Bologna
May 2018
More photos here
 

Monday 28th May
In 2017 I spent a week in Bologna and was inspired to make a new page on Churches of Venice dealing with this city's churches. But it was just a start, and another week was essential to get it presentable. I know - the sacrifices I make! A 14.45 flight meant I wouldn't be heading to Heathrow at the crack of dawn, and it being a Bank Holiday led me to hope for an easy journey too.
And indeed the tube journey involved only the shortest of waits, and there were no queues at all for the (automated) bag drop, security or at Pret for a brie and tomato baguette and a mango smoothie. Perfetto! I had the excitement of sitting in the exit row, too, and being asked at the desk if I was OK with that, but then we sat waiting for 50 minutes for a slot.
Refinding the stop for the Aerobus into town (just past the central escalators) and the ticket machines (back inside the terminal) was no trouble. Last year I wondered if I'd missed a stop near the Piazza Maggiore as we'd ended up at the railway station, but it turns out there isn't one, and the route map that I'd found then was a tissue of lies. So after the trudge into the centro I checked into the old Commercianti (just before 8.00) then headed out for some pesto, green bean and potato pasta from Adesso nearby, followed by a stracciatella and ginger/cinnamon gelato from San Crispino whilst strolling.


Tuesday 29th May
The Commercianti's pastry selection was well up to spoilt-for-choice scratch this morning. The cherry tart slice had to lose its place (in my belly) to the apple and cinnamon slice. And then it was down to church business.

San Giovanni Battista is very near the hotel and was really just a small baroque warm up. San Procolo is more monumental and plain, but still a bit unexciting. Corpus Domini has the mummy of a locally venerated Saint called Catherine sitting in a glass case in a small chapel which you have to be buzzed into - it's full of gilding, relics and chubby putti, and is all very Catholic (see right).

Over the ring road where the town walls used to be, SS Annunziata was another bare one, with fresco lunettes in the outside arcade by G. Lippi and P. Carracci.
San Michele in Bosco involves a trek uphill, but is worth it for the view and a much more interesting and likeable church, with a very raised presbytery, a variety of frescoes of many ages and degrees of damage, and a highlight brightly-frescoed sacristy (see right) that is worth the trudge uphill in itself. Then the bells started chiming for 12.00 and the lights in the chapels went out.

I walked back downhill a different way, and passing the unvisited Santa Maria della Misericordia found it still open! It has no great art but I liked the fresco-decorated arches and ribs. And the Lippo di Dalmasio Madonna and Child in a box. Back to the hotel via three more firmly closed churches, and into shops for a mozzarella and tomato panino, a packet of lime and pepper crisps, and some decidedly artisanal fresh-baked biscuits.

After the doze, more churches. A revisit to SS Vitale e Agricola, but I didn't have a €1 piece for the crypt light, and the approachable chap attending in the sacristy didn't have change. Santa Maria della Pietà next, where three women seemed to be doing their own service in the nave, and the man in the dog collar did not seem happy. Santa Caterina di Strada Maggiore to finish, where the atmosphere (and interior) was lighter and the Lavinia Fontana altarpiece impressive. It was raining heavily when I left, but the plenteous arcades lessened the problem. Things got torrential however, and even picking my route I was more than damp by the time I got back to the hotel, even with some drying bookshop lingers.

I went out again swiftly, as the rain had stopped, and found that one of the restaurants we liked last time closes on Tuesday and that the McDonald's here doesn't do the veggie burger. I ended up in Nichola's Pizzeria in Piazza San Martino, which may have been recommended to me for last year's trip, and if not it should have been! An excellent
cipolla pizza was had, with fresh mozzarella, and a bottle of Franziskaner weissbier. I tried the other gelateria by the towers, Gianni's, but their limone and coco was not special.


