The porticoes of Bologna were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2021. In total, three monuments in Italy were added that year, bringing Italy to the top of the UNESCO list with a whopping 59 sites. Additionally, Montecatini Terme and the 14th-century frescoes of Padua were added to the UNESCO list this year.
It was a close call as many expected Bologna's Porticoes to be rejected. Out of the 62 kilometers of Bologna's unique colonnades and covered portals, only 12 kilometers were chosen as UNESCO heritage. Some of the porticoes of Bologna date back to the early Middle Ages, while others are from much more recent times.
When you visit Bologna for the first time, you might not even notice it right away, since every city in Italy has some streets with covered colonnades. But once you spend more time there, you'll see that there's something special going on. Not just in the center, everywhere you look there are porticoes, some ancient, but others built just 100 or 200 years ago. Bologna has a thing with them. Even in newer neighborhoods like the Barca district, covered galleries are being constructed. Why? As my friend and local cuisine connoisseur, Giancarlo Roverai from Bologna, jokingly explained, “we don't like getting wet”, though he might've made that up. What he definitely didn't make up was the authentic recipe for Ragu Bolognese he shared with me. Bologna can get quite snowy in winter, and those covered galleries sure come in handy.
The path to the San Luca sanctuary, although a part of the world heritage, isn't even that old; it was built in the 18th century for pilgrims who wanted to travel it on their knees while praying. It's a shame they couldn't enjoy the stunning view along the way. I walked it a few years ago myself (and not even on my knees) and found it quite a climb.
Santa Caterina - a street with porticoes dating from the 12th - 13th century associated with the establishment of the Communes. It's a residential area with cozy spaces and wooden arcades.
Via Santo Stefano, an arcade square from the 13th - 14th century, designed after the model of the ideal city with a central plan and circular layout. Originally, it was the open space in front of the basilica, but later it became a central square surrounded by commercial buildings and residences of important families.
Baraccano - arcade road from the end of the 15th century, an example of introducing perspective into urban planning. It had a ceremonial and devotional purpose and linked religious buildings in the city.
Via Galliera and Via Manzoni - 15th-16th century streets with arcades, linking the cathedral to significant aristocratic buildings.
Portici del Pavaglione and Piazza Maggiore - date from the mid-16th century, these porticoes of Bologna form the connection between two of the main squares.
San Luca - a covered religious route from the 17th-18th century, located outside the city with arcades that lead to the Marian sanctuary on the Colle della Guardia, part of which consists of stairs. The route is easily visible from the lower city and even from the highway miles away.
Via Zamboni - 18th-century street with arcades in the heart of the university part of the city, built after older models that were adopted when the neighborhood was constructed in the 18th century. Portico della Certosa - 19th century, built when the Certosa became the cemetery on the outskirts of the city, connected to the porticoes of San Luca.
Piazza Cavour and Via Farini - a 19th-century urban square with a public function, heavily emphasizing decorative elements and urban greenery, developed when large parts of the city underwent renewal towards the end of the 19th century.
Barca District - 20th century, a workers' district constructed during the post-war reconstruction, situated far from the city center. In addition to the historical galleries, the Barca colonnade, built during the post-war period, is also included, and it's seen as a fresh architectural language for porticoes.
Mambo - from the 20th century, an arched post-industrial urban building, originally constructed as a public bakery during World War I, now transformed into Bologna's museum of modern art.
Strada Maggiore - an arcade street built over the old Via Emilia, the main entrance to the city for those coming from Rome.
The arcades, or "portici", of Bologna being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list is fantastic news for the city and its cultural heritage. These portici are indeed a unique and iconic feature of Bologna, representing both its architectural and historical richness. The recognition of these portici as a UNESCO World Heritage site not only emphasizes their significance to Bologna but also acknowledges their importance to the world at large. World Heritage sites are considered places of exceptional universal value that need to be preserved for future generations. This recognition can also assist in promoting the care and conservation of these locations. Having 12 km out of the 62 km of portici now recognized on the World Heritage list is an impressive acknowledgment. This means that a significant portion of these architectural marvels will now receive extra protection and attention. For the residents of Bologna and aficionados of the city, this is a proud moment. It draws attention to the city's rich history and culture and can also contribute to boosting tourism and the local economy.