Friday, 21 November 2014

Luke on a hilltop

I hope you are not tired of the arcades yet because there is one more you simply cannot ignore when in Bologna. It is the most impressive of them all, even greater than that of the Santa Maria dei Servi shown on my previous post (here). The Portico of San Luca taking you to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca holds the world record with its 666 arches – numbered for the convenience of the climber – and a length of 3.8 kilometres! 

There has been a shrine on top of a forested Guardia hill southwest of the historical centre of Bologna for almost a thousand years now, although the present church only dates back to the 18th century. But parts of the portico are older than that.

The majestic portico was being built during a period of 119 years starting from 1674 to protect an icon of the Virgin Mary and Child which, according to legend, was painted by Saint Luke and was carried down to the town centre annually. Legend has it that taking the icon down in 1433 finally stopped the rain that had tormented Bologna for three months. Ever since that time a procession with the icon, the Madonna di San Luca, has taken place annually from the hilltop sanctuary down to the Cathedral of San Pietro in the historical centre and up again one week later. These must be spectacular events for the locals every May.

We didn’t have the time, much less the energy, to climb the pilgrimage up to the sanctuary but we very much wanted to see it. As we had rented a car we thought we might as well pay the first visit the easy way when leaving Bologna for our next destination. However, when driving up the hill we happened to make one wrong turn. The detour took us up not along the street by the portico but winding on the surrounding hillsides and we reached the top stealthily from the opposite direction.

Moreover, there was such a thick fog up on the hilltop we didn’t see much of the sanctuary and literally none of the views that were supposed to open up from there. Nevertheless, the site was lovely even in the mist. As it was Sunday there was a constant stream of people arriving on foot up the steps under the arcade but also by car. Some of the climbers were pilgrims, others were just joggers or other athletes doing their weekend exercise.

What we hadn’t taken into account was the service that had only just begun when we arrived at around 12:30 pm. The church was packed so we didn’t stay but for a few minutes standing by the door together with dozens of other visitors who were left without a seat.

When driving down we finally beheld the longest portico in the world. It was amazing even seen through the misty windscreen in the haze.

This is another place to return to one day. But next time on a clear day and on foot. I am determined to turn us into small-scale hikers one of these day, you know. If you should ever venture on this climb do remember to check the opening hours and to bring some refreshments with you. There isn’t much of that sort to be had up there I’ve understood. If only we could remember those simple rules on our excursions.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Servants of Mary

Talking about Bolognese sanctuaries, the most memorable point on the Strada Maggiore was the piazza in front of the Basilica of the Santa Maria dei Servi about half way the street. There is an arcade surrounding the square on all sides. Two of them are attached to the buildings and two are open to the street.

There was some repair work ongoing on one side so we couldn’t get any pictures of the square in all its glory. However, the three sides already reveal what an impressive cloister yard like structure the arcade with its marble columns constitutes.

Like that of the church itself, construction of the extraordinary arcade began in the late 14th century but it only got its present form in the 19th century. It extends as a portico on the street side of the 100-metre-long basilica with a spot open to the garden at the far end.

We walked by the basilica several times daily and even popped in once. Too bad the weather was so grey all through our stay in Bologna.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Newlyweds in rain

Have you ever been to an Italian wedding? We haven’t but last year in Bologna we made sure to be present outside a church when one marriage was being sealed with rainfall just after the ceremony.

We attended a guided tour in the historical centre. One of the sights we were supposed to stop by was the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita. It turned out we literally had to stop by the church, twice. Even the second time we walked by, the guide couldn’t take the group in because a wedding kept going on in there.

When the tour ended I insisted we pay a third visit to the piazza in front of the church so that we might see a glimpse of the happy couple, and who knows could even pop into the sanctuary, which served as my excuse to him. Despite the poor weather, he didn’t protest, presumably because it was sort of on our way towards the hotel. Within minutes, we did see the newlyweds and the rest of the wedding party stepping out of the church.

There is something thrilling and uplifting in any wedding. Even if the couple were total strangers to you their happiness and the uniqueness of the moment will capture your attention and move you. After a few moments of congratulations, joyful ripple of conversation and some photos it was pouring. The beautiful bride with her lovely ball bouquet of white roses had to rush to the car and off they drove to celebrate their bliss.

We found ourselves bold enough to sneak into the church while the last few guests who had stayed behind chatting were slowly moving to the door, not that anyone would have minded. There was a brief window for us to take a quick look at the artworks while a couple of ladies were stripping the gorgeous garlands with bouquets of white and pale pink from the ends of the pews, probably to be taken to the wedding dinner venue.

With that amount of downfall on their special day this bride and groom should stay happy for a very long time. Like they say in Italian, ‘Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata.’ A wet bride is a lucky bride. This couple recently had their first anniversary. I do hope they felt as blessed as on their wedding day in early October last year.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Bars and bands

There is much more you can do under the porticoes of Bologna than walk (see my previous post here), such as business.

Whether it is raining or shining, they provide great shelter for cafés and snack bars.

And street performers.

The music played under the portico of Piazza Re Enzo by the brass band Banda Rei on our Friday in Bologna, which was a local holiday (more about that one of these days), and the Polish Cellostrada cello quintet on Saturday (although as a quartet) were highly entertaining and spellbinding. We had to buy a 10-euro CD from both. We keep listening to those every once in a while, most recently last night when we had rather a delicious pike perch dinner with some Riesling. At such moments we do feel quite cheerful and laid-back, almost a bit Italian. But are still far from la bella figura of the below couple, I’m afraid.