More Unfinished Churches | Travel Blog


Published: August 7th 2023

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Our apartment here in the historic centre of Bologna is almost more museum than somewhere to lay your head – antique furniture, chandeliers, a library of old books, framed artwork – all of which probably explains why we had to pass a video interview before they’d let us anywhere near the keys. And if you wanted to rob the place, well good luck getting past all the locks. It is however very spacious and comfortable, and the views over the city centre’s historic monuments from the seventh floor roof terrace are priceless.

We head out for a wander. First up is the main square, Piazza Maggiore, which is surrounded on three sides by stately looking historic buildings – the Basilica di San Petronio, the Pallazo d’Accursio with its clock tower the Torre dell‘Orologio, and the Pallazo Re Enzo with its Torre Lambertini. They’re clearly big on towers here – the two around the square pale into insignificance compared to the 97.2 metre tall Asinelli Tower which dominates the city’s skyline. They’re also big on porticos, and we read that there are somewhere around 40 kilometres of these elegant structures in the historic centre.

We’re enjoying a bite of lunch

View from our apartmentView from our apartmentView from our apartment

in an outdoor cafe when a large lady dressed all in white and with white makeup smeared all over her face suddenly appears next to us seemingly out of nowhere. She wants me to fist pump her, and in exchange for that great honour it seems that I’m now obliged to give her money. Huh?

We head up the main shopping strip, Via dell’Independenza, and on into the leafy Parco della Montagnola. It’s pleasant enough, but perhaps slightly underwhelming. We might have believed the statues around the pond were marble if someone hadn’t tried to snap off one of the animal’s tails and left it hanging by some of those steel bars they use to reinforce concrete.

We head back for a siesta, then it’s wandering time again for me. First stop is the Basilica San Petronio. Its facade‘s fairly plain, but they make up for it inside. It looks absolutely massive, and it is – apparently the fifth largest in Italy type massive, and the largest brick built Gothic church in the world. Construction work started in 1390, but as seemed to happen a lot with churches in The Middle Ages, they took their time getting the


job done. Financial problems and political opposition meant that it wasn’t finished until 1663, and even then it wasn’t really finished. A pope along the way decided to give priority to some surrounding buildings. This included one where part of the Basilica was supposed to go, which made following the original plans a bit problematic, and they only ever got around to decorating the bottom part of the facade. Other than size, one of its other major claims to fame is as the site of the Coronation of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in 1530. It’s certainly a very imposing structure when viewed from the inside.

Next up is a climb up to the leafy Parco di San Michele in Bosco on the southern edge of the city. The views from up here over the whole town are excellent.

On the way back there’s time for a quick duck into the Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro. I read that this was consecrated way back in 1184. It thus predates the nearby Basilica, and despite being smaller also apparently outranks it. I guess that might explain some of the political opposition to finishing off the larger church, and why

Palazzo d’AccursioPalazzo d’AccursioPalazzo d’Accursio

it’s only been bestowed the lowly title of “minor basilica”. So I guess size really doesn’t matter. The Cathedral is ridiculously dark, like very hard to see where you’re going type dark. Possible someone forgot to pay the electricity bill? I follow a sign down a ridiculously dark passageway that supposedly leads to the crypt. If there are stairs down to it along here somewhere I’m about to be in a world of pain. But no, there’s just a locked gate with the word “crypt” written on it … well I think that’s what it was. I like crypts, so that was a bit disappointing. Too dark for anyone to get down there and light the candles perhaps? The bits of the Cathedral that are visible through the gloom don’t look anything particularly special, and it’s certainly not as impressive as the Basilica.

We read that one of Bologna’s main claims to fame is as home of the western world’s oldest still operating university. It’s thought to have been established in 1088; the planet’s only older such institution is, as we heard recently, in Fes in Morocco – that was established way back in the mid ninth century.


I’m told I need to write more about eating and food, but nothing too interesting happens at dinner. Neither of us have had the obligatory spaghetti bolognaise yet since we’ve been here, but Issy‘s warming up to it – she orders spaghetti with anchovies and hazelnut butter, which she says is excellent. I’m not sure that was all that interesting.


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