You know the cliches. Espresso, August off, the pasta, the rolling hills, the… modernist Finnish architecture!? Yes, Bologna has a few tricks up its sleeve. Though I was there for Cersaie, the huge tile show that brings together over a thousand exhibitors, I managed to slip away for a day to see the sites and investigate what this city had to offer – including one of Alvar Aalto’s masterworks. Read on!
Bologna is best known for several things: its towers, its miles of porticos and its pasta sauce. Being an architect, I skipped the obvious sites and bee-lined for the esoteric. I rented a car and made pilgrimage to the hill-top Alver Aalto church an hour south of the city.
I didn’t skip all of the obvious sights, though. On my way out of town, I swung by the largest church in the city, San Petronia Basilica. It was originally planned to be bigger than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, until the Pope intervened in 1514. But don’t cry for the Bolognese – San Petronia can still fit 28,000 people. It’s HUGE! As interesting as the finished, front-facing facade is, the portion that really captured my imagination was at the rear of the building, where construction seems to have been abruptly halted 500 years ago. The city fabric marches right up to the building edge.
San Petronia Basilica, seen from the rear.
On my way to pick up the rental car – close to the train station – I passed this modernist gem tucked into city center’s historic fabric:
The relentless sun screen makes a unified facade.
Admittedly, it has seen better days.
Along the way to the church, make sure you stop at the Alma Business School, part of the Universita di Bologna, in the hills above the city (yes, they offer a Food and Wine MBA). I can’t vouch for the degree program, but if you are into seashell architecture, then you won’t want to miss this killer grotto reception room built in 1575 by Cardinal Filippo Guastavillani, nephew of Pope Gregorio XIII. There is something very Ledoux about the frozen water moments.
A step above the average university lecture room – Alma Business School, Bologna.
It’s all shells! And in 1575, you can bet there was no hot glue gun.
The drive to the Aalto church in Riola is equal parts highways (the type you would see in America) and rural roads, which hold a romantic fascination to tourists like myself. It was a gorgeous ride that ended at an equally fetching building.
Entry facade showing light scuppers.
Straight on elevation – no photoshop, I swear!
The interior. The experience is heightened by a forced perspective that is so subtle that I didn’t even notice it until I looked at an aerial picture. The light trays squeeze towards the altar.
Then the car told me it was time for coffee (look to the left of “park”).
We stopped in the little town of Vergato and had a delicious lunch at Il Ritrovo, where the two owners — brothers — served and cooked local truffels into an incredible risotto. Make sure to stop by if you’re ever in the area (051 910036).
It being Italy, there was an espresso machine company next door.
Back in Bologna, with the car safely tucked away, we grabbed some drinks in a bar with a decidedly backwards looking decor. A long debate revealed that the frescos were a recent application, but the bones of the place were older than than the whiskey we were drinking.
Some of us felt like getting into more trouble — and there is plenty of that in Bologna — at a gem off the beaten track.
Stay tuned – my third Bologna installation will come tomorrow, and spoiler alert! It includes a video of a dancing woman wearing only tiles.