Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Visiting some of Bologna's Museums

Palazzo d'Accursio

Bologna is an old city with a history in education. It is home to beautiful churches and distinctive porticoed streets. It is also home to some wonderful museums that offer both classic and innovative views of art. After spending Easter morning visiting some churches (see last weeks post) I ate lunch and took in two of those museums.

For lunch I walked half a block off of the Piazza Maggiore, to a great lunch place, the salumeria Simoni Laboratorio. In 1960, the Simoni family opened a salumeria in the Centro Storico of Bologna, two blocks from the center square of the city. In 2015 they opened their restaurant/laboratory on via Pescherie Vecchia II where you can order and eat from a menu of sandwiches and plates. I ordered the ballerina and for €5 I received a large sandwich of amazing ham and pecorino cheese. It was delicious.

Salumeria Plate at Simoni Laboratorio

Meat and Cheese for sale 

After lunch I walked across the square to the Palazzo d’Accursio, or City Hall. This collection of buildings holds the offices of Bologna’s government along with the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte. The museum occupies the second floor (third floor for us Americans) of the palazzo. The rooms were originally built for the Cardinal Legates, representatives of Pope, who lived there from the 16th century until 1859. The museum houses a collection of artists for the Emilia-Romagna region. The art is good, although not outstanding. The rooms, however, are amazing. They have been maintained and restored, keeping the decorations from the papal era in place.

Prospettivo by Fernando Galli Bibiena 

Venus and Eros by Antonio Bellucci

The Trinity(artist unknown)

Coat of Arms room

The second museum I visited was the Museo Civico Archeologico. It was not the extensive collection of artifacts from Greece, Rome and Byzantium that brought me to the museum. It was to a fascinating exhibit entitled Ex Africa. This exhibit of 270 pieces from the continent, covering pieces created over the last thousand years, has been put together with the intent to show that art from Africa should be considered as at the same level as art in Europe. The artworks are arranged in themed galleries, presented works tied together by their role in society and culture. Religious statues, masks, and representational figures are shown with representations of the historical growth and changes. 

Figures from Senuto

Masks from Punu

The exhibit highlights the development of art forms, in the same manner that is applied to European art in many museums. Ex Africa also discussed the level of skills needed to create these works, along with how these skills and styles were shared throughout the continent, thus illustrating that the art of Africa was not “tribal,” but represented continent-wide movements. Finally, the exhibit presents modern representations of traditional African art, along with works by contemporary artists, who have incorporated traditional styles.

Salt Cellars from Sierra Leon

Messenger from Edo

Power Figures from Songye

Being a university city, Bologna offers many opportunities to explore art in ways that the more traditional tourists spots miss. It is worth a visit for its history and for its unique presentations.

Getting There:
Collezioni Civico d’Arte - Palazzo d’Accursio, Piazza Maggiore, 6 - 40121 Bologna (BO). Entrance fees are: full € 6.00/€ 3.00 for visitors over 65, groups of min. 10 people, Comune di Bologna Family Card and YoungERcard holders, € 2.00: visitors from 18 to 25.

Museo Civico Archeologico -Via dell'Archiginnasio 2 - 40124 Bologna

Entrance fees are: € 6.00 full/ € 3.00 for visitors over 65, groups of min. 10 people, Comune di Bologna Family Card and YoungERcard holder/ € 2.00: visitors from 18 to 25. Ex Africa had a separate entrance fee of €14/€12/€10 including an audio guide.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Visiting Bologna's churches on Easter Sunday

Basilica San Petronio

My first full day in Bologna was Easter Sunday. I was unsure of what may or may not be open for visitors. Holidays can be iffy for travelers. What I didn’t realize was that I had my holiday wrong. 

I started off with breakfast at Pasticceria Saffi, a small cafe across the street from my apartment. Saffi is usually closed on Sundays, but on Easter it was open, and there was a constant flow of customers picking up the breads and cakes they wanted to help celebrate  the day.I stood at the bar with my cappuccino and ham sandwich, listening to the locals complain about the results of the football matches from the night before. Right away it was clear the Easter in Bologna was going to be different than in New York.

Porto San Felice

After breakfast I walked past Porto San Felice and into Bologna’s Centro Sotrico. After wandering around for a while I ended up in front of  the Basilica di San Francisco. I waited until after the morning service was over, and then went in to explore. The church was built during the 13th century. It has a large, open interior, with no supporting columns inside. The nave has three aisles leading up to the altar, which was built in the 14th century and depicts the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. 

