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A History Lover’s Guide to Bologna, Italy

Bologna, Italy is a country of rich culture and ancient civilizations. Many localities not just centuries ago, but ages ago – literally. This makes it a history lover’s paradise – with plenty of places to gaze in awe at the majestic structures of years past.

A History In Brief

Bologna, Italy has origins tracing back to the Bronze age. After a population of unknown origin settled the area over three thousand years ago, they slowly began to develop their own culture.
By the Iron age, they were authentically known as the Villanovan Civilization and had greatly influenced the distinct culture you see today – not to mention left behind some of the historical sites you can witness.
As with all other great culture-rich regions, there were outside influences through the years leading to today. The first influence came from the Etruscans around the 6th Century BC. In 350 BC the Celts conquered the area and dubbed it Bologna, meaning “city.”
Two hundred years later the region was conquered by the Romans and officially adopted into what is now modern-day Italy.

Modern Notoriety

The ancient city of Bologna is modernly known as the center of Italian culture and artistic heritage. Both the Caracca and Reni Schools for the arts were founded there.
In 2000 the city was given the title of “European Capital of Culture.” In 2006 it was called a “city of music” by UNESCO.

Must-See Historical Sites

There are numerous examples of well-preserved architecture throughout the city which history lovers will not want to miss.
The amazing thing about ancient buildings, sites, or even artifacts is that they provide a living example of history. It takes the black and white pages of historical text and turns it into something substantial.
A word of warning: it can be very overwhelming for the first-time history traveler. In a good way, of course.
A bustling modern world sitting inside this old, compact Roman district. As you walk streets which have stood for centuries, you can peruse market stalls, cafes, and delis. You can find beautifully maintained examples of historic architecture anywhere you look.
Torre Degli Asinelli
Built in 1119, these twin towers are considered the region’s primary tourist attraction. Like the tower of Piza, these towers both lean considerably, thanks to a shifting layer of earth as the towers settled. You can even walk up one tower, although the other has been closed for quite some time because it is far too slanted to be considered safe.
San Colombano Collezione Tagliavini
A restored church with original frescoes and a medieval crypt, this place is a history lover’s paradise. Housed inside the beautiful building is a collection of musical instruments dating back to the early 1500’s. Unlike many other churches, photography is welcome here. You may also luck out and witness one of the unscheduled concerts hosted here.
Basilica di Santo Stefano
There were originally seven interlocking buildings built here, but now only four remain. Each building presents an opportunity to view religiously-themed art housed in historic architecture. The main building, for example, is called the Church of the Crucifix, where Jesus is depicted hanging on the cross while his mother watches. The solemn morbidity of the scene is an accurate depiction of the local religious beliefs.
Basilica di San Petronio
Although construction began over 700 years ago, this church remains unfinished. As it stands, it is the sixth largest church in all of Europe, despite sections of missing façade. One can’t help but wonder just how big the church was meant to be.

Must-Visit Museums

Lamborghini Museum
This unique attraction portrays the history of Italy’s infamous (and much sought after) luxury car company. Among the numerous cars on display, there is an original 350 GT from 1964.
Gelato Museum Carpigiani
Did you know that people ate frozen desserts all the way back to ancient times? No? Then you have to taste test – I mean, visit – this delicious museum. Not only will you learn about the ways people would make and eat frozen desserts, but you’ll also get to eat some yourself!
Museo della Storia di Bologna
This museum is perfect for people of all ages. The last 2,500 years of Bologna history is in a chronological showcase of interactive 3D displays. It brings the region’s history to life.

Must-Eat Indulgences

No trip to a city nicknamed “La Grassa” (AKA “The Fat One”) would be complete without indulging in some of the foods that have historically defined the culture. Some dishes are very local while others are Italian classics born from this region.
Tagliatelle al ragu
Known to the rest of the world as Bolognese, this is the culinary masterpiece which  the region gastronomically famous. The best place to get it? Trattoria Anna Maria. The food is always handmade, using authentic cooking techniques – all overseen by Anna Maria herself.
Seafood Pasta Dishes
Although the region of Bologna is very heavy in meat dishes, seafood has become an integral part of the diet also. Much of this is thanks to a Sicilian influence. Speaking of Sicilians, Da Maro restaurant operates a family of them. You can get a plate of pasta con le sarde or a variety of other seafood dishes – created with locally caught fish!
This is the most famous dish originating from the region, and the best place to get it is in the Trattoria Meloncello. This eatery has been around for over a century (which is how you know the food is good)! If the tortellini in brodo isn’t your thing, the gnocchi comes highly recommended!
Traditional Bologna fare features an array of delicious appetizers before the main course. At Ristorante Alice you can choose a bowl of antipasti filled with locally sourced cured meats, Pecorino cheese, chickpeas, marinated eggplant, and balsamic vinegar.
Between the fantastic historical sites, unique museums, and delicious culinary indulgences Bologna, Italy is a history lover’s paradise. Don’t miss the experience to immerse yourself in the rich culture of the region during your next Italy vacation!


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