Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bologna Italy - My thoughts

The choice was between Bologna and Lyon. We had been to both a few years ago, and, in hindsight, we believed that we had not fully exploited or explored either, so a repeat visit was required. After some thought, we decided that Bologna it would be. Some factors which influenced our decision were the fact that we like Italy better than France, and Bologna had three additional attractions, the new FICO Eataly World mega Agri Park [more on that later], Osteria Francescana voted the best restaurant in the world in 2016 by the slightly dubious San Pellegrino 50 Best Restaurants [more on that in a later post], and, if there was time we could visit the Ferrari or Ducati or Lamborghini factories, all of which are very close by.

After making all our air bookings, for some reason, on the days we needed rooms all hotels were showing up as full. This was disturbing. Some probing resulted in the answer, a huge cosmetics and packaging fair was being held on exactly those days. Hotels were not offering rooms unless you paid for them in advance and they were non-cancellable and most upsettingly were hugely marked up. We had no choice and we ended up paying more for a poorish room in Bologna than you would for a good room in London. So be it. Bologna has some huge trade fairs with Cosmoprof for hair, beauty and nail products, Cosmopack for packaging being held simultaneously. Later you have the equally big children’s book fair, and the bathroom and sanitary fair and so on and so forth.

Bologna is a typical Italian European town. You have the Plaza Maggiore or City Centre. Largely pedestrianized. A main Cathedral close by. The old city or Alt Stadt also in close proximity. All charm, all quaint, all very pretty and all full of tourists. In all seriousness, this is perfection. You can walk everywhere, you have charming cafes. Shops, ice cream shops, stores and plenty to look at.

A feature of Bologna, still not understood to this day are the Towers or Torri. These were medieval structures that were constructed. Neither their purpose clear nor is the number. Some estimates state that about 200 were constructed. Today one survives and you can climb to the top. Next to it is a half collapsed Torri.

Bologna is also known by three nicknames, "the learned one" (la dotta) is a reference to its university; "the fat one" (la grassa) refers to its cuisine; "the red one" (la rossa), originally referring to the colour of the roofs in the historic center, became later connected to the political leanings of the city i.e. Communism. Bologna University was established in 1088 and has contributed to the growth of the city hugely. Bologna University is the world’s longest continuously running university.

Imagine, if you can, life in 1088 as a student. You had to be rich, you came to the university with servants and horses. You needed places to stay, your servants had to be housed. The horses had to be housed and fed, carriages parked and maintained. You did not travel home for the summer vacation but stayed on in Bologna. All this resulted in an exponential growth in inns and innkeepers. If a student [who obviously had to be rich and probably Royalty] liked an Inn he asked the Inn to display his coat of arms outside as an indication of quality or satisfaction. Don’t we do this even today when we award 3 Stars in Michelin or points or stars when we review on Trip Advisor? How little things have changed and then again how much.

One of the older University buildings, still in use today though not as a University, is open to the public. It was fascinating to see the classroom of 500 years ago where Anatomy was taught. The original text book was there showing how to treat fractures. Fascinating. The old library with books from the start still functioned, though you were not allowed to sightsee. I took a photo of the rows upon rows of shelves with books neatly kept. 

This is Hippocrates 

The Fat One we all know about and I will write about the food in a later blog.

The roofs are indeed red. However, since the end of World War II, Bologna has always been left of center.

Bologna is the home of the great inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the radio and wireless transmission, without which our lives would have been very drab indeed. The airport is named after him.

The Piazza Maggiore, as I have written earlier is the dead Centre of Bologna. One side of the Plaza is dominated by a huge Basilica of San Petronio. The façade of the Basilica is unfinished. The Basilica has a unique feature. Cassani an Astronomer who was teaching at the University made an opening in the roof of the Basilica in 1655. The light from the hole then falls on a Meridian line drawn on the floor of the Basilica. The place where the light falls determines not the time of day but, in fact it tells you what day it is in a year, i.e. it is day 245. Brilliant is it not. However, that is not amazing enough. A fresco drawn in the 15th Century i.e. sometime in the 1400’s was suddenly interpreted by our friends the Muslims as being terribly insulting to Islam. The fresco apparently shows Mohammed being tortured in Hell. Please note the date of the fresco – 1400. In 2002 some 600 years later our Muslim brothers – and it must be stated that Islam is not a religion of violence, all Muslims are not the same, terrorism knows no religion and other such claptrap – decided to bomb the Basilica. They were arrested. Then in 2006 or Muslim brothers again made plans but were thwarted. The net result is that today there is a 24x7 security cordon and every visitor is frisked. Wonderful!

