One of my favourite things to do when visiting new town is to walk around and taste the atmosphere. Of course, the walks we were doing in Bologna were rather purposeful, but apart from trying to get from one incredible interesting site to another we were as well walking to grab something to bite or to visit streets and places which would make us feel like locals. And of course to grab aperitif to restore our strength.
Not much to our surprise (since my sister was incredibly well prepared) whenever and wherever we walked in the old part of the town, we were walking under porticoes, some of them quite impressive, some amazingly old and cute even. They are one of the main features of Bologna and you can count between 38 and 40 kilometres of them (could not find the exact number).
They history is quite interesting as well. They were built between XI and XX century and they can be located in the part of the city which was surrounded by walls in XIII century.
They can give you a shelter from any weather, especially the much needed shadow during very hot summer months. The idea was connected with the problem developing town was facing – need of space during the economic growth of the city. The invasion of public spaces was prohibited and the need to create more space and build new homes at the same time was inevitable. The need to fix the problem was dwelling upon the City Hall.
Luckily in XIII century something quite incredible happened. From one side it was not possible to build porticoes anymore without a special licence to use public space, and from the other porticoes in Bologna were compulsory for many street as they practicality was proven already. That way in 1288 the Law has been introduce – it preserved porticoes public use and allowed to build them where they were needed. Furthermore the Law indicated the high for them – 7 feet (about 2.70 m) in order to allow the passage of a man riding his horse. That way the creation of more space and the need of building more houses for the developing city was fulfilled.
Even though in XIV century there was an order issued to forbid building wooden porticoes and in XVI century the idea of replacing all wooden porticoes with brick or stone was introduced, some of the oldest (XIII century) once still can be found around Bologna. And they are things of beauty!
The University was developing rapidly during XII and XIII century and that was a reason for the typical students’ houses to arise as well – flats on an upper floor and shops on the ground floor. This tradition can be observed today, a lot of porticoes houses cafes or shops and they are great use of the created space!
They are essential part of the town now, giving it a unique character and creating beautiful and unusual passages people can use to get from one place to another. Some of them were even used to indicate religious affection and it is easy to spot hidden statues of Mother of God or any other Saint.
It would be hard to imagine Bologna without them, they are integral part of the city, indicating incredible idea on how to use the space to meet the needs of everyone living in the town. Walk along them on a sunny or rainy day and you will hardly need an umbrella to hide under in order to avoid sun or rain.