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Scenes of Bologna, 2014

The venerable city of porticos, towers, and canals in the springtime

And a brief pause for a day trip to Modena


Kristin's come up from Rome, I've come south from Switzerland, and we're dashing all round Modena's city streets, anxious not to miss a thing. 28 May 2014.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

We're on our way to the Bologna rail station for a day trip to nearby Modena -- passing the Park of Montagnola.

The Bologna train station on a fine day, and . . .

. . . half an hour later . . .

. . . the Modena station.

A heartfelt Italian response to Wall Street and the German bankers

The Italian Army. Do check out our website.

No time for secondary attractions, we're scurrying down the main road to start out with the famous cathedral, with its Gothic belltower the Ghirlandina Tower, both a UNESCO World Heritage site.

But which way?

The Torre della Ghirlandina peeking over the rooftops; we're making progress.

The front of the Duomo of Modena. Said to have been begun at the instance of La Gran Contessa, the great Matilda of Tuscany, in 1099, it was built by Lanfranco of Como, consecrated shortly afterward, and finally completed in 1184. The inspiration to tear down two 5th century churches here and begin this one in their place came from the discovery of the bones of the city's patron saint, St Geminianus, for whom more exalted digs were required.

The southern side of the Duomo across the Piazza Grande; the façade is at the farther end, facing away from the piazza for some reason. The apse end is well scaffolded at the moment.

The side doors are called the Royal Gate and the smaller Princes' Gate

We collect photos of Kristin and lions' mouths. The lions guarding the façade were actually recovered by the builders from the Roman era, but these are contemporary with the building of the cathedral.

More lions on the smaller side gate, the Porta dei Principi, with reliefs by Wiligelmus and his students showing events from the life of St Geminianus. The side door on the farther side of the Duomo, the 'Fishmarket Gate', is decorated with reliefs depicting events from the Breton version of the King Arthur stories, but we missed that.

The beautiful Romanesque interior, with the effulgent crypt highlighting the old saint

An amazing interior: the crypt is dominant and highlighted, with the pulpit tucked up on the upper left

Lions everywhere. It's a pattern, theme, or as we say now, meme (usually meaning Venice, but apparently not here).

Tales from the Crypt

And from the pulpit, or ambone, looking down upon the little religious worshippers and explaining everything to them to our own satisfaction.

An altar up behind the pulpit, presumably invisible to the congregation

The sculptor Wiligelmo, or Gulielmo of Modena (fl. 1100-1120), designed all of the original reliefs, sculptures, the capitals of these 32 columns, and executed most of them, including on the façade out front.

-- 'If you would just let me explain . . . I meant to pay for it, I had the change in my hand'
(a terracotta crèche or presepe by Antonio Begarelli, 1527).

Saint Geminianus (or Gimignano) [him in the Roman sarcophagus], bishop of Modena in the late 4th century, is said to have interceded successfully on the town's behalf when the Huns came this way: a fog enveloped the city, and the Huns missed it. Modena was sometimes called "Civitas Geminiana" for some years after.

He's said to have been friends with St Athanasius and with St John Chrysostom (the patristic virginity specialist) as well. A church had been built over his tomb in the 5th century; the old bones turned up again years later, and were officially "recognized" as his in 1106 by Pope Paschal II in the presence of Countess Matilda of Tuscany.

Another view of the wonderful three-aisle nave

The pulpit, or ambo, was made by one of the 'Campionese Masters' with pillars set on funny telamons.

The life of a telamon is difficult, and boring.

Kristin's hand in another lion's mouth

-- Don't disturb him! He's eating a knight.

Jeez, they're all eating people!

Now we're going across the alley to the Cathedral Museum and Lapidary Museum. Mostly moth-eaten chausables and big gold processional crosses, reliquaries, mitres all over the place -- we march briskly through that part.

-- Oh, excuse us.

The Lapidary Museum has a great collection of metopes, recovered during various restorations and repairs to the cathedral and its predecessors.

A lively imagination at work

And a rotating selection of codices from the Cathedral Archives next door

The belltower called the Torre della Ghirlandina, 86 metres high, also part of the UNESCO property, is the cathedral's campanile, the rectangular floors built in 1179 by the Campione Masters -- the octagonal addition on top was added by the city fathers, in spiteful envy of Bologna's towers, carried out by the Masters' grandsons and completed in 1319.

Kristin and the Ghirlandina (the name comes from some marble railings at the top level), and the back of the Duomo in scaffolding. What can she be scrutinizing with such a fixéd stare?

