There is nowhere in the world with such a combination of vibrant politics, student society, great art and architecture and astonishingly, incredibly unbelievably good, local food and wine.
Try to find a bad meal in Bologna – try as you may, it’s impossible!
Bologna drew the lucky card in being positioned right slap bang on the via Emilia, half way between Milan and Rimini. That means for over two thousand years the city has benefitted from both trade along the route and the glorious harvests of the fertile plain running up to the mighty Po River.
It is, in effect, a perfect position for a great university city – which, of course, Bologna is. In fact the city is one of the greatest university cities in the world. And the oldest. Bologna University was founded in 1088, some 12 years before Oxford University began – so it holds the title of oldest university in the world thanks, maybe to the amount of good food and wine feeding young brains!
And, as a concentration of bright minds always leads to political discussions, Bologna has been at the heart of Italian political discussion for a thousand years or so and at the heart of left-wing politics in Italy. Bologna became a thriving industrial centre as well as a political stronghold of the Italian Communist Party. Between 1945 and 1999, the city had an uninterrupted series of left-wing mayors.
Naturally all this political activity in the middle ages and later led to lots and lots of art and lots of great architecture. The big, rich, well-fed families competed with each other to build bigger and better monuments to their wealth.
Take Bologna’s two towers for instance – once upon a time there were hundreds all competitions between families, but, unfortunately they were in wood. The only two that are left are in stone. The Asinelli family tower won this competition with a 97 metre high tower beating off the Garisenda family effort at 47 metres by a length. No matter they are both symbols of Bologna now.
Another example of Bologna’s competitive nature is its Cathedral. San Petronio Basilica , the 10th largest church in the world, was built by the city of Bologna – not by the church. At one stage the plan was to make it the biggest church in the world, even bigger that St Peter’s in Rome. But the Bolognese remembered that pride comes before a fall just in time! They were consoled by the fact that at least it is the largest church built of bricks in the world.
And, of course there are a lot more beautiful churches in Bologna as befits a city that inn the middle ages had more than ninety-six convents, more than any other Italian city
So the Bolognese are educated, political competitive and very religious, plus they don’t like getting too wet or too hot. That explains the 45 kilometers (28 miles) of porticos in the city.
But, above all the Bolognese are passionate about food and wine and have developed a very sophisticated food culture over hundreds of years. In this respect, Bologna serves as a magnificent backdrop to extraordinary feasts.
Prosciuttos Culatello is the ‘king’ of Italian cured meats. Made from the highly prized “rump” of the same rear hind leg of pork as normally chosen for the best Parma ham. Culatello is salted, massaged and carefully cured and airdried for a minimum of 1 year. Culatello offers a finer, more intense flavour than prosciutto and it really needs to be tried in order to understand just how superb it is.
The pasta that has become a favorite worldwide, Tortellini (pronounced tor-teh-LEE-nee) are small pieces of ring-shaped pasta that have been wrapped around a filling, usually a mix of meat (pork loin, Parma ham) or cheese. As legend has it, an innkeeper in Bologna viewed Lucretia Borgia through the keyhole in a door. All he would make out was her navel, so he created this pasta in commemoration. Tortellini are usually served with the broth from Bollito, but could also be cooked with ragù or panna (milk cream). A similar pasta, tortelloni, are larger versions of tortellini.
Zuppa Inglese is one of the most famous Bologna desserts, it’s a very old dish also served also in other Emilia Romagna towns and similar to Tiramisù. It is made with liquor (Rosolio or Marsala) soaked sponge cake, custard and cocoa powder. It takes its name from an ancient Elizabethan recipe.
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