Will the porticos of Bologna be Italy’s next Unesco World Heritage site?

Italy has nominated the distinctive porticos of Bologna as a Unesco World Heritage Site, calling them one of the north-eastern city's defining features.

Will the porticos of Bologna be Italy's next Unesco World Heritage site?
Bologna's covered walkways could be Italy's next World Heritage site. Photo: Gilles Desjardins/Unsplash

At a meeting of Italy's national Unesco committee on Tuesday, Bologna's portici – covered walkways – were selected as the latest Italian nominee for World Heritage status, an honour already conferred on 55 of the country's unique historic sites.

Mayor Virginio Merola called the nomination a “great and well-deserved achievement for Bologna”.

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The colonnades, which stretch for more than 60 kilometres around the centre of Bologna and its outskirts, are the result of nine centuries of urban planning, Italy's Culture Ministry said in a statement, calling them “both an architectural and a social model, a place of integration and exchange where residents, visitors and students live and share ideas and time”.

The portici date back to the Middle Ages, though most of the original wooden columns have since been replaced by more durable stone or brick.

Photo: Maria Bobrova/Unsplash

Over the centuries the city introduced regulations to keep the arcades open for public use, even those built privately, with shops and workshops typically located on the ground floor and accommodation for the university city's many students above.


Other colonnades were designed expressly for public convenience – notably St Luke's portico, a 3.5-kilometre stretch that runs from the city centre to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca and originally sheltered pilgrims as they climbed the hill to the shrine, which was built in the 1600s thanks to public donations.

Photo: Adriana verollaCC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Today the arcades remain “a defining feature of Bologna, both for locals and visitors, and are a reference point for a sustainable urban lifestyle in which civic and religious spaces as well as living space for all social classes are perfectly integrated”, the Culture Ministry said.

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Italy has been considering requesting Unesco status for the portici since 2006, when it first added them to its long-list of potential World Heritage nominees. Other sites that Italy has identified as possible candidates include the Via Appia, the first major Roman road, the Baroque architecture of Salento, the historic centre of Parma, and Calabria's Sila National Park.

A decision on whether Bologna's porticos become Italy's 56th World Heritage site is expected in 2021.

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Italy receives UNESCO site record as Bologna’s porticoes are added to World Heritage list

Bologna's medieval porticoes were inscribed on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites Wednesday, handing Italy a record number of recognitions for its cultural heritage.

Italy receives UNESCO site record as Bologna's porticoes are added to World Heritage list
Photo by Thaddaeus Lim on Unsplash

The porticoes, a network of arcades lining the streets of the historic centre of the capital of Emilia Romagna, were recognised as an “outstanding example of a building type, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates one or more important phases in human history,” UNESCO said in a statement.

Begun in the 12th century, the porticoes stretch over 62 kilometres (39 miles) in the medieval city, with most found in the centre.

Made of wood, stone, brick or reinforced concrete, they cover streets, squares, passages and sidewalks. Acting as a shelter against the sun or rain, for centuries they welcomed merchants’ stalls and craftsmen’s workshops.

Over the centuries, they also increased the city’s housing supply, with lodgings built atop them — an asset for Bologna, where millions of students have flocked since the founding in 1088 of its university, one of the oldest in the world.

Bologna’s Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a basilica sitting high above the city – connected by porticoes from the historic centre. Photo by Constantin Mutaf on Unsplash

The addition of Bologna’s porticoes means that Italy now has 58 sites recognised on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

It includes entire city centres, such as the historic centres of Rome, Naples and Florence, Venice and its lagoon, as well as archaeological areas such as the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the scenic Amalfi Coast. 

READ ALSO: Venice dodges Unesco ‘endangered’ listing after placing new limit on cruise ships

The new classification is “an immense satisfaction and a great recognition that makes us happy,” said Bologna’s mayor, Virginio Merola.

Only twelve sets of porticoes and their surrounding built areas were classified as World Heritage.

“In the 20th century, the use of concrete allowed the replacement of the traditional vaulted arcades with new building possibilities and a new architectural language for the porticoes emerged,” wrote Unesco.

“The porticoes have become an expression and element of Bologna’s urban identity,” it said.

The longest covered walkway in the world is considered to be the portico that leads to Bologna’s Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a basilica sitting high above the city. The portico is 3.8 kilometres long, with 664 arches.