the intellectual

“Beautiful and sweet Bologna! I spent perhaps the most beautiful seven years there”. With these words, Italian film director, writer and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini describes his love for the city of his birth. A city of art, culture and counterculture, a city of undeniable gastronomic wealth and enjoyment, but only the less discerning eye would file it away as merely the home of tortelli and tagliatelle.

A very personal attachment by the greatest Italian intellectual of the post-war period that would lead him to shoot some scenes from his last, controversial masterpiece “Salò e le 120 giornate di Sodoma” (Salò, or the 120 days of Sodom) in the Bolognese hills, inside Villa Aldini, which dominates the city and which Napoleon declared “superbe!” You can’t go inside the villa, but it’s still worth admiring its neoclassical elegance from afar.

Cineteca Lumière
International Museum and Library of Music
il Disco D'Oro Bologna

Cinema penetrates profoundly into the daily life of the Emilian capital. This is the city that in 1970 gave birth to DAMS, the degree course dedicated to drama, art and music studies, later taught across Europe. I head for the Cineteca di Bologna, which thanks to the Bologna Film Commission preserves the heritage of the past, making it usable and allowing it to be shown in the future.

A unique research centre in Italy and divided into an exhibition space and a cinema. The facility offers a trip back in time, through which you can admire the most significant places in Italian history, without straying too far from Via Zanardi.

But the Cineteca is not the only example of the city’s excellence in film. The seventh art leads me to Pratello, the historic district and popular heart of Bologna, which has transformed from a place of misery and hunger into a new cultural city centre. More than just a neighbourhood, it’s a community, within which the Kinodromo comes to life, a centre for the alternative creative audiovisual industry, overlooking the park on Via San Rocco and slotting itself perfectly into the process of social redevelopment.

Bologna is a city of culture, as we were saying, but above all of counterculture. It’s precisely this non-conformist wave that takes me to the nearby area of Piazza San Francesco. The Bolognese Movement of 1977 was marked by artistic and political experiments, such as the theatre workshops by the famous playwright Giuliano Scabia, the Dadaist fanzine A/traverso by Franco “Bifo” Berardi, but above all Radio Alice, Italy’s most important free radio station.

Following in the footsteps of the British pirates of the 1960s, on 9th February 1976, the radio station based at 41 Via del Pratello broke the monopoly on the airwaves, introducing the public to a new way of understanding communication. The brief yet intense life of Radio Alice lasted just 13 months. What remains of that welcoming place, where anyone could go to broadcast music, take part in a debate or simply spend the night in a sleeping bag on the floor, is a closed shutter, the destination of a thousand processions, preserving the memory and passions of an experience never forgotten.

Traum Fabrik at 20 Via Clavature is also a must-see. These apartments not far from Alice were occupied before 1977 and then transformed into training workshops, where comic books and music merged in a whirl of creativity without equal, giving life to bands such as Gaznevada and Skiantos, as well as the inimitable works of Andrea Pazienza. This building is also closed to the public, but a quick peek at a Bologna that no longer exists is a wonderful romantic gesture to this spectacular city and its history.

The directors Guido Chiesa and Renato De Maria dedicated two emblematic films to that turbulent and creative time. Chiesa released “Lavorare con Lentezza” [Working Slowly], inventing amid drama and comedy a credible imaginary episode to recount those years of Radio Alice frequency modulation. De Maria, on the other hand, directed “Paz!”, giving us an excerpt from the Bolognese Movement of ’77 centred entirely on the tormented figure of Apulian cartoonist Andrea Pazienza, told through his most famous characters.

Mambo e Museo Morandi Bologna

Music and art once again marry, this time in the “Disco d’Oro“, an historic record store in the heart of Bologna, where I feel the need to take refuge after an intense walk along the streets of downtown. Founded back in 1976 and sensing the revolutionary scope of punk, the shop has managed to anticipate other musical trends over the years, still maintaining today a pure identity that jumps out at you from the pages of its catalogue. From classic rock to more or less avant-garde modernism. “Without music, life would be a mistake” reads the inside in large letters. Like me, you’ll find yourself agreeing with Nietzsche’s words.

Don’t leave Bologna before having visited Il Covo, a club founded in the 1980s as a cradle of Italian punk culture and still one of the most famous venues for concerts and parties today, with more or less clubbing identities. I got lucky, randomly visiting during the only Italian date of the Arab Strap tour, a seminal Scottish band halfway between slowcore and alternative rock. But the club’s programme is so vast that it’s bound to satisfy a wide variety of tastes. Bologna is not just wave, indie, shoegaze and post-punk.

The International Museum and Library of Music, inaugurated in 2004 in a noble mansion gifted with rare beauty, has rooms dedicated to all the classical eras, from the 1400s to the 1600s, from Vivaldi to Bach, from Farinelli to Gioachino Rossini. Music is prominent in the city’s historical memory: Mozart, student of the Philharmonic Academy, the Franciscan Father Giovanni Battista Martini with his impressive collection of scores, Francesco Giovanni Sampieri, Ottorino Respighi and of course Rossini are some examples. A tradition backed up by the title of Creative City of Music awarded by UNESCO in 2006.

Cineteca Lumière
Caffè Marinetti, Grand Hotel Majestic Bologna

Not just musical art, but also contemporary, modern, attack art: this and much more will attack you inside MAMbo, an attractive acronym behind which lies the Modern Art Museum in Via Don Minzoni, rising in 2007 from the ashes of the old GAM (Bologna Modern Art Gallery). Research and innovation give life to an exhibition space in which you’ll find practical push-buttons of experimentation, including art and ideology documents from the Anni di piombo (Years of Lead), and the explosive performances of Marina Abramović, Hermann Nitsch and Gina Pane.

After such an effervescent visit, I refresh myself at Caffè Marinetti. Here, a group of intellectuals enamoured with speed and progress gathered under the aegis of their leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. Strategically located in the busy Via dell’Indipendenza, in the luxurious rooms of the Hotel Majestic the group organised a one-night “Mythical Futurist Exhibition” and published the Manifesto from which the Italian Futurist movement sprang.

This last experience is a perfect example of how art, history and literature find their place in the shadow of the Two Towers of Bologna. The Emilian capital is home to contemporary, avant-garde and aesthetic heritage formed over the centuries. A cultural union difficult to find in other Italian cities, which makes Bologna a place not only to visit, but in which to live wholeheartedly.

di Valerio Stefanori

other itineraries

  • the storyteller

  • the socialite

  • the sporty type

  • the traveller