Bologna in Emilia-Romagna is a fabulous option for your next city break. Here you can easily pass the time exploring the picturesque streets, popping in and out of historic churches, people watching from pavement cafes and tucking into its world-famous cuisine not to mention Bologna’s secret canals. The city also makes a great base from which to discover more of Emilia- Romagna. From Parma to Rimini via Ferrara and Modena, there are no end of lovely cities, within easy reach, easily accessible by train or hire car.
When I first started researching ‘Things to do in Bologna‘ I was very aware that I would only have a couple of days to explore this beautiful medieval city. One thing jumped out at me as something I simply had to see and photograph above all else.
It was not any of the famous churches, piazzas, museums or towers that grace this enchanting University town, although I hoped to see these too. Nor was it the 25 miles of beautiful porticoes that shade locals and tourists alike from the intense summer sun, although these did prove a delight to capture on camera, but what really caught my imagination was something that the Bolognese have tried to hide!
Having met up with Suzanne at the airport, found and checked into our hotel, with map in hand and a note of the address, off we trotted to look for a window.
We found the street easily enough but having walked up and down it a couple of times we could not find the window and then Suzanne spotted a square cut into the wall with a small handle!
The hidden canals of Bologna
In days gone by Bologna, like many other European cities, had a network of canals. Most of the waterways were covered over in the 1950s and 60s to make way for new car parks and buildings but there are a couple of places where they are still open to sunlight in modern Bologna. One such place is here on Via Piella. There are a few different view points from which to admire this old canal but the most enchanting, though not the prettiest, is through this small square cut into the wall that is so easily overlooked by passers-by.
Above: Looking back at the hole in the wall
I found myself drawn back to this spot several times during my stay so that I could photograph it at different times of the day. I was so delighted by the little window I once found myself pointing it out to other tourists that had missed it – I couldn’t bear for them not to see it!
It was then that a local lady stopped to chat, telling me all about the once thriving silk industry of medieval Bologna that had relied on the canals to power the giant water wheels that spun the silk. The knowledge behind this process was top-secret and the mills didn’t have any windows so that spies couldn’t see in.
The canals also drove the wheels for flour mills, helped prevent flooding and were used as transport routes plus the humidity they created was ideal for the growth of silk worms.
Today the names of many streets still remind us of the city’s once flourishing textile industry – Via delle Moline (mill), Via dei Tessitori (Weavers), Via Drapperie (drapery) – sadly, however, most of the canals themselves, although still there, are now hidden beneath the car parks of Bologna.
Below: Looking west to Via Piella from a parallel street
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I never knew that about Bologna Kat. It was a city I had a flight booked to a good few years ago, but something happened to prevent me going. I would still like to go though, and especially after seeing your lovely photos and reading your post.
So happy to run into this. I’m going to be working from Bologna for a few weeks in Feb. I will think of you when I hunt down this window.
Keep an eye on my blog as there are more posts from Bolgona to come. It’s such a lovely town. I hope you will get the chance to explore it properly.
Kat, Blogville sounds like a great experience; I just read up on it a bit more and will have to keep it on the radar. Thank you for mentioning it.
Sorry I missed this when you posted it! Did you manage to get there this year? I do hope so!
Bologna is a gem! Went there in the summer of 2009, and thoughts of the divine pasta we had there have me longing to hop on a plane now. 🙂
Hope to make it back there again this summer as part of Blogville. Look out for more info from Travel Dudes if you are interested.
Fabulous post, but I can’t stop looking at the photos. I’m not too familiar with Bologna, but this hole in the wall is now a new bucket list entrant.
What is your next destination?
Hi Cez, The canal window fascinated me and drew me back to it a number of times as if it had cast a spell! I’ve still some posts to write from Rome and then next month I’m off to Egypt!
Thanks, I’d really appreciate it. 🙂
Sorry, I’ve not been able to find it but I’ll let you know if I do!
Does anyone else know??
I was wondering if you knew of any other cities in Italy that had hidden canals? Thanks, Kate
Hi Kate, I’m sure I read about some others. Let me have a think and I’ll get back to you.
The canals are a fascinating part of Bologna…one of my favourite cities in Italy.
Yes, it is lovely. A very special place but then so much of Italy is wonderful and I’ve so much more yet to see. Can’t wait!
Love the photos of that intriguing window opening on to the canals! How beautiful they must have once been! Thanks Kathryn
Thanks Madhu. Bologna is a really beautiful city.
Hi Kat, just stumbled into blog via Travel Bunny. Thanks for sharing the secret of Bologna. Your photos are beautiful.
Thank you and thanks so much for popping by! 🙂
What a fabulous find, Kat! I was originally drawn in by your “framed” photo on Flickr (which I never find time to use, these days). I do get wistful about Italy sometimes. So many lovely cities.
Suazanne and I had a fantastic time discovering Bologna and Rimini, oh and Ferrara. I’d love to spend more time there exploring. As you say, there are so many lovely cities in Italy.
Stunning photos, Kat! Love them 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experiences.
Thanks Keane. Glad you enjoyed them. 😀
I also went to Blogville ( in Rimini) I spent a couple of days in Bologna. I missed the canals, but I enjoyed the people.
Thanks for sharing your post. They’ll be plenty more to come from me from Bologna and Rimini. Looking forward to reading more of yours.
How lovely. I never knew about the canals when I was in Bologna, I love that they’re hidden away like that and you have to know where to look.
Shame you missed them though. You’ll just have to go back!
What a wonderful view from that window! And I didn’t know about canals in Bologna. You definitely made the most of your time there…
Isn’t it lovely! Such a wonderful city.
Great post and pics – I think I have some like that! The canals were enchanting in the midst of the city and a real highlight…
I bet you have quite a few like that. Wish we could go back! 🙂
Fantastic! I lived in Bologna for over a year, and it took me 8 months to discover these canals! Thanks for the beautiful photos- this was a lovely trip down memory lane…
Thanks Joanie, so glad you enjoyed it!
What a cool place. Great pictures of the canals!
Thanks. Bologna is a really beautiful city.
Like you post, and yes sometimes it’s great go for more unknown sides of well known places… 😉
Thanks and I still had plenty of time to check out some of the well known sites! More on that coming soon.