Wednesday 30th May

Cities have their prime periods, do they not, and the standard of the art in those times tends to rise to reflect. So...Bellini, Giorgione & Titian in Venice... For Bologna it's the 17th century, the baroque and the Carracci, and it's a rare church here that wasn't built, or at least rebuilt or remodeled in that period. As a man with little love for the baroque, although at least the Carracci are famous for shunning Mannerism, I therefore needed a visit to the medieval museum after just one day, slipping into Santi Gregorio e Siro on the way to kill time. I also found the ex-church of San Giorgio in Poggiale, now a library (see right), open and welcoming and scrubbed looking, and with some surprisingly lovable big paintings of an architectural nature.

The medieval museum is a bit of a confusing mix of buildings and floors, but has some nice tombs, taken from the aforementioned remodeled churches, ivories, Murano glass, and illuminated choir books. Also (yawn) rooms of armour, but no panel paintings or fresco bits, which was disappointing. Then to San Colombano, a collection of three church spaces, with some lovely frescoed walls, but full of historical musical instruments. The frescoes are a treat, though, even to the constant tedious background clank of harpsichord tuning. An information-top-up visit to Santa Maria di Galliera, which at least has some good baroque stuff. For lunch I found a supermarket tofu and olive tremezzini vegetali - a bit worthy (and vegan even) even for me, but q. tasty.
After the doze I headed east for an early-evening run to tick off some closed and other-use churches, including the enormous and ramshackle SM del Baraccano. On a whim I ventured beyond the walls to check out a church dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua. It looked plain and 20th century on the outside but I thought I'd look inside anyway and - blimey! If you can imagine that Pugin wasn't just high church but a fervent Catholic, and a bit bonkers with it. To calm my nerves I picked up some chocolate from Lindt on the way back - a bar each of dark choc almond and orange and almond and lemon, and both on special-offer even!

To the old fave restaurant that was closed last night, the Inrocio Montegrappa, for a margherita pizza, with onion, and then to the fave gelateria for an apricot sorbet and honey coppa.


Thursday 31st May

I suppose it's logical that after visiting the best churches on previous visits a trip to see the rest is going to tend towards the second rate and a bit of baroque weariness, shall we say. I'm hoping that the phenomenon of San Michele in Bosco, which I'd not been to before before, as it's a way out and uphill, and which has been the highlight so far, might repeat as I trek out (and up) to San Luca today.

But that somewhat grumpy intro to the day was revealed as just that by two churches visited on the way. The Madonna dei Poveri was just a cross on my map, but turned out to be baroque, but sweet with it - small and odd and nicely not too gilt. There's a mini 16th century Madonna and Child by Passarotti, peering through a window in a flat box over the altar, which seems to be a Bologna thing. The middle chapel on the right had a likeable Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and the Evangelist by Massari and the first right even has a 14th-century detached fresco frag of the Madonna and Child. See what I mean? Sant'Isaia was a last minute discovery in my pre-trip preparations, but it's hard to miss. Much bigger, six bays long, with chunky pale rectangular pillars with buff-colour marble bases on streaky monochrome marble plinths. All very tasteful with just a little, and quite dull, gilding. A soft baroque Annunciation panel in the second right chapel was worth a linger. And I liked the bright and unusual stained glass narrative scenes in lunettes either side of the apse, depicting The Pieta and The Last Supper.

The trudge up the famous arcade with 666 arches was too long and stairfull and steep to be fun and I finally arrived at the Sanctuary of San Luca a mass of perspiration. And it's basic baroqueness makes the church really not worth such effort. Even the miraculous Byzantine Madonna and Child icon is kept behind glass and with a considerable revetment covering all but the faces. It's kept in a raised and gold-cherub infested chapel up behind the altar. The walk back down was almost a relief after the up. Less people, more birdsong and butterflies, and even a couple of small lizards (we don't get them at home). I picked up a sizeable mozzarella tomato and rocket panino on the way back, and some almond baklava.

Before exploring new-church leads in a westerly direction I went into SS Salvatore, a fave which looms in a Palladian way, and has a quirky mixture of art from a good range of periods, and even some oddities. Also the tomb slab of Guercino in the centre of the nave. As for the following findings: San Nicolò di San Felice looks a ruin; Santa Maria di Grada seems to have history, and a canal running under it, with a gate (grada) to prevent entry by
indesiderabili; and the oratory of San Rocco (another nameless blue cross on my map), looks to have a sequence on the life of the Saint on the first floor by Guercino and others.

