An unparalleled architectural harmony winds through the streets of Bologna, weaving a unique plot in Italian urban history: the arcades. These wonderful structures, which characterize the city landscape, are much more than just covers. They are living testimonies of a city that has been able to transform its need into beauty, transporting residents and visitors to a world of other times.
The city of Bologna, located in the heart of Italy, is famous for its arcades, a unique architecture that characterizes its urban landscape. Only in the city exceed 38 kilometers and represent a particular way of life, making accessible to the public the exterior of the buildings ensuring sociality and trade.
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These long covered galleries represent a fundamental part of the history and identity of the city. In this article, we will explore when the arcades of Bologna were built, their characteristics and their importance.
Why are there arcades in Bologna?
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The arcades of Bologna were conceived in the Middle Ages as practical solutions to the urban expansion linked to the University: people built rooms overhanging the upper floors of the buildings to rent to students and scholars, trying not to take away living space from city life, but it was not uncommon to see them collapse.
Soon it was decided to build columns to maintain the extra living spaces. Only at the end of the thirteenth century, the city made mandatory the construction of wooden porches high and wide at least two meters and sixty-six centimeters (enough space to pass a man on horseback with a hat on his head) both for the houses already built and for the new buildings and the owners were forced to build them on their own land and at their own expense.
The obligation established by the City made the arcades halfway between public and private space, that is, private spaces but of the whole city, creating an inconsistency that ended with their definition in urban elements of common good.
Over time, the arcades have assumed a double function: protecting people from the rain and the scorching sun and creating a unique commercial, artisanal and social space where people can meet and share moments of everyday life.
More than simple architectural structures. The arcades are silent witnesses of historical events, progress and changes that have crossed the city over the centuries. They have witnessed important political, cultural and social moments and have hosted generations of Bolognese and visitors from all over the world.
The most evocative arcades of Bologna
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Where do the arcades begin in Bologna? From the arch of Bonaccorsi of Porta Zaragozza, they extend for over forty kilometers and cover much of the historic center of the city (reaching sixty-two kilometers if you consider the porches outside the door).
Most of the arcades are built of stone and brick (although there is some evidence of the first wooden examples such as the porch of Casa Isolani) and is located along the main roads that connect the different buildings of the city, including palaces, churches, universities and shops. The elegant arches and filtered light create an evocative setting that captures the imagination of many.
Which are the most evocative arcades that allow you to immerse yourself in the timeless beauty of the city? Among those not to be missed there is certainly that of San Luca because the length of the arcades of San Luca in Bologna extends over three kilometers and six hundred and sixty-six arches and connects the city with the Sanctuary of San Luca, located on the hill of Guardia. It’s one of the longest arcades in the world.
Among the most iconic arcades is that of San Stefano. This fascinating complex between the Basilica and its interconnected arcades creates a magical atmosphere that transports visitors to a distant past between private and public spaces and buildings.
Continuing, there is the portico of Palazzo dei Banchi (portico of Pavaglione), located in the central Piazza Maggiore. With its elegant arcades and historic shops, it is the ideal place to immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of Bologna. In addition, looking up at the ceiling at the Palazzo della Banca d’Italia, you can admire some paintings of inestimable value.
Among the arcades not to be missed is Via Zamboni, a portico that leads to the University of Bologna and is animated by young students who stroll through its arches, creating a lively and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
The portico of Strada Maggiore is also a must. This important artery of Bologna that winds through the historic center boasts the wooden porch of Casa Isolani that enchants visitors with its romantic atmosphere and the charm of its historic buildings.
Why are the arcades of Bologna a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
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Bologna, the city of arcades, has obtained a new recognition that consecrates it as an architectural jewel of world importance. On 28 July 2021, the arcades of Bologna were officially included in the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. This appointment confirms what the Bolognese have always known: that their arcades are a cultural treasure without equal.
However, only twelve groups of arcades have been declared UNESCO World Heritage: Piazza Santo Stefano; via Zamboni; Strada Maggiore; porticoed mambo building; Piazza Cavour and Via Farini; Arco del Meloncello and segment of arcades of the Sanctuary of San Luca; portico of Pavaglione and Piazza Maggiore; via Santa Caterina; building “Treno della Barca”; Monumental Cemetery of the Certosa; Baraccano Theatre; via Galliera.
The appointment will help preserve and protect the arcades for future generations, ensuring that their splendor and historical importance continue to be admired. It is a celebration of the city itself and an invitation to all those who love art and history to discover the charm of the arcades of Bologna and to join this wonderful story that unfolds under their majestic arches.
Arcades as an authentic essence of Bologna
The arcades of Bologna represent a unique and fascinating architecture that characterizes the urban landscape of this Italian city. Walking along these historic arcades, you feel enveloped by a unique and enchanting atmosphere and transported into the authentic essence of Bologna.