Seven Secrets of Bologna

Did you know Bologna is full of mystery and many secrets surround the city, rooted deep in history and legends? Bologna has seven hidden secrets throughout the historical city center. These little secrets are fun ways to discover more of Bologna and feel like a local, learning a bit of history and fun facts along the way.
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Seven Secrets of Bologna

Bologna is a beautifully dynamic city, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Home to incredible food, a vibrant city center, and unbeknownst to many, it is surrounded by mystery, holding seven secrets. When visiting Bologna, most people discover Piazza Maggiore, the two towers, the church of San Petronio, and indulge in the delicious, Bolognese food culture. However, most people do not know about Bologna’s hidden gems, also known as its seven secrets that fill the city.

These little secrets are fun ways to discover more of Bologna and feel like a local, learning a bit of history and fun facts along the way. What makes them so unique is unless you already know about them, you won’t discover them in plain sight on your own. These secrets will help make your visit to Bologna even more entertaining and exciting. After learning these, you will feel just like an expert on all things Bologna!

Little Venice:

One of the first secrets is among the most shocking. Did you know there are underground canals in Bologna? Bologna is actually called Little Venice for this reason, but very few know this nickname or fact. There are a few points where you can see the canals but the most popular is the window on Via Piella. If you see a crowd of people standing in front of a little window, or what appears to look like staring at a random wall, you will soon understand why. Push aside the little window or small opening and prepare to be amazed by the site of canals in Bologna! Few people know but Bologna has a deep history as a city crossed by many watercourses used for merchant shipping. This little window overlooks the Moline Canal, which dates back to the XII Century, around 1100 a.d. Back when the city was crossed by numerous waterways and artificial canals, they were used to power the mills and hydraulic machines for the production of silk, wool, and other exported products throughout Europe. Around the beginning of the 19th Century, during the post war reconstruction, the canals were largely blocked and replaced by roads. While some of the canals are still present, they now flow underground and only a few points are left where you can still see them. Via Oberdan and Via Malcontenti are also two other points that have bridges with views over the canals.

An Unusual Telephone

In Piazza Maggiore, under the Voltone del Podestà, you can find the cordless antique phone. This is not a physical phone booth, rather, you will see people whispering into the walls, standing on opposite sides of the four corners from each other. Here is the oldest wireless phone, and another one of the Seven Secrets of Bologna. In the past, this space was used to hang people, if you look up you can see the original beams, but later on, it became a channel of communication where people who were sick with the plague or leprosy could confess without infecting the priests. The striking architecture is what makes this magic happen. If you position yourself in opposite corners, you can clearly hear whoever is whispering from the opposite side. The cross vault allows the sound to bounce from one side diagonally to the other. You need to face close to the wall, like a child who was punished, and whisper into it closely. This fascinating trick is a must try, while in Bologna. 

Arrows on the Ceiling Under the Portico of Corte Isolani

Located at the entrance of the portico Corte Isolani, a little passage full of bars and shops from Piazza Maggiore to Piazza Santo Stefano, situated on Strada Maggiore, is where the next mystery takes place. Here you will see ancient wooden beams, dating back to the mid 1400s, but what is interesting lies above. Looking carefully at the rafters, you will be able to see three arrows stuck from the past centuries. The mystery is why are these arrows there? The story explains that many years ago there were some assassins, hired to kill a nobleman. While they were passing under the portico, there was a naked woman facing the window. When she saw them and realized they were armed, she started to scream in fright. Either distracted by the woman’s nakedness, or in fear of being caught, the assassins didn’t successfully shoot their target and instead, badly threw their arrows into the ceiling. 

Neptune’s Finger Illusion

Bologna’s famous statue of Neptune stands tall and mighty in Piazza Nettuno for all to see. It was sculpted by Giambologna in the 1500s, and is one of the seven secrets of Bologna due to its design. While completing the statue, the Cardinal asked Giambologna to reduce the virility of Neptune, due to religious regulations of the time, and while Giambologna agreed, he decided to secretly hide within the sculpture, the God’s virility. Studying the perspectives intensely, he architected it perfectly so that from a certain point of view, Neptune’s pointing finger appears like an erect phallus. 

Canabis Protectio

While walking underneath the portico of Bologna in Via Indipendenza you may notice a strange inscription, Panis Vita, Canabis Protectio, Vinum Laetitia, which roughly translates to ‘Bread is life, Cannabis protection, wine is happiness’. This refers to the height of the medieval culture in Bologna, where Cannabis was used as a crop, and an important contributor to the city’s wealth, as the plant was cultivated for various purposes, from textile to rope-making. 

