Bologna - Italy
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Profiting by the freshness of morning, we left Modena early. As you approach nearer to the hills, the country becomes finely varied; and now, at the distance of six miles from the city, nothing can surpass the fertility and beauty of the surrounding scenery. Bologna is situated in a fertile valley, near the foot of the Appenines, and watered by the rivers Savena and Rheno, which last joins the Po by a canal; and thus it possesses at once all that is most luxuriant in nature, combined with all the facilities of trade. It is the second city in the Ecclesiastical State, and particularly distinguished by the honours conferred on its citizens, of whom no less than one hundred have been elevated to the purple, and ten to the tiara.
In the early struggles for liberty, it was the last that submitted to the Papal dominion, and yielded even then only a kind of feudal submission; the people still retaining the power of being governed by their own laws, le-vying their own taxes, electing their magistrates, and enjoying the privileges of republican independance; claims which, to this day, are fully secured to them. The approach to Bologna, which is peculiarly picturesque, differs in one respect from the more usual character of foreign cities, the great roads of which, in every approach to a town, are uniformly lined with trees, generally forming a splendid avenue. Here, especially on the right hand, there are meadows of rich pasture-grounds; and the hills, exquisitely cultivated to the very top, are seen rising beyond the city; the intermediate country, finely wooded, is open; while the Rheno, crossed by a long flat stone bridge, is seen skirting the town, whose walls it encircles on the west. The ancient part of the city of Bologna is of considerable extent, and its streets narrow and tortuous; the buildings heavy and antique, without grandeur; the shops mean, and the arcades low. The whole impresses the traveller unfavourably; its aspect is gloomy; nor does it become more cheerful, when, passing through the principal square of that portion of the city, (where the statues by John of Bologna are placed,) he finds himself at the public prison; from the grated windows of which, long-bearded, dark-visaged prisoners are suffered to assail the passengers with the most clamorous outcries for charity. As you proceed, you are struck with the appearance of two isolated and shapeless brick towers, connected with no building, and without any apparent purpose. They are styled Asinilli, and Garisenda;* and are valued by the inhabitants for their antiquity, as giving effect in the distant view of the city, and from their hanging position, which is very singular. The first rises to more than three hundred feet, and inclines nearly four from the perpendicular line; the diameter of the second is much the greater, to which, probably, it once bore a proportionate height, but now it stands rather as a foil to its neighbour, being greatly thicker, and much lower; the inclination, however, is very remarkable, a stone dropt from the summit of this last falling nine feet beyond the base.
On forsaking this ancient portion of the city a very different scene is opened: broad streets, lined with magnificent arcades, noble palaces, monasteries, public halls, churches, the academy of painting, and houses of individuals. In the architecture of the colonnades, which offer so delightful a shade to the passenger, we may occasion-ally observe a whimsical indulgence of fancy, displaying capitals in every variety of form, with a studious endeavour that each should differ from the other; but the prevailing taste is chaste and good. Brick is much used in the buildings of this city; and in such climates it wears well, affording a fine quality of surface to receive the plaster, which in the preparation for fresco-painting is very important. The bricks for the pillars are cast in moulds, so that each forms a segment of a circle, and several compose the shaft of the pillar. The floors of the arcades are paved either with flag-stone nicely prepared, or smoothly laid with brick. Some of the arcades (especially those leading from the theatre) are so broad, as easily to admit of ten or twelve persons walking a breast.
Many of the arches, as also the interior of the colonnades, are painted in fresco, some of which, executed in a most masterly style, are in the highest preservation. The custom of employing artists to paint the outside of buildings is very singular. How strange it seems to us, to imagine Procaccini, Guido, Caracci, &c., standing on a scaffold to ornament the house of perhaps the most ordinary individual!
The front of the ancient palace, in which the courts of justice are held, was once adorned by the most exquisite designs, in fresco, of the two last mentioned artists, who on this occasion are said to have laboured to excel each other.
The possessions of this city (the school and birth-place of the Caracci, of Dominichino, Guido, and Albano,) in paintings of public and private property, are incalculable. Of late the latter has been considerably diminished by extensive sales, but the public collection contained in the Gallery of the Institute, may be regarded as being one of the finest in Europe. I shall shortly notice those which appeared most deserving of attention.