We left Verona on Thursday morning to head to Bologna, but took a slight detour so that we could have lunch in Ferrara en-route. I had read reviews that suggested Ferrara was an excellent place to visit and we had even considered spending one or two nights there. In the end, we decided to spend four nights in nearby Bologna, knowing that we could take day-trips to the nearby smaller towns should we wish.
The Castello Estense, in the centre of the old town, made an immediate impression with its intact moat. Most castle moats tend to be dry, so it was nice to see this one full of water.
A short walk from the castle was the Ferrara Cathedral which has a very striking appearance.
We ate lunch in an outdoor cafe just across from the cathedral, after which we made our way back to the car park. We only spent a couple of hours in Ferrara but we didn’t see anything that made us want to return for a day-trip.
We continued the drive to Bologna and checked in to the ‘Suite Hotel Elite’ which was the closest hotel I could get to the old town that provided on-site parking. Except when we got there, the ‘on-site’ parking was very small (and full) so we had to take the Defender to the overflow parking area further down the street (an outdoor paid-parking place for which the hotel gave us a parking pass). So much for on-site parking. The next issue was the free wifi access. Yes, it is free but it is awfully slow!
We took an afternoon walk (about 1-2km) into the old town to have a look around. We both agreed that initial impressions were very disappointing, especially after Verona and some of the other nice old towns that I have visited on the trip. Many of the businesses were closed and shuttered. Graffiti is widespread, contributing to a general appearance of the place being somewhat run down. There wasn’t much atmosphere to the place and we soon wondered whether we’d made a mistake booking four nights in Bologna. We actually contemplated leaving Bologna early and perhaps returning to Verona.
As we got into the evening, the atmosphere improved as people began to fill the open-air cafes and bars, albeit the open air cafes seem to be restricted to a small area surrounding the Piazza Maggiore. We sat at one cafe for wine and cheese early in the evening and then moved to another for dinner (and more wine). It turned into quite a pleasant evening after a disappointing afternoon. Funny how wine can do that!
The old town of Bologna isn’t compact enough or attractive enough for simply wandering around and looking at the buildings. On Friday, we decided to take a more focussed approach and visit some of the museums that are reported to be excellent.
First on our list was the Palazzo Poggi which is part of the University of Bologna. We were particularly interested in seeing the anatomical waxworks exhibit as well as the history of obstetrics exhibit. We wandered through the University building until we reached the museum on the second floor, only to find that the museum is closed between 11th and 25th August for the summer holidays. Just our luck!
The Museo di Antropologia was close by – just around the corner at 3 Via Selmi and had free admission. We arrived at 1.30pm to be told that they were closing in one hour! It turned out that we only needed a half-hour to walk through the place. It is a combined zoological and anthropology museum but the majority of it is taken up with taxidermy of animals and birds along with preserved specimens of creatures and some whale skeletons, etc on the upper level. Unfortunately, the quality of several of the taxidermy animals was rather poor, with the stitching being visible. It was also rather warm inside, so after 30 minutes we were ready to find cooler air and to eat lunch.
We headed to the Piazza Maggiore and found a place for lunch. My Greek salad was very disappointing, with the large bowl being filled mainly by plain lettuce, most of which was left uneaten! The wine was nice though. Bev’s pizza was more edible.
After lunch we walked a few metres to our next museum – the well regarded Museo Civico and Archeologico. The museum has over 200,000 exhibits including Roman, Etruscan and Egyptian artefacts. Strike two! The museum closed at 3.00pm and it was 3.30pm. We were not having much luck with museums.
A short walk along the road brought us to the Palazzo Archiginnasio. It was’t on our list of places to visit, but we thought we’d pop in and have a look. It was the first permanent seat of the Studium or University of Bologna and was built in 1563. Its aim was to concentrate the schools of civil and canon law along with those for philosophy, mathematics, physics, medicine and natural sciences into a single location. The two primary features that are open to tourists are the Anatomical Theatre and the Mater Theatre.
The Anatomical Theatre was built in 1637 and was used to teach anatomy empirically through the dissection of corpses. The hall contains statues of famous ancient physicians. The lecturer’s chair consists of a canopy supported by two famous ‘skinless’ statues. The wooden ceiling incorporates a figure of Apollo surrounded by symbols of the constellations.
The Palazzo is richly decorated along the walls, arches and staircases with paintings, monuments and thousands of coats-of-arms and names of students.
We’ll set out earlier on Saturday in the hope of visiting some of the other museums.