Back to the fave old restaurant of last night, for the gnocchi in a parmesan cream and balsamic sauce, with a side salad and an adjacent Japanese couple, with a small daughter who had yet to take any lessons in sitting down, it seems. Gelato was a vanilla and mango from Venchi, and a wander.


Friday 1st June

Some Pinacoteca air-conditioned cool and calmness today, I am thinking. Into San Bartolomeo on the way, my prior doubts about it ever opening being down to its entrance being at the South (ecclesiastical West) end. I accidentally found San Sigismondo too, near the University, which it serves, and visited just long enough to be creeped out by the waxwork saint in a glass case.

This Pinacoteca visit saw me reawaken my devotion to the Pseudo Jacopino (whoever he was), love some panels of the life of St Anthony by Vitale da Bologna (see detail right, the Madonna and Child with Donor is by Simone dei Crocefissi), come to like Francia as a bit of a Bolognese Bellini, and realise that not all parties of small children are noisy, but some gallery attendant's phones flipping are. Also the Guido Reni
Pieta is just so darn big! The Carracci are admirable for failing to embrace Mannerism, Annibale especially looking more like Andrea del Sarto, but are not yet loveable, for me. Santa Maria Maddelena, the church opposite the Pinacoteca, was open, so got dutifully done. I got another packet of those supermarket tofu and olive sarnies for lunch and some sultama (sultana and raisin) biscuits.

Later in the afternoon I headed for the neglected north. But first to Santa Maria della Vita, famous for the screaming terracotta figure group of The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Niccolò dell’Arca. It's in a chapel to the right of the high altar and you now have to pay at a tubular cash desk to see it, cunningly now hidden by a screen. A doorway ooy of the left side of the church leads to stars up to an oratory (You need to buy a joint ticket in the church.) In here is another group of terracotta statues - fifteen of them, over-life-size - the work of Alfonso Lombardi, depicting the apocryphal episode of The Funeral of the Virgin, at which a Jewish high priest attempted to overturn the bier but was thrown to the ground by an angel. The oratory/sanctuary used to have rows of seating facing the tableaux, but now has tall exhibition boards (telling of the city's water works) around the walls, which tends to diffuse the focus more than a little. Two more ticks off of my list - Santa Maria della Mascarella and Santa Maria del Soccorso - both turned out to be uninterestingly modern and clean and white inside. San Benedetto looked more promising and grubby, but I'd only just sat down when I got chucked out, as it closes as 6.00. The Piazza dell'Otto Agosto, in front of the park that always seems full of loudly lounging African men, was full and overflowing with a cheapo clothing market. It also has a clean and modern McDonald's which still didn't do veggie burgers, but had a good unthreatening atmosphere and a very swift way with a Filet-o-Fish McMenu.

One of my tasks for the trip was to see if a big book called
Le Chiese di Bologna was comprehensive and worth the 40-odd quid it would cost getting it via Amazon.it, or whatever I could get it for here. Well, I finally found it today in Feltrinelli. In fact they had two copies, one priced at €29.99 and the other €49.99. Guess which one I bought! And it even has some text in English. The celebration coppa was ginger/cinnamon and lemon sorbet, consumed on a chair outside the Gelateria di San Crispino watching the crowds pass and circle the towers. And all of this before 7.00!

Saturday 2nd June
Today's plan was to fit visits around the special Saturday morning opening of special chapels in San Giacomo Maggiore and Santa Maria dei Servi by the Touring Club of Italy. But an unusually open door to the baptistery of San Bartolomeo turned out to signal that there are now four specially-opened chapels on Saturdays.
But before I got there I had a quick visit into San Petronio to pay to sit in the Bolognini chapel and confirm a theory. I had been told that the massive Last Judgement hell fresco in there features a figure of Mohammed being devoured by a devil, and the fact that Muslims might be upset by this is why there has been a constant armed presence on the doors to the church these past few years. And it's true! And was even mentioned by a private guide while I was in there.

