Winter walks in the city
In Bologna, we are blessed with over 540,000 square meters of public green space in addition to the hills that gently embrace the city. Tourists often express surprise at how easy it is to be walking along the main boulevards that encircle the city in one minute, and the next be immersed in a natural environment rich in animal life, lush plants and centuries of history. The routes suggested here are impressive in every season and, perhaps surprisingly, you’ll never find yourself far from the city’s waterways, another source of its wealth.
The waters of the Reno
On the western side of the city, departing from Piazza John Fitzgerald Kennedy toward Casalecchio di Reno, a beautiful walk awaits: discover both nature and history between between the Reno river and the Reno canal along the hillsides of the majestic Colle della Guardia on which the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca overlooks the city.
In the shelter of the forest, hundreds of species of trees (mulberry, dogwoods, hawthorns and hedgerows) are home to birds such as white wagtails and robins. Along this path, you will find many references to how people used the variety of herbs found here, as well as references to myths, legends and superstitions. The latter opens the door to another world of fairy tales, metamorphosis, cursed plants, potions and poisons that shows this lush biodiversity in a different light.
Arriving at the Talon park, walk to the monumental Chiusa of Casalecchio where you can enjoy a romantic view of the old dam under the falls of the the Reno canal, one of the most picturesque sights of the area. For a longer walk, follow the greenway along the Reno and in just minutes, you will arrive at the palace grounds of the beautiful 16th century Palazzo De’ Rossi; its restaurants come highly recommended.
The Spippola cave
In Bologna dialect, a “spippola” is a young girl who is lively and outgoing; a large natural cave by the same name can be found in the Parco dei Gessi. Practically in our backyard, the park is in San Lazzaro di Savena and just a few minutes from the Savena river that gives this Bologna borough its name.
Since Roman times, the Bologna hills have been a source of gypsum, when blocks of selenite with their iridescent crystals were used to fortify the city, known as Bononia in those days, and later, during the Middle Ages, to build the foundations of towers and important buildings. Over thousands of years, the hills have been shaped by water, carving out one of Europe’s largest natural gypsum caves. From the parking lot in via Benassi, follow the park’s trails where, especially at sunset, you can enjoy the sounds of nature, such as the rustling of foxes, porcupines and deer, and observe different types of owls, and birds, such as the European nightjar, all framed by the brilliant Parco dei Gessi.
Another route is the circular path around the sinkhole known as the Dolina della Spipola. Here, the path alternates between open air and forest, where you will arrive at the Palestrina, an ancient gypsum quarry opened in Roman times and used to build the ancient walls of the Città della Luna, reaching the Buco delle Candele cave, and ending along the plateau of Miserazzano. This gypsum ridge is home to an old villa of the same name, and offers a unique overlook on the city.
The princess in green
The Aposa river was named for the unlucky princess who, according to legend, drowned here long ago. For many centuries, this waterway was Bologna’s only water source (apart from artesian wells). In the city center, certain street names–via Val d’Aposa and via Aposazza–remind us that, even today, a river still runs deep underneath the asphalt on which we stand.
The Aposa valley is where via San Mamolo leads from the hills down into the city where its ancient walls once stood, all the way to the ancient door of the same name, Porta San Mamolo. In this valley we find via Valverde that reminds us of how, thanks to its position and an abundance of water, vegetation here continues to thrive.
Our next route starts at the park entrance of Parco di Villa Ghigi in via San Mamolo. Here, we can discover medieval history and monastic life in Bologna along a beautiful route that will take us to some of the city’s most striking views, including the first hills of the Val d’Aposa that face the city center.
Walking through the forest, meadows and panoramic trails, you can imagine tales of medieval monks, friars, knights and battles as you climb up to the monastery, the Eremo di Ronzano.
On the way, we will follow the path that leads to the church of San Paolo in Monte, managed by an order of monks called the Frati Minori, that is also remembered as a retreat of Padova’s Sant’Antonio during his time studying theology in Bologna. From here, Piazza Maggiore in the city center is just a 10-minute walk away. Follow the hill and its namesake street, Colle dell’Osservanza, to rejoin via San Mamolo, which will lead back to the main boulevard.
Bologna, city by the sea?
Did you know that Bologna was once considered a city on the water? The Luigi Ferdinando Marsili Collections at the Palazzo Poggi Museum remind us that for centuries, students chose to enroll at the University of Bologna to learn the most sophisticated navigation techniques; in fact, tons of goods arrived in the city from the sea.
In the 15 years that we have been organizing events and activities to promote the city’s history, including her complex system of waterways, new and fascinating insights, unknown to most people, continue to emerge. What is this famous waterway that connects Bologna to the sea? It’s the Navile canal, of course! The name itself is a hint: in Italian, ships are known as nave and Navile comes from the Italian for navigare, meaning to navigate. Centures ago, the city’s many waterways were navigable thanks to a support system of locks that allowed upstream navigation on flat-bottomed barges pulled by horses. The city’s wealth and economic importance owes much to this forward-looking artificial system. For centuries, these canals were used to bring tons of goods, hundreds of thousands of boats, as well as tourists, into and out of the city.
Later, this infrastructure was sacrificed at the altar of progress with the arrival of the railway and subsequent improvements in the road network. Once no longer used, Bologna’s waterways have have risked to disappear forever. However, recent efforts have also brought new opportunities to bring this silent neighbor back to life. Several months ago, thanks to the Fondazione del Monte, a bicycle path along the Navile river was opened, connecting the Chiusa di Casalecchio to nearby Castel Maggiore. This worthwhile initiative has helped restore dignity to a part of the area’s history that has been unjustly forgotten. Also here, history and nature combine in a fantastic way, offering charming views.
Continuing along this waterway path by bicycle or on foot, you can reach as far as Malalbergo, the harbor of nearby Ferrara, or even the Adriatic sea, in the city of Casal Borsetti. All of this is easily accessible and just outside our front door.
English Version By Charlotte Fisher