Basilica San Francisco

Leaving Piazza San Francisco, i walked to the Piazza Maggiore. The main square of the city is home to the centers of civic life, the Basilica San Petronio, Bologna’s largest church, and the Palazzo Comunale. The piazza is a large open space, lined with restaurants and shops. The main tourism office is on the piazza. On Easter Sunday it was filled with people. There were families heading into the basilica for service. There were tourists, mostly from Italy, taking pictures and lining up for the two tour busses that start there routes at the square. And they all seemed to be going into the office of tourism, looking for help figuring out what to see or do.

To my surprise, the Basilica di San Petronio was fully open to public, even during its Easter Mass. Construction on San Petronio began during the 14th century, and it is still not complete, but it was consecrated in 1954. The building is the 6th largest church in Italy, at 132 m long and 66 m wide. It has 20 side chapels along the nave. Some of the chapels were decorated for Easter, with white and gold clothes covering the artwork.

Having the church open to tourists on Easter made for an interesting juxtaposition of people. In the back were tourists, wandering around, looking at the artwork and architecture, taking photos even if they didn’t pay the €3 license fee. Meanwhile, the center of the nave was filled to capacity with worshippers. The service continued and communion was given. It was odd, and I was not fully comfortable, so I cut my visit to the church short.

That is how I spent my Easter morning. An atheist visiting two churches in Bologna, not my usual way to spend the day.   

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Bologna is a wonderful city to walk around

Vis San Felice

Bologna has always been on my “want to visit” list. On my recent trip to Italy I finally had the chance to get to some places that I had not yet seen, so Bologna was my top choice.

Porto Mascarella, at the foot Via Stalingrado

I am drawn to Bologna because it has a long history of supporting left-wing progressive politicians and causes. It is has a large university, so its population tends to skew younger. Driving into town along Via Stalingrado, a tribute to those who gave their lives at the Siege of Stalingrad during WWII, convinced me I was in the right place.

This trip was the first time that I rented a car while traveling in Europe. So I left Florence on the highway, rather than on a train. This gave me a very different perspective to the country. For example, on my trip to Bologna, I left the expressway to find a place to have lunch. I ended up at the Trattoria Vilma, in the small town of Borgatella. My waiter spoke about as much English as I did Italian, that is to say almost none. But working together I had a wonderful meal with a mixed salad and roast pork. The restaurant was filled with locals out for a Saturday lunch, and I was the only non-Italian in sight.

The downside of renting a car was that it limited my choices for hotels. I had to look for ones outside the historical center of the cities I visited. In Bologna I found La Casa di Eva, a vacation apartment just outside of the old city walls. It is a large studio with the bed in a separate  alcove from the living room. It offers a full kitchen and a Nespresso coffee machine. There is a full range of Italian channels on the tv and wifi. The only issue was parking. There are only 8 unassigned parking spots in the complex. So if you arrive and they are taken, you have to look for street parking.
La Casa di Eva is located right outside the city walls, near the Porto di San Felice. The old city is surrounded by a series of streets that form a ring around the old city walls. However, to create that ring, and access into parts of the old city, some of the wall has been taken down. That has left the Porto di San Felice literally standing on an island, a sentry to the past, while the present speeds past.

Porto San Felice

Bologna is the seventh largest city in Italy, and it is the capital of Emilia-Romagna. It is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe, with University of Bologna opening in 1088. The old city has maintained much of that old feel.While the some streets can be wide, most of them are small and curve unpredictably. The defining feature of Bologna’s main thoroughfares are the porticoed arcades that cover the sidewalks. The older buildings have smaller passages with lower ceilings, while the new buildings on the wide main streets have high-roofed, wide walkways. They are all lined with stores on the building side and pillars on the street side. This offers protection from sun and rain when you are out walking around the city.


At the heart of Bologna is the Piazza Maggiore (Main Square). This large open space is the center of city and tourist life. Here you will find Bologna’s main cathedral, the Basilica di San Petronio. It is also where the Collezioni Comunali D’Arte, Bologna’s large civic art museum can be found. It takes up a whole floor in the city’s Palazzo Municipal. The piazza is also home to Bologna’s Fountain of Neptune. The fountain was a “gift” from the Catholic Church in the 16th century, to remind all of Bologna of its new status as a papal state. One interesting feature of the fountain is that its basin was made in an irregular shape. The fountain is surrounded by four “lactating nerieds.” And Neptune’s trident was the inspiration for the logo used by the Maserati automobile company, which was founded in Bologna.

