The Covered Walkways of Bologna

If there ever was a city made for people like me, it’s Bologna, Italy. Not just because of the food (although, oh man….), or the history or the plethora of bookstores. No, the reason I immediately knew Bologna was my kind of place was the porticos.

Much to my dismay I’ve become notorious for constantly being rained on during my travels. Australia, Thailand, Fiji, Colombia, the rain just follows me where ever I go (wow, just writing that out made me realize how much it really DOES rain on me- I should get that checked out somehow…). Of course Bologna was no exception, and our introductory tour of the city took place in the pouring rain. This time though, it wasn’t so bad, because of these babies:

Covered sidewalks, all over the city! You could explore the whole town this way, only occasionally darting from covered area to covered area.

Believe it or not the walkways, called porticos, weren’t put up for rainy day losers like me, they have an interesting history themselves and are actually a potential UNESCO World Heritage site.

You see, back in the middle ages Bologna was getting a bit crowded due to the flourishing university and trade businesses. They were running out of room to build within the city walls. They needed bigger buildings but didn’t want to encroach on their public outdoor spaces, so the officials came up with the rather ingenious idea of requiring buildings to add extra space by extending outward towards the street- but only on their second story or higher. These new floors were held up with wooden beams (most have been replaces with marble or brick now) resulting in covered arcades for walking.

The oldest portico in the city. The pictures suck because, well because it was raining.

Thanks to those long dead city planners there are over 40km of covered porticos in the city center: some grand and sweeping, others small and utilitarian. Many have architectural or artistic significance (sadly lost on me), and some date back to the 13th century. They are an essential part of city life now; public places to walk and socialize, outdoor seating for restaurants and places for busking.

Or for people like me, who just can’t escape that trailing black rain cloud. No umbrella needed here!

Yup that’s snow.

We visited Bologna as guests of the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board. All rain-soaked opinions are my own.

11 thoughts on “The Covered Walkways of Bologna”

  1. A little more research may be called for before publishing.
    A portico is merely a covered area immediately outside of a doorway.
    The images you have posted are actually “loggia”, being a covered area, open on one side that runs along the side of a building.
    A covered walkway that connects two buildings is called a “calle”.

    Nice images though.

  2. just wanted to point one thing either my reading retention is lacking or its been overlooked that the real practical reason for the porticos. was raw sewage dumped from windows in chamber pots.until the invention of indoor plumbing. However the place itself is incredible city. after dark when the students gather in the the town square is a wonderful friendly place to go and the bookstores indoor and outdoor are everywhere. A scholarly place as well as beautiful.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. Fascinating history about the porticos. I always thought they were practical shelters for rainy days. I’ll be looking at buildings and covered walkways in a whole new light now 🙂

  4. A friend of mine came from Bologna. All this time I thought it was a small Italian village, it definitely isn’t ahaha.

    You captured the city beautifully! 🙂

  5. Haha.

    It’s great that the elements brought to your attention a very unique feature of the city that you would otherwise have appreciated less.

    It’s the little things.. 🙂

  6. It’s an objectively genius idea that increases usable space, reduces urban sprawl, reduces transportation requirements, and keeps people from getting sunburnt or soaking wet. It’s almost as though everyone should do this everywhere, but people are dumb. Sigh.

  7. These walkways are such a genius idea! No need to bring an umbrella and a beautiful photo motif? Bologna sounds like the perfect city!

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