Bologna’s arcades (also known as porticos) are a feature of the city. These covered walkways, often dating from the Middle Ages, provided protection from the extremes of weather, whether sun, wind or rain. The most famous is the Portico di San Luca, which is possibly the longest arcade in the world.
Roofed Arcade Of The Portico Di San Luca
There was a solitary jogger, but otherwise silence. The arches of the Portico di San Luca stretched into the distance and I had the place all to myself.
The roofed arcade of the Portico di San Luca starts in the centre of Bologna, at the Porta Saragozza. At the beginning shops nestle behind the arches, and the arcade is busy with people going about their everyday business. But as the arcade starts to climb the hill the shops peter out, and there is no-one to be seen.
One of the longest arcades in the world, 3.5 km and 666 arches long, the Portico di San Luca winds its way up the hillside to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. It was built between 1674 and 1793 to provide shelter for worshippers making the long trip up the hill to the sanctuary.
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The arcade was a testament to the city’s wealth, each arch sponsored by a local family. At the time of building, each arch contained plaques and artworks provided by the sponsor. Peering into the arches, I saw the remnants of this munificence: fifteen tiny chapels, as well as icons, frescoes and decorated ceilings.
Sanctuary Of The Madonna Di San Luca
At the top of the hill I was rewarded with views of the surrounding hills and the Sanctuary itself, a fine building with a classical interior, built in 1723.
There has been an icon of the Madonna on this site since the 12th century, although its history is uncertain. But what is sure is that there is a long tradition of carrying the icon up the hill, a tradition that persists to this day, with a replica of the icon being brought down to the Cathedral of San Pietro after Easter, and returned on Ascension Day.
As I walked back down the hill I thought about returning for the icon-carrying procession. It must surely be a magnificent sight, although perhaps not quite as peaceful as my visit!
A World Heritage Nomination
At the beginning of 2020 Bologna’s porticos, including the Portico di San Luca, were nominated as an addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Emilia-Romagna. Although many European cities have extensive arcades, the nomination was a recognition of the number, age and historical significance of the structures in Bologna. A decision is still outstanding.