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An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

Vol. IV

Bologna, a city and archiepiscopal see of Emilia, Italy, the capital of the province of Bologna, and headquarters of the VI army corps. It is situated at the edge of the plain of Emilia, 180 ft. above sea-level at the base of the Apennines, 82 m. due N of Florence by rail, 63 m. by road and 50 m. direct, and 134 m. SE of Milan by rail. Pop. (1901) town, 102,122; commune, 153,501.​a The more or less rectangular Roman city,​b orientated on the points of the compass, with its streets arranged at right angles, can be easily distinguished from the outer city, which received its fortifications in 1206 (see G. Gozzadini, Studi archeologico-topografici sulla città di Bologna, Bologna, 1868). The streets leading to the gates of the latter radiate from the outskirts, and not from the centre, of the former. Some of the oldest churches, however, lie outside the limits of the Roman city (of which no buildings remain above ground) such as S. Stefano, S. Giovanni in Monte and SS. Vitale ed Agricola. The first consists of a group of no less than seven different buildings, of different dates; the earliest of which, the former cathedral of SS. Pietro e Paolo, was constructed about the middle of the 4th century, in part with the débris of Roman buildings; while S. Sepolcro, a circular church with ornamentation in brick and an imitation of opus reticulatum, should probably be attributed to the 6th or 7th centuries. The present cathedral (S. Pietro), erected in 910, is now almost entirely in the baroque style. The largest church in the town, however, is that of S. Petronio, the patron saint of Bologna, which was begun in 1390; only the nave and aisles as far as the transepts were, however, completed, but even this is a fine fragment, in the Gothic style, measuring 384 ft. long, and 157 wide, whereas the projected length of the whole (a cruciform basilica) was over 700 ft., with a breadth across the transepts of 460 ft., and a dome 500 ft. high over the crossing (see F. Cavazza in Rassegna d'Arte, 1905, 161). The church of S. Domenico, which contains the body of the saint, who died here in 1221, is unfinished externally, while the interior was remodelled in the 18th century. There are many other churches of interest, among them S. Francesco, perhaps the finest medieval building in Bologna, begun in 1246 and finished in 1260; it has a fine brick campanile of the end of the 14th century. It was restored to sacred uses in 1887, and has been carefully liberated from later alterations (U. Berti in Rassegna d'Arte, 1901, 55). The church of Corpus Dominiº has fine 15th‑century terra cottas on the façade (F. Malaguzzi Valerini, Archivio Storico dell' Arte, ser. ii. vol. II. (Rome, 1896), 72). The centre of the town is formed by the Piazza Vittorio Emanuele (formerly Piazza Maggiore),​c and the Piazza del Nettuno, which lie at right angles to one another. Here are the church of S. Petronio, the massive Palazzo Comunale, dating from 1245, the Palazzo del Podesta, completed in the same year, and the  p179 fine bronze statue of Neptune by Giovanni da Bologna (Jean Bologne of Douai).

The famous university of Bologna was founded in the 11th century (its foundation by Theodosius the Great in A.D. 425 is legendary), and acquired a European reputation as a school of jurisprudence under Pepo, the first known teacher at Bologna of Roman law (about 1076), and his successor Irnerius and their followers the glossators. The students numbered between three and five thousand in the 12th to the 15th century, and in 1262, it is said, nearly ten thousand (among them were both Dante and Petrarch). Anatomy was taught here in the 14th century. But despite its fame, the university, though an autonomous corporation, does not seem to have had any fixed residence: the professors lectured in their own houses, or later in rooms hired or lent by the civic authorities. It was only in 1520 that the professors of law were given apartments in a building belonging to the church of S. Petronio; and in 1562, by order of Pius IV, the university itself was constructed close by, by Carlo Borromeo, then cardinal legate. The reason of this measure was no doubt partly disciplinary, Bologna itself having in 1506 passed under the dominion of the papacy. Shortly after this, in 1564, Tasso was a student there, and was tried for writing a satirical poem. One of the most famous professors was Marcello Malpighi, a great anatomist of the 17th century. The building has served as the communal library since 1838. Its courtyard contains the arms of those students who were elected as representatives of their respective nations or faculties. The university has since 1803 been established in the (16th-century) Palazzo Poggi. Between 1815 and 1848 the number of students sank to about a hundred in some years, chiefly owing to the political persecutions of the government: in 1859 the number had risen to 355. It now possesses four faculties and is attended by some 1700 students. Among its professors women have more than once been numbered.

