Genus Bonanaie

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

Photo: Genus Bononaie

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.

Artists have been inspired by Bologna’s architecture for centuries. Paintings depicting the city through various eras line the walls.
Along a path through baroque rooms of the palace, the museum narrates the history of Bologna in its architectural, artistic and scientific development.
The room of culture is dedicated to the influential women of Bolognese history. Their names may not be familiar, but the display is impressive.

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.

Approximately 80 works in the core collection include harpsichords, spinets, pianos, clavichords and other instruments, most of them exceedingly rare, all in working order.
The museum is worth visiting for the architecture and restoration alone. This late 14th century Madonna and Child is just one of the frescoes in San Colombano’s Chapel of the Madonna of Prayers.
The walls of San Colombano’s Oratory are covered with splendid frescoes by Italian masters of the turn of the 17th century.
Pride of place for San Colombano goes to the Tagliavini Collection of Musical Instruments, which includes such rarities as this trapezoidal traveling spinet made in Rome in 1617. All of the instruments are special, and all are in working condition.

…and there are six more!

Photo: Genus Bononaie

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.

*  *  *

Many thanks to Emilia Romagna Tourism and Genus Bononaie for introducing me to these wonderful museums with in-depth tours. Impressions and opinions, as ever, are my own.


  1. A the Museums in the City initiative is a very innovative idea. When I saw the blue holographic projection of the first photograph I immediately thought of Spain where they tend to mix the new with the old so well. The idea of the canals and thermal baths being projected is creative and interesting. Bravo Bologna.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

you MUST enable javascript to be able to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.