Oooof. A photographic register of the local partisans who didn't make it through the war. An astonishing number of female partigiani amongst them (like Venice's).

Street scene

Another church. We're lost, frankly -- we're looking for the Palazzo dei Musei, where all the vast congregation of museums are housed.

Maybe it's over this way.

Not in here. Probably a bank.

The Via Emilia thoroughfare

Here it is, what a struggle finding it. (The €4 tourist map didn't make anything easy.) The family of the Estes ruled Modena from the late 13th century until the Napoleonic bouleversements of 1796, and this old Paupers' Home built by the Estes was converted into a factory for the poor people to work in in 1788.

In 1881 it was turned over to the city, and presently holds about nine hundred museums, including the picture gallery built around the Este family's collections, the Galleria Estenses, and that's what we want to see first!

What we're promised here, amongst a lot of allegedly great local painters, and despite the fact that 100 of the best of it all had to be sold off to the Polish king ages ago and now reside in the Dresden kunstmuseum, is Bernini, Carracci brothers, Corregio, Dosso Dossi, El Greco, Guido Reni, Tintoretto, Velaquez, and Veronese. Amongst others.

But it's 10 minutes before noon. So it closed. But will, or rather may, reopen tomorrow. For a few hours, and then close again.
-- We've all got other jobs, too, you know; what do you expect?

Over nine hundred locked-up museums in the premises, and at least we could sneak into the old cloister and stare at the sarcophagi.

The family that buys the same tombstone stays together.

A bunch of students prepping for exams, with some really ugly telamons holding them up. This was probably the funeral monument of some well-loved professor (gone on to the great Commencement in the Sky). The university was founded in 1175, a century after Bologna's, but there was a fad throughout the region to venerate the professors. I missed out on that one in the US.

In our professorial days, we had to contend with scraggly beards, bellbottoms, too short skirts, and marijuana fumes, but never with student hats like these.

The site of Modena was settled by the Etruscans, evidently, and then overrun by the Gauls, but the Romans made it a colony in the 2nd century BC and ran the militarily important Via Aemilia through here as a chief centre of their province of Cisalpine Gaul. That's Kristin, leading me on again.

The city remained the most important in the Aemilia province through to the 3rd century, but suffered badly during the subsequent barbarian occupations of northern Italy, and finally was abandoned after a terrible flood in the 7th century.

There's Ghirlandina again; it's everywhere. In about 900, the abandoned city was restarted, and two centuries later its then-owner, Countess Matilda of Tuscany, made it a free commune, independent of the local warlords. Partial to the Ghibelline or pro-imperial side in the 13th century bagarres, Modena drew martial recriminations from Bologna on the Guelph side, and it was in defending Modena in 1249 that Enzo, the briefly King of Sardinia, was captured and locked up in Bologna's Palazzo Re Enzo for 23 years.

The city was more or less dominated by the Este clan from Ferrara from the late 13th century onward, and made a duchy under their aegis, but when the Estes were driven out of Ferrara by the pope in 1598, they came here and settled in for good and all, most notably with an impressive collection of new palaces and public buildings.

Napoleon Bonaparte saw things in his own way and joined Modena to his pet-project, the Cispadane Republic, in 1796. The Este family was restored in the post-Napoleonic rearrangements of 1814-15, but the heiress was married to an Archduke son of Maria Theresa, the Habsburg Holy Roman Empress, and the city passed into the Austrian sphere.

The Estes of the 19th century are said to have been pretty cool in many ways, but got booted out in the 1848 Revolutions, then restored, and then invaded by the Piedmontese in 1859, when the city joined up with the new Kingdom of Italy. And the rest is history.

Street scene -- we're wandering with an objective.

Nice, but we're looking for the famous Ducal Palace.

It's not here, but this is fine, too.

According to our useless €4 city map, we're here. But we're not.

Here it is: The Ducal Palace. Oh this will be great. Built by Francesco I d'Este in 1634, it was the court of the Estes for two centuries, and must hold untold treasures within.

-- Stick your tongue out! -- Aacck!

Unfortunately, the Ducal Palace, these days, is an Italian military academy and barracks. So Thanks A Lot For That, Modena.

This, however, is an ancient tobacco factory presently under renovation as a . . . as an I don't know what.

Maybe upscale apartments? An orphanage? A modernized tabacco factory?

Modena looks like it's got more to offer -- mind you, the Duomo was fantastic! -- but in the absence of any major attractions open past lunchtime, we've decided to go home. As it were.

We're booked on the high-speed train. That's not it.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 4 July 2014. Happy Fourth of July, you Chinese fireworks manufacturers, you.


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