Weekend in Bologna

Schermata 2015-03-09 alle 10.54.08



It’s quite difficult to infuriate someone from Bologna, because as a rule, they’re a pretty good-natured bunch, but if that’s what you want to do, I’ll tell you how.

“The first thing to do is to pronounce turtelén incorrectly.”

In Italy everybody loves tortellini and everybody wants you – as a real Bolognese person – to know it, and it’s as if they’re saying ‘See, I’m also a little bit Bolognese’. But for god’s sake, at least get the pronunciation right.   It’s turtlèin, and none of you who weren’t born within earshot of the Two Towers can say it properly.

The second bone of contention is to evoke the so-called leggenda nera’or black legend, whereby Bologna is the capital of salacious and audacious sexual promiscuity. It’s called scescio if you’re interested in getting the sound right, and it needs to be pronounced with the heavy ‘s’ sound used by every native of the city. But what is scescio within the context of Bologna? Research begins in the hills which embrace the city to the south and which have been a refuge for millions fleeing the chaos of the city, and yes, home to a million love nests. Visit Gaibola, in the area known as the Tre Portoni, or Three Gates. Legend has it there was a stinking pit into which the corpses of the condemned to death were thrown. It’s the place Dante refers to in The Inferno Canto XVIII when he talks about the terrible fate of Venedico Caccianemico, the omnipotent citizen who forces his poor sister Ghisolabella into prostitution. 

A cranky old Dante would say, ‘but this is a picture postcard Bologna’. Perhaps. But whoever comes to Bologna in search of a legend, would do better not to despise the postcard.

He could be considered as one of history’s first pimps. And Dante considered being a pimp a typical Bolognese profession. Venedico says there are many more like him in hell as well as in the town itself. And anyway Dante, what do you know? Was it true or was it just your malicious spite? And as for you lot gazing down from the hilltops, look down on this wonderful walled city and see how seductive and lively she is, despite the demolition of her walls at the beginning of the last century. Look and immediately you can make out the Two Towers and the other surviving towers in the area once known as medieval Manhattan (yes, Manhattan, there is nothing to laugh about). And look at that majestic matriarchal building, the Basilica of San Petronio, huge and incomplete. And the dome of Santa Maria della Vita that protects the Compianto of Niccolò dell’Arca, the most sublime image of devotional love. And the embrace of the gothic ramparts of the roman basilica of San Francesco. Under the Specola Tower, you can see the Palazzo Poggi, the home to the Alma Mater Studiorum, the first university and home to an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. And listen well now; hear the blood coursing through the porticoes, the veins and the arteries, which keep the body of this city warm and alive.