In a city known for magnificent architecture, Bologna’s Genus Bononiae: Museums in the City takes renovation and re-purposing of historic buildings for public use up a notch. With a cultural, artistic and museum itinerary that runs through the center of the city, travelers have a number of exciting options.
In December, I visited two of the museums, both housed in evocative venues. First up was the Museum of the City, located in the Palazzo Pepoli. A holographic projection of Bologna’s canal system and thermal baths evoke the city’s relationship with water in this dramatic display.
Museum of the City
Considered the heart of the program, the Museum of the City is dedicated to the history, culture and transformation of Bologna, from Etruscan to modern times. The renovation and museum set-up were designed by architect Mario Bellini, who centered his design on the Torre de Tempo (“Tower of Time”), which pays homage to the two towers still standing in the city (there were once 90!).
Museum floors at first glance appear to be of striated stone, but are actually dense fabrications incorporating industrial materials, such as slivers of wiring. In one room, Roman paving stones provide contrast. Elsewhere, the special character of Bologna’s porticos, a symbol of the city’s hospitality, and known as “the people’s umbrella”, is depicted.
Extensive signage (in Italian) amplifies the exhibits. For English speakers, a brief video presentation or an audio tour can help fill in the gaps.
San Colombano—Tagliavini Collection
I also visited San Colombano, home to the magnificent Tagliavini Collection of musical instruments, and found it to be something I would recommend to any traveler interested in a full-on Bologna experience.
The museum is housed in a church complex, its buildings aggregated over time, beginning in the seventh century. The austere facade does nothing to prepare a visitor for the glorious interior, where thoughtful restoration has created a splendid home for the Tagliavini instruments.
Like other Genus Bononaie locations, San Colombano is a living museum, offering cultural events, in this case, frequent musical performances using the instruments in the collection. This striking venue, with superb acoustics, is a dramatic showcase for the unique instruments it houses.
Recent restoration works at San Colombano uncovered a 13th century mural crucifixion and tomb, and a medieval crypt. All are on view.
…and there are six more!
Genus Bononiae: Museums of the City was launched in 2000 to preserve Bologna’s considerable historic and artistic heritage (“Bononia” is the Roman name for Bologna.). Project financing has come from the Carisbo Foundation, the charitable arm of the Cassa di Risparmio.
There are eight Genus Bononaie sites altogether, with varying degrees of public access. The itinerary courses through the city, illuminating Bolognese history, life and art. The circuit is linked with other museums, art galleries and myriad cultural, economic and social initiatives in Bologna.
I highly recommend finding a place for one or more of these historic venues on a Bologna travel program. Two in plan for my next visit are the monumental site of Santa Maria della Vita, the most important example of Baroque architecture in Bologna; and the Chiesa di Santa Cristina, which runs a calendar of unique musical events October to May.
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