Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Bologna Has a First Name

"Bologna is the best city in Italy for food,
and it has the least (sic) number of tourists.
With its medieval beauty, it has it all."
~ Mario Batali

"I know we've not even been here 24 hours, but I like this town," I said to Mike as we headed down Via Santo Stefano yesterday morning.

"I think you like the architecture," he quickly replied. "It's so different from what we've been seeing everywhere else."

He was partially right.  I think the part of Bologna that appealed to me immediately was the medieval architecture.  Like so many other towns, it has arches, towers, and porticos, but the ones here are so different from any we've seen in other cities.  Besides, the centro storico has a gazillion porticoes.  Yes, I'm exaggerating a bit, but believe it or not, there are 38 kilometers (about 23 mi.) of porticos in Bologna's  centro storico, and an additional 12-15 outside of the city center. 

Not all porticos are created equal, and one finds some in beautiful shape while others are less-appealing with their graffiti decorations or crumbling columns.  Many (Dare I say 'most?') are quite heavy and dark, but there are a few more delicate ones with narrow posts and arches.  Depending on the part of town and the era in which they were built, the design of the porticos can be very plain or quite ornate. I find it fascinating.

"I think you like them because you can walk without getting wet if it rains," the signor said to me.

"Hey, that's just a benefit of porticos," I replied.  "A big benefit... maybe the BIGGEst benefit."  Truth is, I hate walking in rain or snow because I don't like getting wet. In the first place, it ruins the strings of cornsilk protruding from my head.  More importantly, I hate being cold and wet.

Until we took a walking tour of the old part of town tonight, I thought that the Bolognese built the porticos to protect themselves from the elements.  When w toured Torino last month, we found out that they have porticos  (about 18 km) which the wealthy had built so that they could walk about the city protected, as I stated above.  Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

After the university opened in Bologna, people saw a need to expand living space to house university students. Because homeowners could not build out onto the walkway, the constructed wooded porticos that allowed them to bring the houses out but without impeding on the walkway of the general public.  By the 13th century, stone, brick, concrete, etc. replaced wood as the medium of choice for building the porticos, and by the mid-1400s, the city outlawed the use of wood in making portio.

We went for a short walk before dinner last night, and as we headed into a more residential area, we noticed that there were no porticos around.  We also noticed that raindrops were falling on our heads.

"I think I felt a raindrop," Mike announced after we had walked into an area that had no porticos.

"Of course it's raining, I replied. "Why should Bologna be different from any other place we've stayed in?"  

"I know," Mike said calmly.  "There's just nothing to protect us." 

"Let's go back the way we came so we can get under a portico."

So, we backtracked a few blocks, got under the portico, and arrived at Ristorante Leonido dry and happy that we avoided the rain.

By the way, we are keeping a rain score, and it has rained at least one day  — and more often a LOT more — in every city we've visited.  Last year, Europe was fighting an early heatwave. This year, they're fighting cold and rain.

By the way, Batali once said the food of Abruzzo was nearly heaven, so I don't take much stock in his glorious praise of Bolognese food.  The food has all been okay, but I hope someone teaches these people how to make bread properly.

But that's another story for another day.

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