Extending from the Adriatic Sea to the Apennine Mountains, the Emilia-Romagna region has a diverse environment of plains, mountains, lagoons and thermal springs. Named for a popular Roman passage from Rome to Italy, via Emilia, and a form of Romania, Romagna, Emilia-Romagna originally was a small collection of cities that now contains nine provinces and whose capital, Bologna, is one of the most prominent cities in Italy. Once part of the Papal States, Emilia-Romagna grew into a prosperous farming region but has retained much of its ancient charm and integrity. Under the radar of the tourist industry, many of the ancient towns and villages have kept their original character; significant pieces of Roman art as well as monuments and architecture celebrating the Byzantine and Romanesque periods can be found throughout the region.
While other regions may argue the point, many cite Emilia-Romagna as home to Italy’s best cuisine. Several food and wine tours are available to help the gastronomically inclined traveler discover the finest local offerings. For a taste of regional wines, September’s Fiera Del Sangiovese festival celebrates the end of harvest season and is a wonderful way to get to know the wineries and their varietals. Farmers markets are open year-round throughout the region as well and offer the local yield of seasonal vegetables and fruits. There are many beautiful hikes and walks, such as the lovely hillside walks in Brisighella, to help work off the prosciutto and tortellini. From the beaches of Rimini to the medieval hilltop villages of San Leo and Dozza, Emilia-Romagna is an expansive and fascinating region well worth exploring.
The capital of the Emilia-Romagna, Bologna is located in the Po Valley and is renowned for a high standard of living, making it one of the most desirable places to settle in Europe. Established nearly 3,000 years ago, the city was originally known as Boronia and prospered under Roman rule. Bologna steadily grew, rebounding from civil wars, attacks from invaders and the devastation of the plague while establishing a rich artistic, musical and intellectual history. Established in 1088, the University of Bologna, or Alma Mater Studiorum Universita di Bologna, is the world’s oldest university and is internationally renowned. The heart of the city are the Piazza Maggiore and Piazza del Nettuno, centrally located squares which provide a starting point from which to view the remarkable sites and monuments of this historic city. The famous Fontana del Nettuno, a fountain that features a large sculpture of Neptune’s head, is located on the street that connects the two squares.
During the 12th century, there were close to 180 towers throughout the burgeoning city of Bologna; of the remaining towers, the medieval Two Towers are the city’s most famous landmarks. The leaning towers are amidst an amazing display of medieval and Renaissance buildings, the most impressive of which is the Basilica di San Petronio, the 5th largest church in the world. Another stunning church is the Basilica di San Francesco, which houses remarkable artwork and is a great example of the Italian Gothic style. For a look at northern Italy’s best art collection, the Pinacoteca Nazionale is Bologna’s premiere art gallery and contains stunning works from Bolognese artists as well as works by Raphael and Perugino. The gallery is located near the University Quarter whose shops, bars, bookshops and cafes bustle with the energy of the students from the University. In this same neighborhood is the darkly fascinating Museo di Anatomia Umana Normale (Museum of Human Anatomy), a small museum well worth visiting for a cultural experience a bit off the grid. With a wide array of sights, sounds and experiences, Bologna’s rich cultural heritage and modern sensibility make it a must-see destination.
Connected to the Adriatic Sea by a 10-kilometer (6-mile) long canal, Ravenna is the capital of the province of Ravenna and once was the capital of the Western Roman Empire. Ruled first by the Romans, then the Goths, then the Byzantines, the building endeavors during these periods have given Ravenna a stunning architectural history. Ravenna also developed a series of canals and rivers that drained a portion of land, allowing for substantial agricultural development, enriching the population and natural resources. The city joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 after years of domination by the Holy See; Ravenna was a part of the Papal States and during this time, several significant religious monuments were built that are adorned with stunning and world-renowned mosaics, showcasing Classical and Byzantine designs. Though both an agricultural and manufacturing center, Ravenna is best known for the artistic treasures found throughout the city.
Located at the center of the city is the Piazza del Popolo, which was built in 1500 and remains the heart of Ravenna. From here, the Basilica di San Vitale is within walking distance and is perhaps the most famous of Ravenna’s churches. Built between 526 and 547, the octagonal marble building is sparsely decorated on the exterior but contains stunning 6th century Byzantine mosaics throughout the interior. Located across from San Vitale is the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, daughter of Emperor Theodosius I, which contains the oldest mosaics in Ravenna; it is a small and breathtakingly beautiful monument. Several other landmarks, including the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, the Chapel of Sant’Andrea, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinaire in Classe and the Battisteros degli Ortodossi and degli Ariani all contain examples of the legendary mosaics of the city. The city also has a lively cultural energy, hosting operas, theater productions and concerts throughout the year. The Ravenna Festival, celebrating opera and symphony, is held in the summer in the Basilicas di San Vitale and Sant’Apollinaire in Classe. There are also numerous restaurants, cafes and shops throughout the ancient streets and lovely piazzas to quietly contemplate the beauty and history of Ravenna.
Located at the mouth of the Marecchia River on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Rimini began as a small Roman colony and grew to become an important trade center and Roman stronghold. After a period of turmoil that saw the city fall from the Goths to the Byzantines, the Malatesta family came to power in 1239 and their reign lasted until 1527. Several family members rose to power, leading valiantly at times and tyrannously at others; regardless, the Malatesta family had a large impact on the development of Rimini, as demonstrated by such monuments as the Malatesta Temple and the Cathedral, or Tempio Malastiano. This 13th century Gothic church was never completed as the decline of the Malatesta family made it impossible to finish the still remarkable Cathedral. However, the largest factor in defining Rimini’s future was the development of the city’s marina and lush coastline; the influx of tourists and visitors from around the world established Rimini as one of the premier beach resorts on the Adriatic Riviera.
With 20-kilometers (12-miles) of gorgeous sandy beaches, the appeal of Rimini is easy to understand. The impeccably clean beaches and the nearby park Fiabilandia (Italy’s Disneyland) make it a popular destination for Italian families. With over 400 restaurants, there is something for everyone, though seafood is a specialty, from fish soup to grilled local catches. Rimini also produces wonderful olive oil and cheese as well as wines from the Colli di Rimini region. There is also a thermal spa, the Rimini Terme, built along the shore with heated saltwater pools and nearby trails and grounds to work off the local fare. With the Apennine Mountains as a backdrop to this lovely city, it is no wonder that it produced the stunning imagination of Federico Fellini, the world-renowned director, who set several of his films in Rimini. Within the delights of the more modern amenities of the city is the historic city center that includes monuments of the Roman era, including a 2nd century amphitheater and the Ponte di Tiberio bridge. The Museo dell Citta also has a vast collection of Roman artifacts as well as a beautiful collection of artwork. After a full day of enjoying the beaches, the sights and the food, the discos, clubs and bars open to showcase Rimini’s renowned nightlife. Truly a destination with something for everyone, Rimini is the jewel of the Adriatic.