Some secrets can be revealed without hurting anyone, such as the secrets of Bologna. Indeed, the city has seven important secrets hidden among its many porticos that the local Bolognese enjoy sharing with tourists. Are you ready to discover the seven secrets of Bologna?
The window in Via Piella
One of the seven secrets is hidden behind a window, or rather, a small opening in the wall of Via Piella. Push aside the shutter and you can look out onto a little Venice without ever leaving Bologna. From here you can admire the Moline canal flowing between the houses, one of the few remaining examples of open water flowing through the city center. The city was once crossed by numerous artificial canals and waterways, which were used to power the mills and hydraulic machines for the production of silk, wool, and other products to be exported throughout Europe. The canals are still present, but they now flow underground and only a few points remain where you can admire them from the surface. One is this lovely window in Via Piella, while Via Oberdan and Via Malcontenti also have bridges with views over the canal.
The four corners of the Podestà
In the heart of Bologna, you will find the perfect place to play a favorite local game, “telefono senza fili” (cordless phone). To “play” you simply go under the vault of the Podestà and choose one of the corners. You’ll need to step in close, like a child being punished with a “time out”. Have a friend do the same at the corner opposite yours, with your backs to eachother. Now all you have to do is talk (one at a time)! You can even speak softly, as if your friend is right next to you, and your words will reach the opposite corner as clear as a bell. You’ll have to try it to believe it!
The finger of Neptune
You simply can’t visit Bologna without also going to see the famous Neptune and admire his fountain. While you’re there, you can also discover another secret! You will need to stand behind Neptune, slightly to his right towards the Sala Borsa. Now look down and search for the so-called “tile of shame” (mattonella della vergogna), a black stone placed near the staircase leading to the library.
Now that you’re standing on this specific spot, take another look at Neptune. From this perspective it appears that we have caught him in a moment of, um, extreme arousal. Thus providing us with a rather erotic view, so to speak. Don’t get too excited though, it’s actually just an optical illusion created by a strategically placed finger on his left hand.
Another secret takes the form of ancient writing under the vaults of the portico outside the Canton de’ Fiori, on the corner of Via Indipendenza and Via Rizzoli. The Latin reads: “panis vita, canabis protectio, vinum laetitia”. It means “bread is life, hemp is protection, wine is joy”. Why this inscription and, above all, what does cannabis have to do with it? It all stems from the important role that hemp once had in Bologna. The city actually enjoyed a flourishing hemp trade at the time of writing, which brought great wealth to the city. Thus the reference to “protection”!
The three arrows of Corte Isolani
A secret and a mystery at the same time: are there any arrows or not? The dilemma is worth investigating! Just go to Strada Maggiore, under the portico of Casa Isolani, and look up. Here, legend has it that three arrows are still stuck in the ceiling of the portico, shot centuries ago when the house belonged to a woman sentenced to death by her husband for adultery. The archers stood ready to fire upon her as she stood at the window, but she distracted them by suddenly unveiling her face. The surprised archers, stunned by her beauty, jerked their bows away at the last second and the arrows ended up lodged in the ceiling.
The broken vase on the Torre degli Asinelli
Those of you who have a particularly ambitious curiosity can try climbing to the top of the Asinelli Tower to verify this next secret, but be warned, you may be disappointed.
It is said that a broken vase was placed at the highest point of the Tower to represent Bologna’s excellent problem-solving skills, but not everyone can find it. It’s still worth a try though! Just a warning to any students attempting the climb: legend has it that it is bad luck to climb the tower before graduation.
And here we are at the final secret, and what a secret it is! It involves the University of Bologna, a place steeped in history and legends. At Palazzo Poggi, in Via Zamboni, a university desk is said to be engraved with the phrase “Panum Resis”, or “knowledge is the basis of all decisions”. A tribute and a reference to the Studium, for all that it has done and continues to do for knowledge.