Bologna is a town of 400,000 people in the Po river valley in Emilia -Romagna. Known for its cuisine, its porticoed streets, and for hosting one of the oldest Universities in Europe, Bologna is a great tourist destination–especially if you like people and food.

In Bologna, everything starts in the centralPiazza Maggiore. Here you’ll find the 13th century Palazzo del Podesta (inside is tourist info), the Church of San Petronio, and Neptunes Fountain (Fontana di Nettuno), designed by Tommaso Laureti in 1566 with some pretty erotic bronze figures by Giambologna gushing water for the masses.

Bologna – Detail Picture of the Neptune Fountain

Bologna, Italy Picture: Neptune Fountain.Photo Credit: James Martin

Here’s one of Giambologna’s lush and watery mermaids gracing the Neptune fountain in Bologna.

Bologna Italy Picture – University Graduates

Bologna, Italy Picture: Graduating Students in Bologna.Photo Credit: James Martin

Lots of folks use the Nepturne fountain as a meeting place. Here graduates of the university are paraded through the heart of Bologna, some in their underwear, some in clothing inappropriate for their sex. At least they have good taste in Prosecco.

The student population makes Bologna a town of better than average night life–people often eat dinner later here as well. There are also many museums in Bologna.

Check the posters and notices in student bars to find special events.

Bologna Picture – Piazza Maggiore Advertisement

Bologna, Italy Picture: Advertisement.Photo Credit: James Martin

To the left of the church of San Petronio, you might find this painted lady watching over a group of visiting school children, exhorting them to buy seductive body paint with their left-over milk money. Advertising is universal, unfortunately, even on the netting that keeps the falling plaster at bay.

Bologna Picture – Fish Store and Fishmonger

Bologna, Italy Picture: Fishmonger.Photo Credit: James Martin

Taking the side streets to the east of Piazza Maggiore you’ll come upon a small market area with just about everything you need for a great gourmet dinner. The fishmongers are wonderful to watch, grabbing the appropriate fish with a dancer’s precision for discerning and hungry clients.

Bologna Italy Picture – A Deli in Bologna

Bologna, Italy Picture: Just a little of the food the area around the Po valley is noted for.Photo Credit: James Martin

There are pasta shops, vegetable markets, and delis offering the many cured meats and cheeses of the Po valley.

From here you can walk north to the Piazza de Porta Ravengnana, where Bologna’s two famous towers, Torri degli Asinelli and Garisenda are located. Yes, they lean…precariously. You can ascend the tallest and most upright, Asinelli, for 3 Euros for a view of Bologna’s rooftops. The stairs starting half way up are quite narrow, just so you’re warned if you’re claustrophobic.

Bologna, Italy Picture – Medieval Building with Modern Enhancements.

People also interact with buildings in Bologna. Here, the ancient and modern are juxtaposed in a building along the via San Stefano, which runs from the towers to the interesting 7 churches of San Stefano, one of the more interesting church complexes you’ll ever visit. Founded on the site of an ancient spring, the site has been sacred for over 2000 years. Like the picture above, building styles in the San Stefano complex have changed from Roman to medieval and finally to the Romanticist style of the last restoration.

Bologna, Italy Picture – Student Protests

La Dotta, La Grassa and La Rossa, the learned, the fat, and the red, have all been used to describe Bologna, which has been traditionally socialist and quite wealthy. The red is also reflected in the staunch brick works of the city buildings. And, of course, the University and its frequent social spectacles of protest add to the city’s character, here a parade approaches the Piazza Maggiore along the Via del Indipendenza.

Bologna Italy Picture – A Protest in the Streets of Bologna

And here bodies are aligned like the dead along the Via del Independenza in front of the Cathedrale di San Pietro.

The street will take us back to the train station on the north side of the old town of Bologna.

Our walk around Bologna has taken in just a tiny part of the central core of the city. There’s more than enough in Bologna to keep you busy for a couple of days at least, and you can use Bologna as a base for exploring such cities as Parma,Ferrara, Ravenna and Venice.