Bologna is a wonderful city to explore. Nicknamed “La Rossa, La Grassa, La Dotta” for its striking red-brick architecture, delicious rich food, and the presence of the oldest university in the world, Bologna is filled with stories and secrets.
Then there are the Seven Secrets of Bologna, hidden features that fascinate locals and visitors alike. No one who strolls around the city should miss them.
Table of Contents
The Seven Secrets of Bologna are hidden in its historic centre, all within an easy walk from each other. As with all the very best secrets, no one really knows where the idea came from or who “invented” them.
For those who have lived in Bologna for a long time, these secrets are not such a surprise. However, for tourists visiting the city for the first time, there is nothing better than going on an exciting “secrets hunt”.
Bologna sits on top of a network of canals. These are mostly underground, and were built in the 12th century. One of them closely resembles the canals in Venice.
In Via Piella is a little window that opens onto the charming Canale delle Moline, known as “Little Venice”. The window is usually closed, so you will need to push aside the shutter to look out onto the Venice-like canal.
In fact, this secret is not much of a secret any more as it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bologna!
The most fun of the Seven Secrets of Bologna is the “wireless phone” of Palazzo del Podestà. This building has an extraordinary architecture that allows sounds to be transmitted from one corner of the archway to the opposite side.
Turn your face to the wall and whisper, and whoever is facing the wall on the opposite corner will hear you loud and clear! To play the whispers game, go to the central Piazza Maggiore and walk to the archway at the centre of Palazzo del Podestà.
According to tradition this place was used by lepers in the Middle Ages to confess their sins without getting into direct contact with the priests.
LivItaly have a whole range of small group tours throughout Italy. Readers of this site can get a 5% discount on all of their tours by using discount code BEWITCHEDBYITALY
A famous statue in Bologna is of the god Neptune in Piazza Nettuno, beside Piazza Maggiore. Stand behind the statue and search on the floor for the “tile of shame”, a black stone placed near the staircase to Sala Borsa.
If you stand on this specific spot, it will appear that Neptune has an erection! However, this is just an optical illusion created by the finger on the statue’s left hand. Legend states that Giambologna, who sculpted the fountain in the 16th century, created the statue in this way as a revenge against the Vatican.
The next secret is located in Strada Maggiore, in front of the entrance of Corte Isolani. The building has a wooden roof with three arrows stuck in it. They are not easy to gaze at as the ceiling is quite high.
The legend is that one night some criminals were sent to assassinate a local person. However a woman, who was standing undressed in front of a window, noticed them and started screaming. Surprised by the woman’s nakedness, and fearing being caught, the criminals misfired and shot their arrows into the roof.
At the end of Via Indipendenza, where it meets Via Rizzoli, the ceiling of the archway hides another secret: writing in Latin that says “Panis vita, canabis protectio, vinum laetitia”. This phrase translates as “Bread is life, cannabis is protection, wine is joy.”
This historical reference to cannabis may surprise you. However in the Middle Ages the plant was used as a textile, and its trade contributed to Bologna’s wealth.
This secret is concealed inside the very symbol of Bologna, the Torre degli Asinelli. Dominating Bologna’s skyline, the tower is at the end of Via Rizzoli. The climb is arduous as the 498 steep steps are nestled between narrow walls.
Once at the top of the tower, try to look for a broken vase. However, some people say there is no vase at all… To see if you can discover it for yourself, you first need to book your entrance to the Torre degli Asinelli (there is a €5 entrance charge).
The last secret is right in the heart of the university neighbourhood. On Via Zamboni is Palazzo Poggi, where it is said a desk bears the engraving “Panum Resis”, meaning that knowledge is the foundation of every choice. This is a tribute and a reference to the University of Bologna.
Embark on the adventure of finding the engraved writing if you can. No-one has so far been able to find where this inscription is hidden, so it remains a secret!
Marica Gatti was born and raised in Italy and currently lives in Rome. With a degree in Cultural Anthropology and a true passion for travelling, she works as a freelance travel writer as she loves writing about her experiences in Italy and beyond.