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GRAND DESIGNS: BOLOGNA’S GRAND STAIRCASES

Bologna City | Attractions | City Tour

Frequently hidden behind a plain Bologna facade, the grand staircases in the city’s historic palazzi are some of the city’s little known treasures. Bologna Magazine takes a tour.

“Come with me” says Pier Luigi Cervellati, professor of town planning at the University of Bologna, but better known as the man who directed the restoration of the city’s historic heart in the 1970s. And with that, we descend from his studio to strada Maggiore and in the course of only half an hour, tour one of Bologna’s little-known treasures, the grand staircases in the city’s historic palazzi, several of which are shown in the photogallery.

These impressive works frequently hide in plain sight behind the façades (often poker-faced) of historic buildings in the city center that are open to the public. (Next to the entrance, there’s usually an escutcheon-shaped plaque with a concise history of the building, but at all of the ones I toured, it was in Italian.)

Address
Via Santo Stefano, Via San Felice, Via Galleria

The staircases shown here were built from the late 16th to the late 18th centuries. Bologna was booming and staircase design and construction drew a Who’s Who of architecture of the time, among them Carlo Francesco Dotti, the most important architect of 17th-century Bologna, according to Cervellati. (Dotti’s major work in Bologna, often visible from the city center, is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, which crowns a hill about 25 euros by taxi from Piazza Maggiore).

Until around 1650, palazzo staircases in Bologna were spiral, such as the one in Palazzo Isolani. The straight-up grand staircase arrived here in the late 17th century, and was quickly taken up by Bologna’s noble families as an emblem of wealth and status (and surely social climbing, in some cases).

The treads are long, the risers low, the landings spacious—in short, the stairs were designed to allow grandees to make an entrance at a processional pace and the master of the house to wait in reception above. At Palazzo Davia Bargellini, where the staircase (by Dotti) dates from 1730, Cervellati captures the genre’s overall aesthetic in a nutshell: “Very cardinalesque” he says.

 

 

 

Article by Gary Walther

Photographs by Massimo Listri

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