Although not famed for being so, Bologna is actually one of several cities in Italy that has a large network of canals running through the heart of it. Yet, ask a Bolognian as to whether their city resembles Venice in any way, and they are likely to say ‘no’. This is an understandable response because useless one knows where to look, one would never come across any water flowing through the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region unless it was raining.
Whilst walking down the built-up alley of Via Capo di Lucca towards Via Delle Moline one day, I heard what sounded like Niagara Falls nearby and not knowing anything about Bologna’s medieval canal network at the time, I decided to investigate. The roaring sound of a rapid coming from the bottom of a narrow path between two buildings was deafening, and although fencing blocked any public access to this path, I could see water splashing about at the end of it.
Determined to see exactly what was making this noise, I gained access (with permission) to an apartment block nearby and sure enough, from the top floor I could see a huge torrent of water running down what should have been the backyard to the buildings along the bottom half of Via Capo di Lucca. This, I later learnt was the only sight of the Moline Canal above street level in the city.
Walking back towards Via Delle Moline, I was convinced that there would be a restaurant or two nearby charging a premium for a window seat looking out over the canal, and I was prepared to pay their price. I had romantic visions of tucking into the best Bolognese sauce in the city whilst being wooed by the restaurant ambience and beautiful waterside views. Unfortunately …
The Moline Canal disappears as quickly as it is seen, or rather heard, under Via Delle Moline, but this is not the last sight of Bologna’s medieval waterways. Just off Via Delle Moline on Via Gulielmo Oberdan can be seen the Reno Canal.
By the well maintained gating and a heritage plaque nearby, it was obvious that there was a more deliberate attempt here at making this glimpse of the canal network more public. Yet, as I stood there admiring the view and imagining a tranquil life on a Italian barge, I watched several locals walk by without even passing a glance at it.
I followed the path of the canal down to the next block – Via Piella – and at first I thought the canal had gone underground again. But then my eye was drawn to a large orange wall with a perfectly formed square hole in the middle of it. According to an accompanying heritage plaque placed where only Robert Wadlow could read it with ease, the hole was a medieval window recently unbricked so people could once again enjoy views of the Reno Canal flowing underneath Via Piella. With so little framing, decoration or explanation (at eye level) for this ‘window’, passers-by were drawn to it in their droves wondering what on earth it was and what it was doing there.
So, what was the view like through that window? I eventually got my turn to take a look.
Less picturesque but far more fascinating was the view from the bridge a block further down across Via Malcontenti, looking back at the Via Piella heritage window.
Sadly, beyond Via Malcontenti the Reno Canal disappears underground once again and apart from a gap between two buildings along Via Augusto Righi (just before Via dell’indipendenza), little more of Bologna’s medieval canal network can be seen within the old city. The spot along Via Augusto Righi runs parallel with the canal and offers what would seem to be the only pathway down to the waterway. What a shame then that a huge, padlocked gate across this pathway blocks any public access to the canal beyond. Surely a smaller, less obstructive-looking gate at least several metres closer to the water’s edge would still keep curious visitors safe whilst allowing them to get close enough to actually see any water!
Below is a map showing the area where the two canals can be seen from street level …
… and more on the history of the city’s canals can be found on the Bologna Welcome website here.
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The medieval equivalent of Manhattan Island: the leaning towers of Bologna