Here are Family Travel Forum's suggestions for family-friendly sights in this old university town.
Bologna is best known for containing the oldest university in Europe, and it is easy for visitors to observe how greatly the institution’s presence has effected the city’s development. The attraction of scholars from many different parts of Europe encouraged the once provincial Roman town to grow into a handsome cityscape, churches and palaces were erected by the budding community, and artists arrived from all around Italy to decorate the growing city. The beauty and culture that Bologna’s university drew into the community remains to be enjoyed today, and the continual bodies of students remain a youthful and vigorous influence.
Via Zamboni, 33 40126
051/20 99 349
Built upon a Roman law school dating as far back as AD 425 and founded officially in the 10th century, Bologna’s university is Europe’s oldest. The university has always had a progressive reputation, even employing female professors in the extremely backward Middle Ages, and its scholarly alumni include names such as Dante, Copernicus, Thomas Becket, and in more recent times, Federico Fellini. Older children and teens will enjoy touring the campus.
Museo Civico Medioevale
Via Manzoni, 4 40121
051/20 39 30
The collection at this museum is devoted to the depiction of medieval life in Bologna, when city culture was centered almost completely around its university. Exhibits include ceramics and the sepulchers of professors, although there are also such exhibits as a Roman wall running through the courtyard. (Open Tuesday-Saturday 9am to 6:30pm; Sunday from 10am to 6:30pm.)
Museo Civico Archeologico
Via dell’Archigimasio, 2 40124
051/27 57 211
This museum houses a great collection of Roman and Etruscan artifacts discovered in the surrounding area. Probably of more interest to the kids will be exhibits of the Book of the Dead, ancient Egyptian antiquities, and bas-reliefs from the tomb of Horemheb. (Open Tuesday-Friday 9am to 3:00pm; Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6:30pm.)
Chiesa di San Domenico
Piazza San Domenico 40124
051/23 70 17
One of the greatest artistic achievements in Bologna, the intricately carved tomb of St. Dominic is located here in the sixth chapel on the right. The craftsmanship of the saints and angels upon the tomb was a cooperative effort between Michelangelo, Pisano, and Nicolo di Bari, who was so fond of his artwork on the main cover of the tomb (arca) that he changed his last name and is now better known as Nicolo dell’ Arca. A schematic near the entrance describes who carved what, and an English-speaking guide will help kids appreciate it by providing information on the tomb and its history. (Open Monday-Friday 7:30am to 8pm; Saturday 7:30 am to 7:30pm; Sunday 8am to 7pm. Church closes daily from 1 to 3:30pm).
Piazza Maggiore and Fontana del Nettuno
Piazza Maggiore – 40124 Bologna
Bologna’s most architecturally exquisite buildings can be found surrounding the central square at the heart of the city. The pigeons, the crowds and the many cafes make this a focal point for families in nice weather. Notable structures include the medieval Palazzo di Rei Enzo, the more Roman Palazzo del Podesta, and the Palazzo Communale, the current seat of the local government. The square is also adorned with a 16th-century bronze statue of Neptune, who looms over an ornate fountain attended by sensual sirens.
Via Belle Arti, 56 40126
If you get an afternoon away from the kids, or manage to convince them to visit an art gallery, this one offers the best survey of Bolognese painting around. Almost every native painter of note is featured, and the most famous work on display is Raphael’s Santa Cecilia. (Open Tuesday-Sunday 9am to 7pm; closed Monday.)
Torre degli Asinelli
Piazza di Porta Revegnana 40125
Younger children especially should enjoy this grand 320-foot tall tower, the likes of which used to dominate the Bolognese skyline as symbols of the wealth and power of the noble families of the city. Come ready to climb, as 500 steps stand between you and the top, but a gorgeous view of the red-topped roofs and surrounding countryside makes it worth the hike. Parents will enjoy the medieval streets of the area, which all conjoin to the Piazza Porta Ravegna. (Open daily 9am to 6pm April-September; 9am to 5pm October-March).
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