Food is what Bologna is known for. In fact, one of the lesser known Bologna facts is that the original pasta Bolognese comes from a recipe born in this very city - hence the name. It's enough just walking down any street in the centre and noticing all the delicacies offered by numerous restaurants, bars, and food shops. But lurking beneath the tourist attractions is a secret Bologna where every building and church tells a story of how the city once was. My city is a treasure trove filled with art and culture waiting to be uncovered. To fully appreciate this ancient town, you have to explore it deeply by visiting these 5 hidden gems in Bologna and discover its rich artistic history.
Church Of Santa Maria Della Vita
Nestled in the central Quadrilatero area (via Clavature 10), just a few steps from the majestic San Petronio, the Church of Santa Maria della Vita is one of my favourite secret things to do in Bologna. The exterior of this church might not draw your attention but inside you can admire one of the most important masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. The “Compianto del Cristo Morto” (Lamentation over the Dead Christ) by Niccolò dell’Arca was completed in 1463, but still nowadays looks impressive for its realism and raw depiction of grief. I believe the emotion of these seven life-sized terracotta sculptures brings them to life, creating a stunning and intense atmosphere. The original church was built for the religious confraternity known as the “Compagnia dei Battuti,” active in Bologna as early as 1260, to offer shelter to pilgrims and treat the sick. The building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1686 and was completely rebuilt. Above the church, there is also a 17th-century baroque oratory, which houses the “Transito Della Vergine” by Alfonso Lombardi, another remarkable piece of art and worthy stop on any Bologna alternative guide.
Anatomical Theatre Of The Archiginnasio
Visiting the Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio is worth factoring into your Bologna travel plans. Inside the amazing building of The Archiginnasio, which was commissioned by Cardinal Borromeo between 1562 and 1563, you can find a true hidden gem of Bologna: the Anatomical theatre. Made of carved wood, it was built in 1637 for anatomy lessons and one can only wonder what it was like to attend a lecture in such surroundings. The city can get busy during peak holiday times and I love to come here to escape the mad crowds. It is definitely one of my preferred non-touristy things to do in Bologna. Though the majority of the Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio was destroyed during the World War, it was rebuilt according to the original layout, including the famous statues of the Spellati - Skinless - by Ercole Lelli. Entry costs 3 Euros, but with the same entrance ticket, you can admire another spectacular room named “Stabat Mater”, the old lecture hall where law students used to spend hours and hours.
Ark Of Saint Dominic
There are many interesting Bologna facts to learn and this church has more points of interest to discover: the chapel decorations (Glorificazione di S. Domenico – St. Domenico's glorification by Guido Reni), the evocative cloisters and San Domenico’s cell. In particular, the wooden choir by the monk Damiano from Bergamo is a masterpiece of the Renaissance period (1528-51) - Emperor Charles V even wanted to check with his sword if the figures were actually inlaid and not painted. The Ark of Saint Dominic may not regularly feature in Bologna travel guides but to me it is just as worthy as any of the main attractions scattered throughout the city.
Oratory Of St.Cecilia And Valeriano
In Bologna, it’s easy to take advantage of the 38 km of porticos which provides easy access to many hidden gems in Bologna. The Oratory of St. Cecilia is located in the crowded university street of via Zamboni and the entrance is free. I soon learnt just how charming this part of secret Bologna is. Previously a Romanesque church, built as a family chapel for Bolognese Lord Giovanni II Bentivoglio, the building is most renowned for its exquisite series of frescoes. Dating back to 1505, the frescoes showcase the mastery of some of Bologna’s most important Renaissance artists including Lorenzo Costa, Francesco Francia, Amico Aspertini and Raffaello Sanzio. Stretching over ten panels, the elaborate scenes depict the life of Saint Cecilia and her husband Valentine, while the church’s main altarpiece was so impressive, it’s now on display in the National Art Gallery of Bologna.
Tagliavini Collection - Museum Of San Colombano
As I mentioned, food along with culture and architecture is what Bologna is known for but you probably don’t know that in 2006 the city became a UNESCO Creative City of Music: a prestigious acknowledgment celebrating its rich musical tradition and its lively music scene. There are many secret things to do in Bologna but not many know about the Tagliavini Collection housed in the beautiful deconsecrated church of St. Columban. The Tagliavini collection gathers over 70 musical instruments from the early 16th to the early 20th century. The instruments are part of the collection of Luigi Tagliavini, a Bolognese organist, harpsichordist and musicologist who dedicated his entire life to find and buy rare pieces around Europe. The collection is fantastic, amongst these instruments are early keyboards (spinets, harpsichords, early pianoforte, clavichords, 2 or 3 organs) which are all in a very good condition. Every piece is really beautiful, historically very interesting, and ready to be played on. And the collection continues acquiring new pieces thanks to the generous donation of the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation in Bologna.
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