Roman Streets, Medieval Houses . . . and Thoughts of the Renaissance

I continue on Via Clavature as it goes toward Via Castiglione, from Nicolò dell'Arca and the Renaissance, through the Roman criss-cross of streets in the neighborhood of the Quadrilatero, the oldest part of the city. Meanwhile, I bump into a delicious mix of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages and modern Bologna.

Mercato Coperto

The narrow, regular checkerboard streets reflect their origin as a Roman market. Even as layers of Bologna's history emerge, I nevertheless find myself ogling the merchandise in the windows of the elegant shops that line Via Clavature: fashionable clothing, trendy or functional housewares, excellent bread and tempting, characteristic cookies. They and the Mercato Coperto are closed until later so I can only window-shop, which is just as well. In the tranquillity of the early afternoon, I soak in the shades of Bologna's ocher -- from mustard and gold to rust and rosy red. The inevitable shadows cross my path and the sunlight plays off the houses rising up, one then another, leaning, leaning, it seems, one against the other. Their green-shuttered windows open onto the street like eyes that have watched the centuries walk by below. What secrets do they hold? Are they too tired to watch as I pass today?

The names of the tiny streets that cross Via Clavature derive from the Middle Ages and designate the artisans and merchants who once inhabited them. For instance, Via Clavature itself was the street of the locksmiths. Other metalworkers would have populated Via Orefici (goldsmiths) and Via Spadari (sword-makers). Merchants of foodstuffs would have been found on Via Pescherie Vecchie (fish) and Via Caprarie (meat), while Via Drapperie (textiles) and Via Calzolerie (shoes) would have been the home of those trades. Then too, surprises hide in unexpected corners in the nooks and crannies of the immediate neighborhood. Just turn left or right from Via Clavature onto one of the little cross-streets and look for hidden osterie, tiny shops or quiet bars.


On the left, just after Via Drapperie (n. 16-18) a group of houses that overhang the street show the evolution of Bologna's porticoes. The small bulge, then a bigger one and finally, the full-fledged, though narrow, portico allowed the proprietor to expand the living space in his house to accommodate university students and earn money ("Com' è Bella: Life Under Bologna's Porticoes").

While I meander, I contemplate the Renaissance and the Bentivoglio family, especially Giovanni II, whose term of power (1463-1506) represented a relatively calm period in the normally tempestuous history of the city. Because of his wealth and prestige, important artists like Francesco Francia, Lorenzo Costa, Jacobo della Quercia, Nicolò dell'Arca and even a young Michelangelo received commissions and worked in Bologna. (See the painting Madonna in trono col Bambino e i ritratti di Giovanni II Bentivoglio e della famiglia (1488) by Lorenzo Costa in the church of San Giacomo Maggiore, Piazza G. Rossini.) His reign ended violently though when the papacy again gained control of the city and Giovanni had to flee into exile. The angry masses proceeded to level his famous palazzo, with its nearly 300 rooms. (Palazzo Bentivoglio's tower is visible in Francesco Francia's Madonna del terremoto (1505), a fresco in the Sala d'Ercole of the Palazzo Comunale in Piazza Maggiore .

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I invite your comments in English or Italian about what I have written.

Bologna Reflections: An Uncommon Guide by Mary Tolaro-Noyes.
Copyright March 1997, April 2008. All rights reserved.

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