Broken Pot on the Asinelli Tower

This secret requires a big climb up the Asinelli Tower, which requires an entrance ticket. You’ll find the two towers at the end of Via Rizzoli, dominating Bologna’s skyline. Once on the terrace, passing the many steep stairs, look for the broken pot on the top of the tower, which is no easy task. Beware, don’t climb the tower before you graduate, or you will have bad luck!

Panum Resis in the University

The last of the seven secrets is the inscription, located in the University of Bologna, the world’s oldest western University and a place filled with so much history and legends. Located on Via Zamboni, a university desk is said to be engraved with the Latin phrase, Panum Resis, roughly translated to ‘knowledge is the base of all decisions’. 

You could spend all day running around the city chasing these hidden secrets, but once you discover them all, you will feel like a true lover of Bologna. 

Don't forget to pause to eat during your day of discovery. 

Check out my FREE guide on what else to do in Bologna

Thank you for your support!

I hope you have a great trip! If you appreciated this map at all, please consider leaving a tip and spreading the word to anyone you know about this service. Thank you so much for your support!

* * *
CURATED BY
Ciao! My name is Danielle and I'm a Californian from San Diego, who's been living full time in Florence, Italy since 2020. I studied in Florence in 2016 and absolutely fell in love with the food, culture, and history, and made it my mission to move back. I moved right before the pandemic, and staying here through all the lockdowns and pandemic life really helped me discover slow travel and find all of Italy's beauty, including lesser known gems, and off the beaten path travel spots. During my three years in Florence, I have wrote for publications like The Florentine, done freelance marketing with restaurants and a travel agency, giving me high insight into the best destinations, foodie spots, and more. I am here to help you make the most of your vacation in Italy with curated itineraries for every type of traveler and digital maps to help you enjoy THE BEST food each region has to offer. Let me do the work so you can just relax and enjoy, without any stress! I've had a very unique experience living in Italy the last 4 years, as I made my official move right before the pandemic, after visiting for years. Because of this I learned to travel locally and deeply throughout the numerous incredible destinations in Italy and for that I cater my travel services to finding the most local and mindful experiences, keeping true to discovering and appreciating Italy's culture.
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Seven Secrets of Bologna

Did you know Bologna is full of mystery and many secrets surround the city, rooted deep in history and legends? Bologna has seven hidden secrets throughout the historical city center. These little secrets are fun ways to discover more of Bologna and feel like a local, learning a bit of history and fun facts along the way.
9 Saves • ago
Free

Seven Secrets of Bologna

Bologna is a beautifully dynamic city, in the Emilia-Romagna region. Home to incredible food, a vibrant city center, and unbeknownst to many, it is surrounded by mystery, holding seven secrets. When visiting Bologna, most people discover Piazza Maggiore, the two towers, the church of San Petronio, and indulge in the delicious, Bolognese food culture. However, most people do not know about Bologna’s hidden gems, also known as its seven secrets that fill the city.

These little secrets are fun ways to discover more of Bologna and feel like a local, learning a bit of history and fun facts along the way. What makes them so unique is unless you already know about them, you won’t discover them in plain sight on your own. These secrets will help make your visit to Bologna even more entertaining and exciting. After learning these, you will feel just like an expert on all things Bologna!

Little Venice:

One of the first secrets is among the most shocking. Did you know there are underground canals in Bologna? Bologna is actually called Little Venice for this reason, but very few know this nickname or fact. There are a few points where you can see the canals but the most popular is the window on Via Piella. If you see a crowd of people standing in front of a little window, or what appears to look like staring at a random wall, you will soon understand why. Push aside the little window or small opening and prepare to be amazed by the site of canals in Bologna! Few people know but Bologna has a deep history as a city crossed by many watercourses used for merchant shipping. This little window overlooks the Moline Canal, which dates back to the XII Century, around 1100 a.d. Back when the city was crossed by numerous waterways and artificial canals, they were used to power the mills and hydraulic machines for the production of silk, wool, and other exported products throughout Europe. Around the beginning of the 19th Century, during the post war reconstruction, the canals were largely blocked and replaced by roads. While some of the canals are still present, they now flow underground and only a few points are left where you can still see them. Via Oberdan and Via Malcontenti are also two other points that have bridges with views over the canals.