Fountain of Neptune

Lactating Nereid

Palazzo Municipio

In front of the Basilica di San Petronio

Basilica di San Petronio

The old city of Bologna is wonderful place to walk around. Its street hold surprises around corners and the porticos will protect you in good weather or bad.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Alice Austen House is worth a trip to Staten Island

This week I am taking a break from Italy to present an even more perilous journey I recently took. My on-going search for small museums took me from The Bronx out to the wilds of Staten Island, where I found two unique places to visit.

Actually, I love traveling TO Staten Island. The ferry trip across New York Harbor is one of my favorite things to do, and it is free. The boat trip offers 25 minutes of calm in what can be a nerve racking commuter residents of visitors. It also gives the best views of the New York waterfront skyline.

Boarding the Ferry

The Manhattan Skyline

Once I arrived, it was on to the S51 bus for the 20 minute trip from St. George to the Rosebank neighborhood, which sits along to shore of the bay.  By this time I was definitely hungry and I stopped in J’s on the Bay for lunch. This small store-front diner serves excellent, fresh delicious food. The teriyaki steak sandwich was seasoned to perfection, and the manager kept handing out slices of a wonderful basil pizza to everyone while we ate.

Alice Austen in 1888 via Wikicommens

Alice Austen (1866-1952) was a photographer of life in New York City. She was born on Staten Island, into a family that had money. Her father had left her mother before Alice was born, and she grew up living in the family home, Clear Comfort. She lived there for most of the rest of her life. Alice became interested in photography at a young age, aided by her uncle, Peter Austen, who was a chemistry professor at Rutgers College. Peter taught her how to process and print her photographs, and helped set up a darkroom in the house. By 1925 Alice had taken over 8000 photos, mostly of immigrants living in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Alice Austen House parlor

In 1899, Alice met Gertrude Tate (1871-1962). They fell in love , and were constant companions for the next 50 years. Gertrude moved into Clear Comfort in 1917. Alice lived on money paid from her family’s stocks and bonds, but in 1929 she lost her income, and had pretty much run out of money by 1945. Alice sold the house, and Gertrude was forced to move in with her family, but they refused to allow Alice to accompany her. By 1950, Alice was forced to move to the New York City Farm Colony, a residence for the indigent on Staten Island.

Alice's camera

In 1945, when Alice was forced to sell Clear Comfort, she gave the Staten Island Historical Society possession of all of her photographs and negatives. They sat in storage until 1950, when the Society went back through the 3500 surviving negative plates.Her photographs were published in a book titled Revolt of Women as well as in Life and Holiday magazines. This gave Alice enough money to allow her to move to a proper nursing home, where she lived for the rest of her life.

View if the bay from the Alice Austen House

In 1976, Clear Comfort was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark, as The Alice Austen House. It was refurbished in 1984-5 and today it is a museum and photo gallery. It run now by the New York City Parks Department.

The Garibaldi-Meucci Museum is another building with history in the Rosebank neighborhood. It is about a 15 minute walk from the Alice Austen House. The building was the home of Antonio Meucci (1808-1889) and his wife Esterre. They met and married in Florence, Italy. In 1850, Antonio and Esterre moved to Staten Island from Havana, Cuba. Antonio was a candle maker and inventor.There is a good argument to be made that Alexander Graham Bell stole Antonio’s ideas for the electronic telephone.

In 1851, Guiseppi Garibaldi came to live with Meuccis. Garibaldi was in exile due to his efforts in leading the movement to unify Italy. He lived in Staten Island for about two years, before returning to Europe.

In 1907, the house was moved to its current location and the museum was dedicated. Today it is run by the Order Sons of Italy in America, the largest and oldest Italian-American fraternal order.

When you visit, you will find four primary exhibits. Starting on the first floor, begin with the video on Antonio Meucci’s life. Next, take in the portraits of famous Italian-Americans that hang in the hallway, and gallery. They were drawn by a local artist, who is a member of the museum. In this gallery there are also displays of traditional clothes from different areas in Italy. The third gallery on the floor is dedicated to Antonio Meucci. There are artifacts of his life, his inventions, and other things that he made.

Local costumes fro the Lazio region of Italy

Meucci's death mask and models of his telephone

4-octave piano made by Meucci

On the second floor is a bedroom that is dedicated to Garibaldi. It is arranged as his bedroom was, with some of his clothes set out on the bed. There is even a mirror that he made.

Getting There (from the St. George Ferry Terminal):

Alice Austen House - S51 bus to Bay St. and Hylan Blvd

Garibaldi-Meucci Museum. -S78 bus to Tompkins Ave and Chestnut Ave.