Bologna is world-famous for its warm and welcoming atmosphere and its immense cultural, historical and artistic heritage. Breathtaking churches, museums and gardens, the famous porticoes and medieval squares, not to mention the delicious Bolognese cuisine which is known and acclaimed worldwide. And not only that! Bologna is also a city rich in curiosities and legends that make it unique and waiting to be discovered.
Fra Diavolo takes you on an intriguing journey to unveil the most unusual curiosities about Bologna and its secrets.
Discover with us all the unusual facts about Bologna and let yourself be amazed by each single discovery!
Interesting facts and trivia about Bologna: 10 secrets you may not know
Many tourists wonder about the main activities to do in Bologna and the most beautiful places to visit in the city, but there are some curious facts about Bologna that make a weekend there even more fascinating and special. If you want to immerse yourself in an unusual and secret Bologna far from crowded artistic attractions or if you are looking for peculiar things to see in Bologna to make your trip unforgettable, this is the right place for you.
1. The hidden window on Bologna's Little Venice
Bologna's first secret lies in the heart of the old town, at Via Piella 16, where you can look out of an orange window and see a hidden, picturesque Bologna full of canals, colours and cheerful little balconies reflected in the water. This secret corner of Bologna, overlooking the Moline Canal, is known as "Little Venice" and not many people know that this city is still crossed by the ancient waterways that in medieval Bologna were used for commercial activities and to power the silk mills of the time. Look out between the buildings and rediscover a romantic glimpse of your secret Bologna!
2. The wireless telephone in Palazzo del Podestà
In the centre of Bologna, at number 1 on Piazza Maggiore, the funniest of Bologna's seven secrets is revealed: the wireless telephone in the Voltone del Podestà, which opens under the building bearing the same name. This is a curious sound game created under the two opposite pillars of the vault: by speaking from one corner of the structure to the other with your face turned towards the columns, you can hear the voice of your interlocutor, thus creating a real wireless distance conversation. This particular acoustic trick was devised in the Middle Ages, when, after the outbreak of the plague in Bologna, the idea was to protect the priests who confessed the sick, trying to keep them at a distance from the latter and thus prevent the contagion from spreading.
3. The optical illusion of the statue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore
A particular curiosity about Piazza Maggiore in Bologna is the statue of Neptune standing on Giambologna's fountain: this work became famous for a unique optical illusion created by the Flemish sculptor, whose design was censured on grounds of public decency because of the excessive size of Neptune's male attributes. According to a Bolognese legend, in order to circumvent the Church's censorship, Giambologna made the statue in such a way that, when viewed from a particular angle, the thumb of Neptune's hand would resemble an erect male member: today you can see this optical effect yourself by standing on a black stone in the pavement of the square, which is also known as the stone of shame, located near the steps of the Salaborsa library.
4. The Maserati trident inspired by the statue of Neptune
The logo of Maserati, the well-known Bolognese luxury car manufacturer, takes the form of a red trident on a white background with the capital letter Maserati on a blue background. Curiously, the logo was inspired by the famous trident of the statue of Neptune, which stands in Piazza Maggiore in Bologna: if red and blue are the city's distinctive colours, the choice of the trident is due to the strong meaning attributed to this sculpture, which identifies the city of Bologna and its power and royalty worldwide.
5. Porta del Sorriso
The church of Santa Maria Maddalena in Bologna, in Via Zamponi, contains valuable paintings and ancient works of art in terracotta and boasts some 250 years of history; a curiosity that makes it particularly popular is that its doors open with a smile. This permanent installation is part of Mind the Door!, a project that aims to represent a religious act of trust in entering the church with the hope of being welcomed with one's face and emotions. Worshippers and visitors can only enter this church by smiling, knowing that a smile can open any door and break down any wall. Ironically, one of the crucifixes near the altar shows a smiling Jesus. Happy coincidence?
6. Golden tagliatella: the perfect size of tagliatella bolognese
To strengthen the strong link between Bolognese cuisine and Emilian tagliatella, in 1972 two delegates of the Italian Academy of Cuisine, Francesco Majani and Alcino Cesari, filed with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Crafts and Agriculture a casket containing the standard measure of tagliatella: based on a golden sample, a real tagliatella must be 8 mm wide when cooked and about 7 mm wide when uncooked. This measure is equal to the 12,270th part of the height of the Asinelli Tower.
7. Origin of the Bolognese porticoes: why were they built?
One of the most famous symbols of Bologna which makes this city unique in the world are its porticoes: almost 40 km long and a UNESCO World Heritage candidate, Bologna's porticoes run through the entire historic centre and offer romantic walks protected from rain and sun. A curiosity about the porticoes that you may not know is that they were not originally designed to provide shelter from the elements, but to offer extra space to the thousands of students who began arriving in the city from the 13th century onwards without university accommodation. How did they do it?
Spurred on by the unstoppable demand for living and commercial space, the owners of some flats in the city centre decided to add extra rooms to their buildings, and they did so by extending the first floor and not the ground floor: thanks to this ingenious architectural expedient, they avoided reducing the space on the street and erected special scaffolding, which can be recognised today in the pillars of Bologna's beloved porticoes.
8. The Bologna bicycle parking in an air-raid shelter
Velostazione Dynamo near Bologna 's central station is part of a project to support mobility and defend urban cycling. A curious feature of this secure bicycle parking area is that it occupies the premises below the Pincio stairway, a complex which was opened in 1896 to serve as a municipal depot. During the Second World War, this underground structure was enlarged with two tunnels and used as an air-raid shelter: after it heroically protected the citizens of Bologna from foreign bombs, this place now houses the bicycles of citizens and students who ride in the city.
9. Italy's first free radio in Bologna
Another interesting fact about Bologna that you probably don't know is that the first private Italian radio station was born here on 23 November 1974: Radio Bologna per l’accesso pubblico. This free radio was opened at a time when technological progress in the world of mass communication made it possible to create radios which were alternative to the state monopoly. Radio Bologna was short-lived, however, and only operated for two days and fourteen hours, but its social impact was very strong and led a few years later, in July 1976, to a ruling by the Italian Constitutional Court that for the first time in Italy sanctioned the legitimacy of private local radio broadcasting.
10. The oldest university in the world: the Alma Mater Studiorum of Bologna
Alma Mater Studiorum in Bologna was founded in 1088 and is regarded as the oldest university in the Western world. It was here that the first lessons in Justinian law, one of the cornerstones of the Roman Empire, were held, and starting from the 14th century onwards the schools of jurists were supplemented by studies in rhetoric, grammar, medicine, philosophy, astronomy, arithmetic and logic. In 1732 the University hosted one of the first women's degrees in Italy, and at the same time the university's European and multicultural success was enhanced by the fame of some of its illustrious scholars in the fields of literature and science: several famous people from the University of Bologna trained in these historic lecture halls, from Thomas Becket to Torquato Tasso, from Nicolò Copernico to Pico della Mirandola, including Petrarch, Pasolini, Pascoli, Carducci and the philosopher Laura Bassi.
Contemporary pizza in Bologna: curious to try it?
One last curiosity that you can't miss about the Emilia-Romagna capital is that pizzeria Fra Diavolo opened the eighth of its restaurants in Italy: you'll find us in Bologna, in Via Santo Stefano 1/A, with the aim of conquering Emilia-Romagna with a Neapolitan-style contemporary pizza format with a high crust. Three different light doughs to suit all your taste requirements, served in one of the most central areas of the city and with 70 outdoor and indoor seats to welcome you in compliance with the current regulations. Visit us in our outdoor area for lunch or dinner or book your online delivery!