Friday, October 12, 2007

Day 11: Bologna

Another sunny day in Bologna…a little cool in the morning, but still pleasant.
We set out for the center, planning to visit some churches and some of the Jewish places in Bologna. Our first stop is a church that we have passed numerous times in the past two days–San Domenico. It is located on a large piazza, set back from the street with two large tombs of Bolognese law professors standing alone in the piazza.
The church is grander inside than it appears from its exterior, which has been modified frequently over the years.. It dates from the 13th century and houses the relics of the saint. The most striking tomb inside is that of San Domenico and has attractive statues, bas reliefs of scenes from the life of Domenico and an intricate carved sarcophagus.
It even boasts a few statues sculpted by a very young Michelangelo, who had to flee Florence when his patron Lorenzo de’ Medici died.
Other highlights in the church are the amazing intarsia doors that lead to the sacristy. How the artists can get such beautiful results from pieces of inlaid wood is always a surprise to us.
We head for one of the oldest and most famous churches in Bologna…the church of San Stefano. On the way, we walk through another beautiful area of the city–even climbing one of the few hills in Bologna–and make a stop at an art exhibition–high style photographs from Sardinia–being held in the courtyard of one of the university buildings
and briefly visit the church of San Giovanni in Monte which sits on top of the hill. The interior of the church is Gothic with lots of pointed arches and has a painting of the Last Supper on the altar which is distinctive–it is set in the desert and several of the apostles are wearing what appear to be Arab headresses.
The Church of San Stefano stands in one of the most attractive piazzas in a town filled with attractive piazzas. It is actually a complex of seven churches (only four still exist) and is one of the oldest churches in Bologna dating from the 5th century. It is built on the site of a Temple of Isis and incorporates columns from that temple in one of the churches. The churches are all quite austere and all the more appealing (to us) for that austerity.
There are two curious “attractions” in the church….a large urn/basin that is reputed to be the basin where Pilate washed his hands and a statue of a chicken called “Il Gallo di San Pietro”–a tribute to the chicken that woke up St. Peter and allowed him to evade his pursuers at one stage of his life.
Continuing our exploration of Jewish places in Bologna, on the same piazza is the Casa Sforno, which was the home of one of the most distinguished Jewish families in the 16th century and–a few blocks away–the location of the original synagogue in Bologna. Now it is just a storefront and there is no plaque marking the spot.

On the other side of the ghetto, there is another “Jewish place”–the Palazzo Bocchi. The owner was a Renaissance scholar and studied both Latin and Hebrew. On the front of his palazzo, he commissioned two sets of carvings–one in Hebrew which was from one of the Psalms and one in Latin from Horace’s book of Epistles.
After a full morning of sightseeing, we stop across the street from the Palazzo Bocchi and have a light lunch in a bar…..a farro salad for Diana and a bowl of lentil soup for me. We then take a bus back to the hotel, get the car and drive over to the laundromat to wash our dirty clothes.

The laundry expedition is a snap….in just over an hour, we are done and return to the hotel with a suitcase full of clean clothes. However, we were unhappy to find out that the Onda Blu “key” that we purchased last year which still has about Euro 20.00 of credit is not longer accepted. I have to write to the company and see if I can get my money back.
While I am out exploring another part of this terrific city, I get a call from Livio Misgur, our friend from Alessandria in Piemonte. He has arranged to come to Bologna to visit his daughter (who is an architect here) at the same time we are in town and we have made plans to have dinner with him and Valentina. We agree to meet at the Neptune Fountain at 5:30 (in 90 minutes) so I finish my walk and head back to the hotel.

Livio and Valentina suggest that we go for a “giro”–a walk–that takes us to some new and some familiar places, before stopping for a drink before dinner, and we make a long circuit around the center before ending up at the most popular cafe (for Bolognese) in the next square, Piazza Galvani. Zannarini is a very stylish bar on one of the most attractive squares in town. We sit at one of the outdoor tables and have drinks–Valentina has a margarita–and nibble on some of the snacks from the apertivo buffet table.
We then take the scenic route to the restaurant and see some of the smaller medieval towers that still remain in the city but can’t be seen unless you are either right in front of them or on top of the tallest tower–Asinelli–with a panoramic view over the city. One of them has been turned into a b&b that rents out the roof for events….but there is a warning that guests should be “fit” since it is 11 flights up to the top.
Dinner is at a sleek, somewhat upscale restaurant called Caminetto d’Oro–the Golden Hearth. Their logo features the name in six languages including Russian. Our food is excellent—I have a fresh mushroom salad followed by tagliatelle with fresh porcini, Diana has the tortellini in brodo and a cheese plate, Livo has a potato mushroom torte followed by tagliatelle with Bolognese ragu and Valentina has chicken liver pate and the tagliatelle with porcini. For dessert, I have a very good panna cotta, Diana has an almost too beautiful to eat fruit tart and Valentina has a “biscotto” with chocolate sauce. The wine–a white from Campania called Fiano d’Avellino–is delicious.
We walk back together to the center of town where we say our goodbyes……
So far this has been a very social trip for us and having these connections in Italy adds so much to the pleasures of the trip.


Kim said...

Okay Jim, finally all caught up. Sounds like an amazing trip. You and Diana get to some cool "off the beaten path" places too.


October 18, 2007 1:26 PM  

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