Porta Galliera takes its name from the little hamlet of Galliera, the last outpost before Ferrara, which could be reached going out of the city. It is one of the 12 gates of the outer medieval walls surrounding the city of Bologna that has survived destruction.
Bologna was in fact surrounded by three different belts of walls from different periods: a Roman one, which is nowadays almost invisible if not in the smallest of sections; one that goes back to the XI century, of which some remains are visible throughout the city; and lastly the third one, the biggest one.
This third belt of walls was destroyed on purpose, as means to offer jobs to the inhabitants of the city and at the same time refresh and open the town centre as to improve sanitary conditions, which at the beginning of the 20th century were precarious.
The demolition started in 1902 and was generally approved except for a few opposers, among which Alfonso Rubbiani who, in charge of the restoration of many of the medieval buildings, considered the demolition to be useless and deceiving as the city was not yet equipped with a proper sewer system.
Before the ruins of the gate we can nowadays admire the remains of the Fortress of Porta Galliera, built in 1330 by the wish of Cardinal Bertrando del Poggetto. Decorated by the best artists of those times, among which a young Giotto, and destroyed 4 times by the hands of the Bolognese, the gate, being so near the fortress, suffered the same fate and acquired its current condition after its reconstruction between 1660 and 1663.
Turning our backs to the gate, the imposing staircase of Pincio stands out before us. The staircase connects the modern park of La Montagnola, built on the remains of the Pope’s fortress, and via dell’Indipendenza, designed in 1896 by Tito Azzolini and Attilio Muggia. A wonder site for the inhabitants of the city, the staircase was also extremely useful during the Second World War, when under its walls one of the biggest shelters, called the shelter of Pincio, was built. This shelter is nowadays open to visitors and hosts a modern hangout site for events, a bike rental shop and much more.
An amazing fountain sleeps at the staircase feet. In it, a woman’s figure clutched to a sea horse seems to be fleeting from someone. This strange pose has teased the fantasy of the Bolognese people, who have named her “the giant’s wife”, referring to the statue of Neptune which crowns the fountain on Piazza Maggiore. According to the local sayings, the woman is escaping from her husband because of his reduced “thew”. Indeed, it was diminished by the wish of Pius IV who considered that the original dimensions of the statue’s attribute was excessive for an artwork commissioned by a Pope.
Porta Galliera was also a main scenery in the insurrection against the Austrians on the 8th of August of 1848: the last soldiers in town were able to escape passing through it once all the other gates were closed and conquered by the citizens. A gravestone stands inside the arch in remembrance of the Bolognese fallen soldiers.
Nowadays it looks like the gate is not in the same line as the main street, via Indipendenza. This is explained by the ancient disposition of the streets in the city: before via Indipendenza was built, the main connection between the outskirts of the city and its core was Via Galliera, which is perfectly aligned with the gate’s entrance.