The Museo Civico is one of the most important museums in Italy, containing especially fine collections of antiquities from Bologna and its neighbourhood. The picture gallery is equally important in its way, affording a survey both of the earlier Bolognese paintings and of the works of the Bolognese eclectics of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Caracci, Guido Reni, Domenichino, Guercino, &c. The primitive masters are not of great excellence, but the works of the masters of the 15th century, especially those of Francesco Francia (1450‑1517) and Lorenzo Costa of Ferrara (1460‑1535), are of considerable merit. The great treasure of the collection is, however, Raphael's S. Cecilia, painted for the church of S. Giovanni in Monte, about 1515.

The two leaning towers, the Torre Asinelli and the Torre Garisenda, dating from 1109 and 1110 respectively, are among the most remarkable structures in Bologna: they are square brick towers, the former being 320 ft. in height and 4 ft. out of the perpendicular, the latter (unfinished) 163 ft. high and 10 ft. out of the perpendicular. The town contains many fine private palaces, dating from the 13th century onwards. The streets are as a rule arcaded, and this characteristic has been preserved in modern additions, which have on the whole been made with considerable taste, as have also the numerous restorations of medieval buildings. A fine view may be had from the Madonna di S. Luca, on the south-west of the town (938 ft.).

Among the specialities of Bologna may be noted the salami or mortadella (Bologna sausage), tortellini (a kind of macaroni) and liqueurs.

Bologna is an important railway centre, just as the ancient Bononia was a meeting-point of important roads. Here the main line from Milan divides, one portion going on parallel to the line of the ancient Via Aemilia (which it has followed from Piacenza downwards) to Rimini, Ancona and Brindisi, and the other through the Apennines to Florence and thence to Rome. Another line runs to Ferrara and Padua, another (eventually to be prolonged to Verona) to S. Felice sul Panaro, and a third to Budrio and Portomaggiore (a station on the line from Ferrara to Ravenna). Steam tramways run to Vignola, Pieve di Cento and Malalbergo.

Bologna was only for a short while subject to the Lombards, remaining generally under the rule of the exarchate of Ravenna, until this in 756 was given by Pippin to the papacy. It was sacked by the Hungarians in 902, but otherwise its history is little known, and it is uncertain when it acquired its freedom and its motto Libertas. But the first "constitution" of the commune of Bologna dates from about 1123, and at that time we find it a free and independent city. From the 12th to the 14th century it was very frequently at war, and strongly supported the Guelph cause against Frederick II and against the neighbouring cities of Romagna and Emilia; indeed, in 1249 the Bolognese took Enzio, the emperor's son, prisoner, and kept him in confinement for the rest of his life. But the struggles between Guelphs and Ghibellines in Bologna itself soon followed, and the commune was so weakened that in 1337 Taddeo de' Pepoli made himself master of the town, and in 1350 his son sold it to Giovanni Visconti of Milan. Ten years later it was given to the papacy, but soon revolted and recovered its liberty. in 1401 Giovanni Bentivoglio made himself lord of Bologna, but was killed in a rebellion of 1402. It then returned to the Visconti, and after various struggles with the papacy was again secured in 1438 by the Bentivoglio, who held it till 1506, when Pope Julius II drove them out, and brought Bologna once more under the papacy, under the sway of which it remained (except in the Napoleonic period between 1796 and 1815 and during the revolutions of 1821 and 1831) until in 1860 it became part of the kingdom of Italy.

Among the most illustrious natives of Bologna may be noted Luigi Galvani (1737‑1798), the discoverer of galvanism, and Prospero Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV).

See C. Ricci, Guida di Bologna (3rd ed., Bologna, 1900).

[T. As.]

Thayer's Notes:

a In 2000, the official census figures gave Bologna 381,161 inhabitants.

b For the Roman city, see the separate article Bononia.

c at some point between the end of World War II and 2000, probably very quickly after the de facto fall of the monarchy in 1943, it reverted to its former name, Piazza Maggiore.

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Page updated: 18 Nov 17