Bologna … discovering the city’s medieval canals, so hidden even the locals seem unaware that they exist

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.

The gap between the two buildings along Via Capo di Lucca where I could hear what sounded like a fast moving river. Although not caught in this shot, at the bottom of the path behind the bikes and gates beyond were signs of moving water

The gap between the two buildings along Via Capo di Lucca where I could hear what sounded like a fast moving river. Although not caught in this shot, at the bottom of the path behind the bikes and gates beyond were signs of moving water

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.

The first and only sight of the Moline Canal seen from the top floor of a building along Via Irnerio. Via Capo di Lucca is to the left, the canal is flowing from underneath Via Delle Moline ahead

The first and only sight of the Moline Canal seen from the top floor of a building along Via Irnerio. Via Capo di Lucca is to the left, the canal is flowing from underneath Via Delle Moline ahead

Yes, that's definitely water

Yes, that’s definitely water

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 …

Not quite the oasis I was hoping to find here: not one restaurant along Via Delle Moline seemed to take advance of its unique location along Bologna's hidden canal network. The Moline Canal actually runs right underneath this eatery and through its backyard, yet the establishment had no window seats, not even a window looking out over it

Not quite the oasis I was hoping to find here: not one restaurant along Via Delle Moline seemed to take advance of its unique location along Bologna’s hidden canal network. The Moline Canal actually runs right underneath this eatery and through its backyard, yet the establishment had no window seats, not even a window looking out over it

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.

The start of a section of the Reno Canal visible from street level at Via Guglielmo Oberdan

The start of a section of the Reno Canal visible from street level at Via Guglielmo Oberdan

Poking my camera through the gates looking towards Via Piella

Poking my camera through the gates looking towards Via Piella

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.

Bologna Hidden Canals, Canale di Reno, Via Guglielmo Oberdan, girl passing right

Bologna Hidden Canals, Canale di Reno, Via Guglielmo Oberdan, girl passing on phone left

Look! Can't you see the canal?

Look! Can’t you see the canal?

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.

A large crowd discovering the newly opened heritage window along Via Piella. If they were able to see the badly placed heritage plaque above them, they would have learnt that there was a view of a canal through the window as well!

A large crowd discovering the newly opened heritage window along Via Piella. If they were able to see the badly placed heritage plaque above them, they would have learnt that there was a view of a canal through the window as well!

Bologna Hidden Canals, Canale di Reno, window at Via Piella, queue of girls

All they need now is a gondola

All they need now is a gondola

It appears it is not just the heritage plaque that is positioned too high up on this wall

It appears it is not just the heritage plaque that is positioned too high up on this wall

Well, not everyone was curious

Well, not everyone was curious

So, what was the view like through that window? I eventually got my turn to take a look.

Bologna Hidden Canals, Canale di Reno, view through little window along Via Piella

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.

The Via Piella heritage window as seen from Via Malcontenti

The Via Piella heritage window as seen from Via Malcontenti

Two questions spring to mind here: firstly, was this really the original size and shape of the window that was once in that wall, and secondly, how on earth did someone manage to graffiti that tag above it?

Two questions spring to mind here: firstly, was this really the original size and shape of the window that was once in that wall, and secondly, how on earth did someone manage to graffiti that tag above it?

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!

The only available street access to the Reno Canal, found along Via Augusto Righi. Clearly tourists are not that welcome here

The only available street access to the Reno Canal, found along Via Augusto Righi. Clearly tourists are not that welcome here

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.

TLT x

Bologna Portico di San Luca, long length, sun shining, bad conditionThe delights and disappointments along the world’s longest portico, and where exactly is arch 666? Bologna’s Portico di San Luca

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Bologna … discovering the city’s medieval canals, so hidden even the locals seem unaware that they exist

  1. Samantha Lee says:

    I was trying to figure out where this little window was, so THANK YOU for showing it on a map, haha.

  2. Anne Guy says:

    I know that Italians are famed for their love of ice cream but that is a strange place to keep your spare cornets as seen in the first photo! Seriously though thanks for a great article on your aquifer adventures in the city absolutely fascinating! I really like the photo framed from the too high window too….thanks for sharing your jaunt in Bologna

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