The Porticoes of Bologna: a stroll through history
26 September 2022
1. What are the Porticoes of Bologna and where are they located?
With a total length of 62 kilometres (42 kilometres of which lie in the historical centre), the porticoes of Bologna, together with the city’s towers, are the symbol of the city and have been the most popular social hub of the capital of Emilia-Romagna for centuries.
The most famous and longest portico in Bologna is the Portico of San Luca, at 3,796 metres long, with no fewer than 666 arches, while the Portico Dei Servi, which extends towards Porta Maggiore, holds the record for the greatest width.
Strolling through Bologna’s streets, you find yourself surrounded by these architectural masterpieces, built since the 12th century out of brick, stone or wood.
From the architraved porticoes of Santa Caterina to the porticoes of Palazzo della Mercanzia, Via Santo Stefano and Pavaglione, you can explore from one to the other, enjoying the beauty of a city that has charmed the locals and tourists alike for centuries.
2. History and information on the Porticoes of Bologna
The porticoes date back to the expansion of medieval Bologna, when the opening of the University in 1088 attracted students and academics from around Italy and the world. This sharp increase in population made it necessary to expand the living space and local commercial and artisan activities, without taking away public land and useful city spaces.
The porticoes were the ideal solution, allowing the upper part of buildings to be extended, while offering shade and shelter from the weather. The porticoes, which had sprung up almost spontaneously, were regulated from 1288 with a proclamation that required the addition of porticoes to existing houses and stipulated that new buildings must be built with a portico.
3. UNESCO recognition
In 2021, UNESCO listed 12 of the most significant sections of the Porticoes of Bologna as a World Heritage Site, recognising them as an identifying element of the city of Bologna.
4. What to see in the Porticoes of Bologna
The Porticoes of Bologna are a unique calling card for tourists, as well as the perfect way to experience what life has been like in the city for centuries.
Piazza Santo Stefano, among the most beautiful squares in the city, is an explosion of porticoes. From this symbolic place in Bologna, you can walk along the elegant porticoes of Via Santo Stefano to Piazza Santo Stefano on one side and the Palazzo della Mercanzia, overlooking Piazza della Mercanzia on the other. Among cafes and restaurants, you can admire the different styles of Bologna's porticoes, from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century.
From Piazza della Mercanzia, you can continue your journey through time along Via Zamboni, admiring the neoclassical style of Palazzo Malvasia, the late Renaissance porticoes of Palazzo Magnani and the Doric columns of the portico of Palazzo Malvezzi. Equally fascinating is the section of the Via Galliera porticoes.
The Santa Maria dei Servi basilica boasts the widest portico in Bologna, built around 1300 to accommodate citizens who could not attend religious rites because they had not been baptised.
After admiring the widest portico, you have to check out the narrowest one, in the Saragozza district of Bologna, just 95 centimetres wide.
Just a stone's throw away you will find the porticoed street of Santa Caterina, a rare and precious testimony to the architecture of the popular areas in the Middle Ages.
The porticoes of Piazza Cavour and Via Farini will leave you awestruck as you stare up, admiring the decorations dating back to the late 19th century. Meanwhile, the nearby Portico of Pavaglione will leave you speechless: it is considered the portico of Bologna, a majestic example of a Bologna portico that includes sections belonging to several palazzi.
In the Santo Stefano area, the district with the most monuments, museums and gardens in Bologna, be sure not to miss the Portico del Baraccano, a large vault built by the order of Giovanni II Bentivoglio.
The porticoes of Bologna even extend outside the historic centre.
The longest portico in Bologna is the Portico of San Luca, which takes you along almost four kilometres of magnificence from Porta Saragozza up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, perched on Colle della Guardia.
The Portico of Certosa di Bologna (the Carthusian Monastery of Bologna), connected to the Portico of San Luca, dates back to the Napoleonic period and is a rare example of a sepulchral portico from modern times.
At once a public and private space, the Porticoes of Bologna enjoy that curious blend of social life and home life, offering a space where you can get to know each other, debate, and also fall in love.