Open an alluring little window onto Bologna's past.
Bologna is a city bursting in riches, it's known as Italy's capitale gastronomica (foodie capital) with art, culture, history and a buzzing student heritage, in 1998, a little window was opened onto a piece of historic canal simply adding to the long list of Bologna's 'must see's.
'Little Venice' is the name given to this part of town where ancient canals flow between the rust and ochre-hued houses, passing under bridges, painting the quaintest picture. Approach the very popular 'Finestrella di Bologna' and your curiosity immediately piques spotting an excited queue alongside the portico wall. This tiny sight has become an Instagram hit which now requires the obligatory selfie when visiting beautiful Bologna and people are happy to wait in line. The best bit is pushing open the cut-out piece of wall, which, if it wasn't for a bunch of lovers' locks and an informative plaque, we'd never really know it was there!
The respectful queue means everyone has a turn to open the 'little window' with other queue-goers kindly offering to take your group photo. The charming scene has been photographed many times meaning we know exactly what to expect but as much as we've seen it in pictures, a bubbling sentiment of excitement can still be felt as the window is closed after each individual viewing so that every sight-seer may open it themselves onto a secret panorama of flower boxes and small balconies set beside the flowing waters of Canale delle Moline.
'Little Venice' of Bologna is only little but once the canals crisscrossed the city in an extensive network serving several city functions.
Via dei Piella in central Bologna runs parallel to the major shopping vein Via dell'Independenza. Narrow and ancient, Via dei Piella passes under Porta Govese - one of the four remaining protective towers out of 18 built 800 years ago as part of Bologna's secondary city wall. A trattoria now offers traditional fayre right beside the little window, named "Trattoria La Finestrella", perhaps to welcome the constant flow of visitors but do not fear if it seems 'commercial'. You'll find lasagne alle bolognese, tortellini and tagliatelle al ragù but these aren't here as a 'tourist menu' - this is their home. The Bolognesi are precious and protective over their traditional recipes - see our blog Bolognese vs Ragù for an insight into Bologna's food culture.
Canale delle Moline is the name given to this small stretch of open canal, part of the larger Canale di Reno which was never tarred over when the rest of the network was covered as it provided a useful section of flowing water to wash clothes in with small, wooden platforms designed especially for this purpose. Smaller branches were built to direct the water towards individual mills where locally-grown grains were milled hence the name Canale delle Moline - Canal of the Water Mills.
Hard to imagine but once Bologna boasted an important port. The canal system was dug in the 12th century to supply water to the city but soon became an vital to the cities transport system, connecting Bologna to Ferrara and the Adriatic Sea. It served as a defensive moat to the secondary city walls and supplied over 15 water mills boosting a budding trade of silk-spinning.
Now, what remains is a small stretch of exposed canal that can be seen from a couple of places including via Oberdan, via Malcontenti and via Capo di Lucca but none are quite as quaint as La Finestrella - the Little Window.
So go early and miss the queue or stumble upon it like I did while researching 'The Best of Bologna'. Join a host of sight-seers who wait to admire the enchanting view and perhaps leave a lock of love at one of Bologna's 'newest' but oldest attractions.
Translated from the Plaque:
'Reno Canal - Escaped from works to cover the canals between1930 and 1950, this section served as a moat for the secondary city walls built in the 11th century. In the past, the canal was equipped with private wash houses and drawbridges constructed from wooden planks suspended at water-level as well as barrels and basins which were lowered for washerwomen to avoid getting wet.'
While you're in Bologna, why not skip across to the stunning city of Modena on a 30minute train journey? Go market shopping at the famous indoor Mercato Albinelli and dine on some of Italy's finest foods!