Via Zamboni, formerly called Strada San Donato, symbolizes the heart and soul of the University of Bologna. Right on this street, on number 33, we can find the seat of the Alma Mater.
Just a little over 1 km long, the street starts under the Two Towers and ends in Porta San Donato, one of the few gates that has survived the destruction of the ancient walls of the city.
Starting from the Two Towers and walking outside the city center we immediately find ourselves on a widening of the street, overlooked by an arch decorated with a menacing open-mouthed face. This was the main entrance to the former Jewish Ghetto, and it used to have a gate that would close at sunset preventing Jews from freely roaming the city. The ghetto opened in 1566 and closed in 1593, when the Jewish community was banned from the city. It was not until the years between 1700 and 1800 that the Jewish families were able to return to town.
The cruel face that overlooks the arch is a mask that was connected directly to Palazzo Malvasia. During receptions it was used as a wine fountain to show-off the Malvasia’s wealth and power. The family would pour down its pipe some of their precious and expensive wines over the grateful passersby.
Following our walk along via Zamboni we find Palazzo Magnani, with its frescos by Carracci, the music conservatory dedicated to Martini (Mozart’s teacher and mentor during the composer’s stay in the city in 1770) and the Basilica of San Giacomo Maggiore.
This church is enriched by the Bentivoglio Chapel, burial site of the most powerful family of the city who in 1400 controlled Bologna and helped reach the peak of the city’s importance, especially under Giovanni II Bentivoglio and his wife Ginevra Sforza. Both are incredibly depicted in the chapel in a painting by Lorenzo Costa that shows them kneeling at the Madonna’s feet and surrounded by their 11 offspring. The church is enhanced by an amazing 15th-century portico that used to connect the home of the Bentivoglio to their private chapel.
On the opposite side from the church we can see the porticos of the home of Malvezzi de Medici, while following under the Bentivoglio portico we stumble upon the small entrance to the Oratory of Santa Cecilia, patron saint of musicians. The building it belongs to was probably once equipped with its own entrance, subsequently embedded in the enlargement of Bentivoglio’s chapel.
The oratory is richly decorated with artworks by Francesco Francia, Lorenzo Costa, Giovanni Maria Chiodarolo, Cesare da Marozzo, il Bagnacavallo, Biagio Pupini and Amico Aspertini.
At the center of the street stands Piazza Verdi, with the façade of Bentivoglio’s stables and the imposing building of the City Theatre, built over the remains of Giovanni and Ginevra’s house. The great terrace on its façade was built during the fascist period, and used by party officials to look down on the square.
Proceeding with our walk we reach Palazzo Poggi, seat of the University Museum, and other historical seats belonging to the University of Bologna.
As a reminder that Bologna not only means ancient but modern art as well, a mural by Luis Gutierrez, a South-American painter, stands out on the walls of the portico before Piazza Scaravilli. This mural was done on behalf of the University of Bologna to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America (1992), although the painting was commissioned in 1988.
Finally, at the crossing between via Zamboni and via Belle Arti we find Largo Puntoni, an open space created by the destruction of one of the street’s former buildings. This opening was wide enough for it to hold one of the “orti urbani” during the war, that is city vegetable-gardens created to help citizens survive during the shortages caused by the war.