An Unusual Telephone

In Piazza Maggiore, under the Voltone del Podestà, you can find the cordless antique phone. This is not a physical phone booth, rather, you will see people whispering into the walls, standing on opposite sides of the four corners from each other. Here is the oldest wireless phone, and another one of the Seven Secrets of Bologna. In the past, this space was used to hang people, if you look up you can see the original beams, but later on, it became a channel of communication where people who were sick with the plague or leprosy could confess without infecting the priests. The striking architecture is what makes this magic happen. If you position yourself in opposite corners, you can clearly hear whoever is whispering from the opposite side. The cross vault allows the sound to bounce from one side diagonally to the other. You need to face close to the wall, like a child who was punished, and whisper into it closely. This fascinating trick is a must try, while in Bologna. 

Arrows on the Ceiling Under the Portico of Corte Isolani

Located at the entrance of the portico Corte Isolani, a little passage full of bars and shops from Piazza Maggiore to Piazza Santo Stefano, situated on Strada Maggiore, is where the next mystery takes place. Here you will see ancient wooden beams, dating back to the mid 1400s, but what is interesting lies above. Looking carefully at the rafters, you will be able to see three arrows stuck from the past centuries. The mystery is why are these arrows there? The story explains that many years ago there were some assassins, hired to kill a nobleman. While they were passing under the portico, there was a naked woman facing the window. When she saw them and realized they were armed, she started to scream in fright. Either distracted by the woman’s nakedness, or in fear of being caught, the assassins didn’t successfully shoot their target and instead, badly threw their arrows into the ceiling. 

Neptune’s Finger Illusion

Bologna’s famous statue of Neptune stands tall and mighty in Piazza Nettuno for all to see. It was sculpted by Giambologna in the 1500s, and is one of the seven secrets of Bologna due to its design. While completing the statue, the Cardinal asked Giambologna to reduce the virility of Neptune, due to religious regulations of the time, and while Giambologna agreed, he decided to secretly hide within the sculpture, the God’s virility. Studying the perspectives intensely, he architected it perfectly so that from a certain point of view, Neptune’s pointing finger appears like an erect phallus. 

Canabis Protectio

While walking underneath the portico of Bologna in Via Indipendenza you may notice a strange inscription, Panis Vita, Canabis Protectio, Vinum Laetitia, which roughly translates to ‘Bread is life, Cannabis protection, wine is happiness’. This refers to the height of the medieval culture in Bologna, where Cannabis was used as a crop, and an important contributor to the city’s wealth, as the plant was cultivated for various purposes, from textile to rope-making. 

Broken Pot on the Asinelli Tower

This secret requires a big climb up the Asinelli Tower, which requires an entrance ticket. You’ll find the two towers at the end of Via Rizzoli, dominating Bologna’s skyline. Once on the terrace, passing the many steep stairs, look for the broken pot on the top of the tower, which is no easy task. Beware, don’t climb the tower before you graduate, or you will have bad luck!

Panum Resis in the University

The last of the seven secrets is the inscription, located in the University of Bologna, the world’s oldest western University and a place filled with so much history and legends. Located on Via Zamboni, a university desk is said to be engraved with the Latin phrase, Panum Resis, roughly translated to ‘knowledge is the base of all decisions’. 

You could spend all day running around the city chasing these hidden secrets, but once you discover them all, you will feel like a true lover of Bologna. 

Don't forget to pause to eat during your day of discovery. 

Check out my FREE guide on what else to do in Bologna

Thank you for your support!

I hope you have a great trip! If you appreciated this map at all, please consider leaving a tip and spreading the word to anyone you know about this service. Thank you so much for your support!

* * *
CURATED BY
Ciao! My name is Danielle and I'm a Californian from San Diego, who's been living full time in Florence, Italy since 2020. I studied in Florence in 2016 and absolutely fell in love with the food, culture, and history, and made it my mission to move back. I moved right before the pandemic, and staying here through all the lockdowns and pandemic life really helped me discover slow travel and find all of Italy's beauty, including lesser known gems, and off the beaten path travel spots. During my three years in Florence, I have wrote for publications like The Florentine, done freelance marketing with restaurants and a travel agency, giving me high insight into the best destinations, foodie spots, and more. I am here to help you make the most of your vacation in Italy with curated itineraries for every type of traveler and digital maps to help you enjoy THE BEST food each region has to offer. Let me do the work so you can just relax and enjoy, without any stress! I've had a very unique experience living in Italy the last 4 years, as I made my official move right before the pandemic, after visiting for years. Because of this I learned to travel locally and deeply throughout the numerous incredible destinations in Italy and for that I cater my travel services to finding the most local and mindful experiences, keeping true to discovering and appreciating Italy's culture.
Send A Tip
Support Danielle Cohen’s work.
Select your tip amount
$5
$10
$20
$50
Or type in other amount
Powered by Thatch
The home for unique & authentic travel
Powered by Thatch: Where great trips are made.
© Danielle Cohen Privacy Terms