Travel to Bologna with Tom Benjamin
Travel to Bologna for A Death in Italy
A Death in Italy is a novel by Tom Benjamin set in Bologna. What a fascinating city for a murder mystery to take place in, so I was keen to find out why the author decided to choose that city….
Tom has kindly popped over to The BookTrail today in order to take readers around Bologna a little more and to help them discover more about what really lies underneath the city’s skin….
‘The archway marked the entrance to the Ghetto, which dated back to the days when Bologna’s Jewish community had been confined to cramped quarters close to the market. Once through it, the city shrank to medieval scale: narrow, cobbled lanes that were held together by timber frames, low porticoes propped up by reclaimed Roman columns.
‘The quarter’s official title suited it better: Ex Ghetto, as the signs rather emphatically proclaimed. What would have once been an overcrowded, ramshackle area with Via Inferno – Hell Street – running down the middle was now one of the most sought after addresses in the city…’
‘… once the home of bishop kings and now the headquarters of the Comune.’
Colloquially known as ‘the bishop’s palace’, Palazzo d’Accursio sits on the West side of Piazza Maggiore. It’s also known as ‘Piazza Grande’ and was immortalised by Bologna balladeer Lucio Dalla:
‘the baroque copper-green dome of Santa Maria della Vita rising behind the porticoes of Palazzo dei Banchi’ opposite, and to the south ‘the bulk of San Petronio, a church so large its construction was halted by a pope worried it was set to dwarf Saint Peter’s.’
Interesting fact: There’s a grand statue of a bishop bestowing a blessing that sits above its entrance. Many presume that this is Bologna’s patron saint, Petronio. However, the statue is that of Bologna-born Pope Gregory XIII. The story behind this comes from the time when Napoleon’s forces invaded the city and set about destroying symbols of the Catholic Church. In order to save the (stone) skin of one of the city’s favourite sons, the burghers of Bologna manged to persuade them that Pope Gregory was actually the saint. (Clever!)
‘The porticoes were thick with students moving between classes in the buildings that lined Via Zamboni. I glimpsed courtyards enlivened by trompe l’oeil landscapes, blotted by drinks dispensers and rubbish bins; frescoed lecture halls jammed with tatty tables and chairs. Political graffiti covered long stretches of wall, while in Piazza Verdi red and black banners proclaimed the coming revolution.’
Via Zamboni’s Renaissance porticoes mark the heart of the oldest university in the world, founded in 1088, although most of the buildings it occupies today were once home to Bologna’s aristocracy. Daniel remarks: ‘Over the years the institution had hopped from one old palazzo to another as noble families rose and fell and their homes had been squatted, sold off or swallowed up. Welcome to Italian academia: at once itinerant and rooted, some might say stuck, in the past.’
‘The Kenzo Towers were a product of the modern Comune’s flirtation with Japanese architecture and constructed in a style you wouldn’t expect to encounter outside Tokyo – a clump of utilitarian but emphatically non-European skyscrapers just ‘outside the walls’ that were meant to pay homage to the famous towers of old Bologna but were somehow more reminiscent of a Godzilla movie set, as if they had been constructed from giant kitchen rolls and industrial quantities of papier-mâché.’
‘…that temple of sad angels and wan Madonnas…’
Bologna’s cemetery, her ‘mirror city’ as I describe it in the second Daniel Leicester mystery. The book’s called The Hunting Season, and is due out in paperback next year. In A Quiet Death, I perhaps don’t give the place the credit it deserves because it did feature on the Grand Tour after all. However, you have to remember that Daniel has negative associations with it given his wife is interred there. As I remark in The Hunting Season – ‘Byron, Dickens and Stendhal had all popped in to pay their respects’, and if it was good enough for them… Many say it’s one of the great monumental cemeteries of Europe. It’s a kind of ‘open air museum’ with vast halls that recreate the salons of the local aristocracy. It also boasts neo-classically-inspired tombs adorned by symbols from the age of enlightenment.
BookTrail Boarding Pass: A Quiet Death in Italy