testament to the many styles in its design
Children in the duomo
From the tourist information office, we headed directly to the Duomo, entering through a back door. (Honestly, we did not know which church we were entering, but it turned out to be enormous.) On this Thursday afternoon, the church was packed with young people, all dressed in colourful t-shirts. Clearly, we had walked into a pilgrimage of some sort. A priest was speaking to them from the front, but, of course, we could not understand a thing.
Veronica and Christ: one of the stations of the cross.
The marble façade of the Duomo
We explored the interior perimeter of the Duomo anyway. We were both struck by the beautiful artwork of the Stations of the Cross. The style was somewhat reminiscent of what we had seen in Barcelona at La Sagrada Familia.
Piazza Sordello
Exiting the front door, we found ourselves in a massive square, the Piazza Sordello. It was very hot that day, so no one was about. Maybe it was siesta time. Undaunted, we continued our explorations. We soon found ourselves in another piazza, Piazza della Erbe, near two other churches.
Basilica di Sant'Andrea
The interior
The Renaissance Basilica di Sant'Andrea is beautiful. The façade was inspired by the Arch of Titus, so it has a distinctly Roman look. Inside, the most notable feature is a relic, drops of Christ's Blood collected at the crucifixion, but we were more intrigued by the vaulted ceiling and the dome, which gave an impression of grandeur.
Inside the dome 
Inside the round church
Across the piazza was an unusual round church. The Rotunda di San Lorenzo is the oldest church in the city, having been built in the 11th century, on the site of a Roman temple. It is no longer used as a place of worship, however.
A courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale
Another part of the Palazzo Ducale: the façade of Santa Barbara
We spent the bulk of our time in Mantua in the Palazzo Ducale, the residence of the Gonzaga family who held power in the city for over 400 years. (1308-1728). Their prestigious position in local society is well documented in their former residence.
Interesting round staircase in the Palazzo Ducale
The Gonzago Family as depicted on the wall of the Palazzo Ducale
Painted ceiling
It took us several hours to walk through the many rooms of this palace; we did not see all 500 of them, but we sure saw a lot! I was very impressed by the frescoes on the walls of one part of the complex. The ceiling art in the Camera degli Sposi (a painted chamber) was gorgeous, especially the image of angels looking down at us. These rooms were relatively small but intricately docorated.
A grand passageway
Another great hall
Other rooms were very grand.  I imagine the ladies of the family walked these beautiful galleries to get their exercise, or, perhaps, they merely walked from an eastern corner of the building to a western one. After all, this palace covers an area of some 50 000 meters.
Statues outside the Palace–on chimneys.
Some of the statuary in the Palace
In the basement of the Palazzo Ducale are rooms dedicated to statuary. I do not recall whether these were Roman originals or copies but the collection was impressive nevertheless. Bob, as you can see, was inspired.

We enjoyed our time in all three cities. We were reminded that the history and culture of Europe are very rich and that every major centre has much to offer.

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