Another important monument is the Fountain of Neptune, complete with Neptune holding a trident and sporting a six pack. The trident has been used as the logo for Maserati cars since the 1920’s. The fountain would seriously affect our Indian sensibilities, our children’s values would be corrupted and it would have been impossible for Indian families comprising of two to three generations viewing the fountain together. The reason my dear readers for this obscenity is that the fountain has 4 nereids [or nymphs] squeezing their breasts from which water spews. Hai Hai Hai.

One of the unique features of Bologna are the literally, miles and miles of covered arches or porticos or passages, there are some 40 kilometers throughout the city. This makes it possible to walk for miles without the elements troubling you. The laws made it mandatory for new buildings to have space for porticoes, which themselves had to be made of a certain width and height. Today, many porticoes are ordinary or humble, but some are truly magnificent, maintained very well and ornately decorated.

The longest portico in some 3.75 kilometers long. It leads from the edge of the walled city all the way up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca a basilica atop a forested hill, some 350 metres above the city. HRH The Queen of Kutch and I walked with several other tourists and locals on Sunday from our hotel to the Sanctuary. It was hard work, long and fairly steep uphill. The weather was a cool 13 degrees but our exertions were so much that we had sweat dripping down our foreheads and our clothes were soaked in sweat. To our chagrin, it seemed that all of Sri Lanka was at the Sanctuary all praying in tandem, in Sinhalese. No one was minding the shop! The view from the top was nice, not breath-taking. We walked back to our hotel and got into a taxi to get to FICO.

The FICO Eataly World Agri Park is a brand new mega agri park or, more cynically, a theme park dedicated to food, inaugurated in November 2017 by the Italian Prime Minister. FICO is an abbreviation of Fabbrica Italiana Contadina (Italian Farming Factory) – is the result of a collaboration between Bologna’s mayor, Virginio Merola, and Oscar Farinetti, the mastermind behind the successful Eataly food hall brand. This is a 100,000 square foot – yes one lakh square foot – purpose-built facility. It has its own bus service, ample parking and plans to attract some 6 million or 60 lakh visitors a year. It has mini factories inside, a supermarket, individual dedicated areas for things like pasta, Parmesan, other cheese, Balsamic vinegar, tomato, meats and so on and so forth. It has 40 restaurants serving all manner of basically Italian food. There are bicycles with shopping baskets for you to use. Kids have bikes too. Large play areas for kids, interactive wheels where all aspects of food from growing to production are shown. There are special enclosures where trade delegates can set up and sell and display their products. When we visited there was a delegation from the Calabria region displaying regional specialties. There are tractors on display. It is only 5 months old. Once this matures and the management learns more this is going to be an absolutely fantastic place. Of course, FICO is somewhat controversial. The reports in the Guardian of London [a left of center newspaper] whether genuine or not, predict the death of the long standing traditional food stores of Bologna. Tamburini and the likes. Our taxi driver who spoke excellent English to us said, and I kid you not (i) that he and his family had been there 3 times - and immediately thereafter proceeded to say that - (ii) you get everything under one roof but as a local Bolognese he did not need that as he could easily go to 5 different stores. If he did not need to go there why did he go 3 times? See what I mean. People are confused and reports in the “middia” don’t seem to help. Basically, we are all resistant to change. We oppose the large online stores we oppose the large supermarkets.

Bologna is a really nice place. It is well located and has excellent train and air connections. If you are visiting Italy, you will have to visit the big places – Rome, Venice and Florence. My strong suggestion and recommendation is that you dig your heels in and visit Bologna for at least 2 to 3 nights. You can indulge in fine food and see the fabulous and emotive Ferrari Museum in nearby Maranello. I guarantee tears at Ferrari.

To end, these two photos are exactly the same just treated differently. The black and white one looks so much like time stood still. Reminds me of WWII movies.


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