Piazza Maggiore, the main square of Bologna, is enclosed by the most important buildings of the city and was born as a place to hold the city market.
Its construction started during the first part of 1200, when the politic heart of the city moved from its original location (in front of the cathedral of San Pietro) to the main square. The square is one of the biggest in Europe, 115 metres long and 60 metres wide, and is crowned by the main buildings of Bologna. The best point from where to admire all of them is in the centre of the so-called crescentone, a slighlty raised area in the middle of the square that still shows in its corners the signs left by the Polish and American tanks entering the city after its liberation in 1945.
From its western side the first building we see is Palazzo d'Accursio, the municipal headquarters which houses the seats of the Town Council and where civil weddings are performed. The palazzo was built in different phases during 1300, as can be seen from the different styles of the windows in its façades. In its main entrance the statue of Pope Gregory XIII, to whom we owe our actual Gregorian calendar.
Going towards the northern side of Piazza Maggiore we find the Fountain of Neptune, built in 1563 and masterpiece of Giambologna, sculptor of its main statue, and Tommaso Laureti, who designed the fountain and its canalizations. Its construction was essential for the Bolognese who finally had free access to fresh and clean water. The fountain followed the history of the city throughout the centuries and up to its modern days: in fact, the end of Neptune’s trident was chosen by the Maserati family from Bologna as the symbol of their cars, and is visible on the hoods of all their creations.
Continuing our stroll through the northern side of the square we find the façade of Palazzo del Podestà, on top of which we find the Torre dell'Arengo (Arengo Tower) whose bell was used to gather the citizens into the square. Behind Palazzo del Podestà we see Palazzo Re Enzo where Enzo, son of German King Frederick II, was imprisoned for 23 years after the battle of Fossalta. Once he died, the palace kept his name as, after such a long imprisonment, the Bolognese considered him part of the city.
The Eastern side of the square is decorated by Palazzo dei Banchi, a façade built during 1565 and designed by Vignola to cover the market area and restore the architectural beauty of the square.
Although in fact the main goal of Piazza Maggiore’s construction was to provide a place for the city market, Bologna in the meantime had become a big and important city and its market had already been moved to the nearby streets where a new open square, Piazza VIII Agosto, became its place.
On the southside of Piazza Maggiore we can see the most important building in the square: the Basilica San Petronio. The construction of the church started in 1390 under the design of Antonio Di Vincenzo and went on for over three centuries. Its construction was firmly challenged by the papal state as it was completely financed by the Bolognese who wanted to be independent, even from the Church. Moreover, the Church was built on purpose following the direction North-South so as to prevent it becoming a cathedral, symbol of the papal state’s power (cathedrals have to be built in an east-west orientation if they are to follow the Catholic doctrine).
Walking around the church it is crystal clear that the construction was over before the church was finished. The reasons are unknown: some say it was because they ran out of money, some think it was because of the opposition of the papal State.
Next to the Church stands the Palazzo dei Notai, seat of the said board, and whose façade is richly decorated with three inkwells that remind us of the board’s function.