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A re-birth for Bologna’s canals


I spent a week in Bologna last June, and was so busy with different things to see and eat, that I neglected to find Bologna’s rather hidden canals. But it seems that they’ll soon be easier for visitors to find.

According to a recent news story from the Italian news agency ANSA, some of Bologna’s long-lost network of canals, which have been buried for decades under pavement, are going to be restored and re-opened for everyone to enjoy.

(The first photo is from the web, the second I took from atop Bologna's Asinelli tower.)

Mayor Flavio Delbono said a preliminary project would focus on a 50-metre stretch in the historic centre but the initiative could eventually extend throughout Bologna, ANSA reported last week.

''This is a major plan to regenerate an important part of our city's historic centre,'' the mayor said. ''I hope the reopening of the canal can be considered in a calm fashion, in order to create a comfortable and attractive place in this striking stretch of Bologna''.

ANSA reports that the Reno Canal is the first waterway on the repair schedule. A tiny section of this canal reportedly is still above ground but most of it has long been buried.

A parking lot and part of the road would be torn up between Via Riva Reno and Via Galliera, revealing not only the water underneath but also the remains of an Ancient Roman bridge, said ANSA. The two banks of the canal would be connected by a footbridge, while cars would have the use of one side of the waterway.

Today, there are five main canals still running beneath Bologna's streets. The largest of these, the Navile, once boasted its own port and was constructed to link Bologna with the Po for trade and travel purposes. The Reno and the Savena were created to transport water around the city to other waterways, while the Cavaticcio and Moline canals were designed to power Bologna's watermills, according to ANSA.

While Bologna is unlikely to ever rival Venice, said Delbono, more waterways will be uncovered if this first stage goes well, and Bologna could eventually join the ranks of Europe's major rediscovered ''canal cities'', such as Strasbourg, Bruges and Birmingham, says ANSA.

It reports the mayor claimed that Bologna’s waterways would not only make the historic centre more pleasant for Bolognesi, they would also boost tourism and could even be used for commercial activities. According to the mayor, the proposal has been raised on various occasions by different neighbourhood committees over the years and enjoys wide popular support. No start date has yet been fixed but, once under way, the first stage of the project should take around 18 months.

''We are open to all ideas and proposals from everyone: the public, sector associations and various institutions,'' said Delbono. ''We want to revitalize this important part of the city but we will study the plan carefully, to ensure there is not a drop in parking availability''.

Bologna's canal system, which developed between the 12th and 16th centuries, played a crucial role in powering its industries and promoting trade. Water was diverted from the River Reno en route to the Po River and brought into the heart of the city.

Comments (13)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, it sounds like a good idea. It will be interesting to see how this project progresses. Maybe some of the project's uncovering will be done when I am finally able to visit there. That's a really beautiful photo of the town from the top of the Asinelli tower.

Thanks so much for writing this really interesting and informative post and for sharing this story. I look forward to seeing what happens.

Very interesting! I didn't know Bologna had hidden canals.

Interesting post, Sandra. One more reason (as if I needed one) to re-visit Bologna in the near future.


Hi Kathy, I'm not sure how much work is involved in uncovering some of these canals, but it could be a lengthy process! Still, it would be interesting to see some of these when at least the initial work is completed.

Annie, I was interested to come across canals in several cities I visited on this trip, including Bologna and Ravenna. I've also read that Milan has an intricate canal system. Still, nowhere are the canals as beautiful and important to daily life as in Venice!

Hi Maria, welcome home from Paris! Bologna really has so much to see and do, doesn't it?

Very educational -- wonder what other cities hold this treasure. If you read articles on climate change, water will be a scarce resource soon...m

Thanks for relaying the news, sounds really interesting, I'd love to visit Bologna one day.


Excellent points, menehune. And it seems that canals have played a very important role in the history of many cities, including Bologna, so it's great if they can find a way to acknowledge that!

Hi Candi -- I think you'd enjoy Bologna. Lots of history but at the same time, a really young vibe due to the important university there.

I never knew about the canals! That would be really cool!


Hi Palma, perhaps you'll see some of them this year when you're there!


How interesting, I had no idea Bologna had canals! I really hope to visit here someday, it sounds fascinating and very diverse.

I have had visiting the canals on my list the last two times I was in Bologna. Don't know what happen each time but have yet to see them.

How interesting that there are plans to open up one of the canals and in such an interesting area. I know just where that street is located. When I was at the top of the tower this summer, I noticed the white building in your photo and searched it out after climbing back down that afternoon.


Anne, there's so much to see in Italy that it's hard to decide where to go! But Bologna really is interesting.

Susan, I wanted to find at least one canal last year and never did get to it! At least you know where to look -- and if this project gets off the ground, perhaps the canals will be more visible.


I also had no idea there were canals in Bologna - or any of the other cities except, of course, Venice.

I have never been to Bologna, but it is sounding more and more interesting to me!

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