Anyway...the specially opened chapels - the San Bartolomeo baptistery is just OK, but the other new one, the Sacristy of San Martino, is prettier and includes a sweet cloister, and had a very helpful attendant who proved that the shared language of art appreciation trumps other language barriers. I had a good explore and page-revision session in the rest of San Martino too, and a longer time spent definitely raised it in the favourite stakes. The Bentivoglio chapel in San Giacomo Maggiore was the only one of the four specials previously experienced, and it was again. The chapel with the Cimabue in Santa Maria dei Servi being open means much closer access, much better lighting and so much better appreciation. Having finished with the specials, with spirits high, and the streets having quite a bit of that deserted weekend city thing about them, I decided to trek out to Santa Maria del Baraccano, as it was supposed to be open Saturdays from 11.00 to 1.00. Cruelly disappointed, I made my way back to the centre and decided to treat myself to Santo Stefano. I fully 'did' it last time, but did some handy error-correction and information-adding this time. And I do love the place (see right). A hot mozzarella, tomato and rocket foldy thing was bought and scoffed on the hoof.

San Paolo Maggiore was my evening destination, with some wandering back through the exhausting holiday (Republic Day) passeggiata. Back to the Montegrappa for a Saracena pizza, because there isn't enough mozzarella and tomato in my life.


Sunday 3rd June
For today a list of last-minute list-tickings clustered in a westerly direction has been prepared, ending up at the Certosa cemetery, maybe. Santi Gregorio e Siro I had a writing wander in, before a service started. Santa Maria della Pioggia, Santi Filippo and Giacomo, and Santa Maria della Carita all had well-attended services on.
Santa Maria della Visitazione al Ponte della Lame looked as closed as ever and Santa Maria del Buon Pastore seems to now be a smart art and partying venue called SYMPO - it's even too smart to bother with lower-case letters, and is very near MAMBO.

So a lack of lingering left enough time to trek hotly out to the Certosa cemetery and have my socks knocked off. The old (19th century) parts are all big cloisters surrounded by huge looming halls the size of churches full of wall tombs, floor tombs, monumental tombs, dead flowers, crumbling plaster, dust and cobwebs. And all cool, quiet and empty, with only the sound of bird song crisp dry leaves underfoot. I loved it. As did Dickens, who also visited on a Sunday morning, as quoted from
Travels in Italy on a plaque in the entrance cloister. Then the hot trudge back, finding an excellent brown seedy bread mozza/tom baguette source near my hotel, as you do on your last day.


Monday 4th June

My regular morning routine - wake up before the alarm to other people's water works, doubt I'll get back to sleep, wake again when the alarm goes off, open window and lie there listening to the swifts swooping and squeaking for a bit, cleanse body, get dressed, fill belly with breakfast - went off as well as usual, with some added packing. I then checked out, walked to the railway station, queued at the only airport bus ticket machine, waited, felt hot, caught said bus...well, all went pretty eventlessly. But why do people start queuing at the boarding gate so early, why do they make screaming babies and take them on aeroplanes and am I ever going to be on a BA flight that isn't delayed by 45 minutes? This time it was a non-closing baggage door, and waiting for an engineer to come and fix it.























 

 


Trip reading
Last time I went for a Michael Dibdin, but this time...

John Berger
The Red Tenda of Bologna
This is a very small paperback with lots of blank space on each page -  a few lines on some pages, and a few paragraphs on others. So far so arty. But the story itself reeks of humanity rather than artiness. It tells of the narrator's (author's?) favourite and formative unmarried uncle who travelled to Bologna, amongst other places. So the author goes to Bologna and remembers him. The uncle and the city get about half the narrative each and the flavour of both is nicely evoked. The arcades, the red awnings (tende) over the shops, Morandi, the terracotta statues in Santa Maria della Vita...all help to conjure and remind. And impress.




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