My day in Bologna

As a child, one of my favorite poems was “Jill Came from the Fair” by Eleanor Farjeon, which was in my copy of The Big Golden Book of Poetry: 85 Childhood Favorites. I loved the rhythm of the poem and the two-page-spread illustration that accompanied it.

Walking into Bologna center via Porta delle Lame.

My day-trip excursions sometimes remind me of that poem; although I don’t usually fit in quite as much as Jill does, I fit it in as much as I can, as I did on a recent day trip to Bologna.

My first moments in Bologna reinforced my sympathy for the tourists who complain about the lack of public bathrooms in Florence. One advantage to arriving anywhere by train is the availability of bathrooms in the station, but the same-day train ticket price was prohibitive, so I drove. There was no bathroom in the tourist information center, which I thought odd, but a staff member suggested getting a coffee in the bar next door (a technique often used to access a bathroom) or paying to use the bathroom in the library nearby. I don’t mind paying—it’s worth 50 cents or a euro for a clean bathroom—but it wasn’t clear that only one bathroom in the building was accessible to non-library-card holders. However, after finally finding the bathroom, I was more in the frame of mind to appreciate the main hall of the library.

Biblioteca Salaborsa.

My primary objective for visiting Bologna was to see the meridian line in the Basilica di San Petronio and witness the sun crossing the line around noon (due to summer time, it’s actually a few minutes after 1:00 p.m.) or, to put it more accurately, the earth turning so that the sun falls on the meridian line. The line was constructed by Gian Domenico Cassini in 1655 and is 67 meters long. In combination with the hole through which the sun’s light passes, it’s a very large sundial! It was fascinating to see another example of church as solar observatory (Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence is another).

The disk of the sun on the meridian line.

After exploring the rest of the church, it was time for lunch. I chose a restaurant at random and had a specialty of Bologna, tagliatelle al ragù. It was served in a ‘bowl’ of parmesan cheese and was delicious. I followed that with one of the best chocolate cakes I’ve ever eaten, and followed that with a vow to make an overnight visit so I could fit in more meals. In a country know for its wonderful food, it says something that numerous articles state that Bologna is known for its cuisine.

I still had some time before the designated time on my ticket to climb the Torre degli Asinelli, so I decided to look for a nearby geocache; it was especially appealing because I could have gotten a FTF (first to find). I didn’t find the cache, but I did find an interesting story. The cache was at Le Tombe dei Glossatori: the mausoleums of the glossators. In the Middle Ages, glossators wrote commentaries on Roman law to aid in understanding it. According to the cache owner, they were named after glosses—side or margin notes in law books. (Thanks to cache owners like these, one learns a lot as a geocacher!)

After my unsuccessful search, I headed to the tower, prepared to climb 498 steps. The young woman ahead of me bounded up the steps but my pace was a little slower. I tell myself that I am carrying my camera and two lenses, so that accounts for my pace! The views at the top were worth the climb.

As I waited to start my climb down, a man was coming up the final flight of stairs. The treads were so narrow and the pitch so steep, that I went down backwards, as if I was on a ladder. He, on the other hand, was wearing flip-flops, which have got to be one of the most impractical types of footwear for walking cobblestone streets and climbing towers like this one.

Back on the ground, I took pictures of the tower I had just climbed and the Torre Garisenda; together, they marked an entry point to the city in the 12thcentury. My sister and I have a running conversation about how neither of us can shoot a straight horizontal or vertical line, but in this case, the Tower Garisenda (on the left in the photo) really is leaning!

Le due torri: Garisenda e degli Asinelli.

I finished my day by visiting a great yarn store and buying yarn for my next crochet project. And so I came back from Bologna.

Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Caprese Michelangelo

Visiting a friend who lives in the Casentino Valley, I suggested a field trip to some place other than our usual haunts. I’ve been wanting to go to Caprese Michelangelo for about four years now, so off we went.

Caprese Michelangelo is the birthplace of Michelangelo (you might have guessed that!). He was born there in 1475 while his father was the podestà (a government administrator) of Chiusi della Verna and Caprese. The town, and the museum that includes the house where he was born, are small. Nevertheless, the Museo Casa Natale di Michelangelo Buonarroti is interesting, especially the paintings by other artists of events in his life and the collection of 19th and 20th century sculpture in a nearby building.

Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, where Michelangelo was baptized.

My kind of road!

As fun as it was to finally visit this charming place, it was the drive that made my day. The scenery was beautiful and as we approached Caprese Michelangelo, the road got curvier and steeper. Love driving that kind of road! We passed an interesting sculpture made on the trunk of a dead tree. Best of all, on our way back, a line of classic convertibles—at least twenty-five—came towards us. They were of all different colors, with the tops  down, and the drivers and passengers started waving and honking! Naturally, we waved back; I only wish we could have gotten some pictures.

Not the “David”, but interesting!

As we often do, we wound up saying, “What a beautiful country this is.”

View from a terrace.

Images © Melissa Corcoran.

Certosa del Galluzzo

Problem: high heat, blazing sun, hibernating, now stir crazy.

Solution: morning trip to a monastery in the hopes the hilltop situation and the stone buildings will make it cooler.

Visiting Certosa del Galluzzo wasn’t quite as cool as I had hoped, but being on a hilltop let us feel a breeze and the tour was interesting.

On arriving, I learned that the position on top of a hill and between the Greve and Ema rivers helped give the monastery the isolation necessary for the lifestyle of the Carthusian Order: “achieving a knowledge of God in the wilderness.” The monastery was built in the fourteenth century at the request of Niccolò Acciaioli, who belonged to a wealthy family of bankers in Florence and who wanted to found a monastery dedicated to St. Lawrence the Martyr. 

The first building we entered was the art gallery of the Acciaioli Palace, to which Niccolò Acciaioli intended to retire. Here I learned of a painter new to me, Pontormo, who fled to the monastery in 1523 to escape the plague. Sadly, the paintings he made for Certosa are badly damaged, but in the gallery along with the originals are copies made by other painters, which give a clearer idea of what his paintings might have looked like originally.

After visiting the church, chapter house, and cloister, we were led to one of the monks’ cells, which was fascinating because the pattern of monasticism was different from what I’ve read about in books. The monks spent most of their time in their cells, leaving only to attend the liturgical celebrations of the day and to eat with the other monks on feast days. Their cells were, therefore, small apartments, rather than just a room for sleeping and praying. Each had a garden and rooms for eating, studying, and resting. Meals were brought to the cell by lay brothers and passed through a ‘turn.’ The guide told us that if the meals remained uneaten for a couple of days, only then would someone enter the cell to check on the monk.

Even the title of the guidebook I purchased was a learning experience! It’s titled The Chartreuse of Florence and I wondered if this was a translation gone awry. Researching online later, I read that the name Carthusian is derived from the Chartreuse Mountains, where the founder of the order, Saint Bruno, built his first hermitage. The word charterhouse, which is the English name for a Carthusian monastery, is derived from the same source. Who knew?!

Stir craziness alleviated, at least temporarily!

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Images © Melissa Corcoran.