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Where Pisa has only one leaning tower, Bologna has two: the towers of Asinelli and Garisenda. Previously, the wealthy families of Bologna built towers to emphasize their power and wealth. There was a great rivalry between the Asinelli and the Garisenda families so both families wanted to build the highest tower. Construction probably started around 1120, but the Garisenda family lost the battle. Their tower was so askew that the construction had to be stopped when it reached 47 meters of height. Asinelli carried on, although their tower was skewering during construction too. You can climb the Asinelli tower; 498 wooden steps lead to the top of the 97 meter high tower.
The monumental heart of Bologna is formed by the two conjoined and pedestrian plazas: Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno, surround by characteristic arcades. (Did you know that Bologna has a total of no less than forty kilometers of arcades?) It's lovely to sit on one of the terraces and take in the surroundings. Thanks to the absence of motorized traffic it's relatively quiet; remember that you are in the center of a large city!
The Piazza Maggiore is dominated on the south side by the (unfinished) gothic San Petronio Basilica. From the outside it's not a particularly beautiful church, but the inside makes up for it with a huge sundial on the floor and beautiful frescoes. Also at Piazza Maggiore you can find the Palazzo dei Notai (Palace), the Palazzo del Podestà (thirteenth century, later rebuilt in Renaissance style) and the Archeological Museum. That museum has a fine collection of objects from prehistoric, Etruscan, Greek and Roman times. Showpiece is the head of Athena Lemnia. In the middle of the Piazza del Nettuno stands a sixteenth century fountain with a bronze statue of the Greek god Neptune.
Bologna's nickname is la Grassa (the fatty), because the city is the gastronomic center of the country. What Lyon is to France, Bologna is to Italy. An abundance of restaurants - large and small - and the city invites to immerse yourself in italian cuisine. Just don't order the 'spaghetti bolognese', because they don't know this addition. In Bologna this variant is just called 'spaghetti', say the standard meal.
Another nickname for the town is la Dotta, the scholar. A very appropriate title, because the oldest university of Europe is located in Bologna. It was founded in the eleventh century and Bologna is still an important university city. Nearly a quarter of the residents are students and it shows with the lively nightlife. At least, if you visit outside the summer months, because during the summer the students of Bologna paint the city elsewhere.
From Bologna, you can get to the Adriatic coast in no time, which includes the resorts of Ravenna and Rimini. Apart from beaches there are also other attractions in these cities. Ravenna is famous for its ancient mosaic art in the churches of the city. Rimini has remains of the Romans, including the Arch of Augustus, the Ponte di Tiberio and the amphitheater.
Situated along the road between Ravenna and Rimini is a very nice amusement park: Mirabilandia. Especially if you are travelling with children this is a must, as a welcome change to all cultural and historical impressions.
Located just north of Bologna is Modena, which has a magnificent historical center with as its central highlight the Piazza Grande. The twelfth century Duomo di Modena and the Gothic bell tower Torre della Ghirlandina dominate here.
Eighteen kilometers of Modena lies Maranello, the Mecca for car lovers, because here are the Ferrari factories. You can't enter the plants, but you can visit the museum which boasts exclusive Ferrari models. Obviously there's a shop to buy souvenirs and you can also visit the test track. And if you happen to be in Morena anyway: for a very different and much quieter experience drive to the small but beautiful Lago Modenese.
Bologna is a popular holiday destination and therefore it is advisable to book your accommodation well in advance, especially during the summer.
The historical center of Bologna is inaccessible to vehicles of nonresidents. This is monitored by cameras. Don't park your rental car on the streets, but use one of the many parking lots and garages. large parking lots can be found at the end points of public transport. There are smaller parking lots or garages near the pedestrian areas but they are often full. The most central parking can be found in Piazza VIII Agosto.
Bologna Airport is located six kilometers outside the city and is easily accessible by rental car: take exit 4 of the ring road (Tangenziale).