Busy in Bologna
April 30 , 2008 Wednesday
King Enzo’s Palazzo is where we tour operators will meet the tour services sellers today.
This mid 1200’s building in the center of the main square was added to the existing town hall that the town had outgrown during a time of prosperity after Bologna became the first town to liberate slaves and ban slavery.
King Enzo had been captured in battle by the Bolognese and was housed here for the last 35 years of his life.
The room we’re in was definitely the party room - there are still frescoes on the walls and it’s big enough for two basketball games end to end.
For the last two days, we’ve had representatives from Emilia Romagna demonstrating to us their services, meals, and destinations in hopes that, because we’re better acquainted with the area, we will bring our clients back for a visit. Today, like speed dating, we get to hear a quick presentation, ask questions, and take brochures from 14 tourism service providers during 15 minute sessions between 9:30 AM and 1 PM. Then we break for lunch and in the afternoon are available to meet with any providers who didn’t get a chance to speak with us this morning. It sounds grueling, but every vendor was pleasant and informative and many of them had ideas that would be helpful for our business. Some did not, but even the time with them was not wasted.
Lunch was catered with all the awesome foods from Emilia Romagna and we mingled with some of the people we’d met during the morning sessions.
At about 3:30 PM the meetings were over and we got a tour of the city – this time by a real Bolognesa. She spent a lot of time on the main square’s points of interest including a statue of Pope Gregory XIII, a Bolognese pope who reformed the Julian calendar to better align with the astrological signs. Bottom line, he just skipped from October 4 to October 15th to take out 11 days. Some people were against it and were slow to adopt the new calendar but it is in use now over most of the world.
The cathedral’s façade is decorated with marble but only to half its height; and the transepts (arms) were never built. We’d always heard that the pope during its construction prohibited its completion because it was approaching the size of St. Peter’s in the Vatican; but our guide said there were several other explanations that were just as valid. Inside the cathedral is a bronze strip about an inch across marking the path of light from a small hole in the cathedral’s ceiling. It works the opposite of a sundial telling the time during different seasons of the year (on sunny days.) Because the Gothic cathedral was under construction for so long (1390 to 1633) it has a Baroque high altar. The Gothic style went out of style and when it was time to build the altar, the Baroque style was in.
The patron saint of the city is St. Petronius, and he is often depicted holding a model of the city, or with it at his feet.
As we left the cathedral, there was a choir singing on the temporary risers as part of the city’s celebration and procession of a local Byzantine-era icon of a madonna and baby, the Beate Virgin of Saint Luke that is said to have caused a long rain to stop in Bologna in the mid 1400’s.
It was in Bologna where the transition from monastic learning to secular learning first occurred with the founding of the University of Bologna.
We went into Europe’s oldest university and found the dissecting room where in the early Renaissance biology teachers dissected a cadaver twice a year for the sake of science.
This practice was not allowed earlier and several biology professors left Bologna during the 1200’s to found the University of Padova (where we visited in early 2007).
Several years ago, we visited Bologna and had difficulty finding a really good restaurant. Today our guide took us through some narrow winding streets with food shops whose ceilings are draped with Parma hams and whose front windows display mountains of Parmigiano Reggiano. There are several cozy little hosterias that were interesting looking enough for a try next time we’re here.
Out in front of the Camera di Commerce, Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce, we learn that this is where the official recipes for Bolognese pasta sauce and tortellini filling are kept. There is also a tagliatele pasta made of gold, documenting its official size and shape for posterity.
We also entered the little complex of connected churches and cloisters called St. Stephen's. One of them is built on top of a pagan chapel dedicated to Isis. Six of the columns encircling the altar in the crypt are from the original 2,000 year old chapel.
After a quick change for dinner, we took a bus past the Twin Leaning Towers of Bologna and got off at the headquarters of an association of Bolognese business men housed in a Renaissance palace. Seated at the table beside the head table, we were served one amuse bouche after another: tiny dishes of panzanella (bread and tomato salad), octopus ceviche, a mini ravioli of spinach and ricotta, a tiny cup of cheese and fruit topped with a raspberry, hazelnut and prune with bacon, a gorgonzola tartlet, a tiny tureen of baccala (whipped cod mousse), asparagus in lardo de colonatta wrapped in threads of phyllo, and a plain dried apricot. ..so many delicious tidbits that we couldn't eat all of the major courses as they arrived!
The head of the association said a few words, then translated the whole paragraph into English with “Welcome to Bologna!” Later he came over to our table and when he saw Anne, he told her he recognized her from the evening television news show. She’d been interviewed earlier in the day at the Re Enzo Palazzo and her 15 seconds made it to Bolognese television. He said she did a great job and he liked what she said.
Another highlight of the trip was the conversation at the table with Umberto Sassatelli Salvadori who manages a division of the travel business started by his great grandfather. Needless to say, he works for the oldest tour operation in the room. He puts together imaginative, dream events like grape harvesting and stomping, a vintage Vespa scooter tour of the countryside. He also told us he’d accompany us to the Music Museum on our next trip to Bologna. It was his agency that worked with John Grisham when he came to Bologna to research “The Broker” and “Playing for Pizza.” He uses an English-speaking former Bolognese chef as a chauffeur for guests so they can get to their destination with running insider commentary on the sights out of the window. Umberto knows lots of locals and asks them if he can line up a group to experience Bolognese life. If they agree, they set a price and Umberto promotes the event and brings the people. Our schedules didn’t intersect during the meetings earlier today; but he wanted us to have his DVD and brochure.
We arranged to meet on the corner by the Neptune fountain after dinner and he drove up on his motorcycle with the information and we told him we’d see him next time.
Then we said goodbye to Bologna by the light of an ancient lamp on Piazza Grande.