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Basilica San Domenico

Religious building, Bologna

Basilica San Domenico: Attraction informations

The Basilica San Domenico stands in place of an older church built outside the center near the walls of Bologna, the Church of San Nicolò delle Vigne.

The Dominicans arrived in Bologna in 1218, a few years after Pope Innocenzo III approved their regulation after an initial hesitation. The first Dominican to reach Bologna was Beato Luigi d'Orleans. Sent to the city by San Dominique himself, he managed to gain the land where the monastery currently stands. While the construction of the church took place, the Dominicans lived in the church of Santa Maria di Mascarella, and moved to their current location in 1219. Just two years later San Dominique would pass away, worn-out by a life of travelling and sacrifice.

In 1235 the first stone for the new church, immediately dedicated to the late Saint, was laid. The church was surrounded by a cemetery of which two arks holding the tombs of Rolandino de Passeggeri and Egidio Foscherari (main characters of the Bolognese studies) can still be seen.

The outer look of the Basilica San Domenico does not correspond to its original appearance, as it was completely restored by the committee “Bologna Storico Artistica”.

The decorations of the interior

Its inside was divided in 2 parts by a partition that was demolished in 1600. Following this demolition, the open space was too big and out of proportion (the church is 120 metres long), so the Dominicans called the same architect who adjusted the Church of Saint Luke to fix this irregularity.

Dotti changed the structure of the lateral chapels and decorated the main nave with alternating arches and architraves, interrupting the monotony of this sequence using two higher arches in correspondence with the main two chapels: Saint Dominique’s and the chapel of the Rosary. By using this visual escamotage, he managed to find a solution for the excessive length of the building.

In the biggest chapel of the right nave, we can admire an ark containing the remains of the Saint. The ark was decorated throughout the centuries by different artists, amongst which Nicola Pisano, Niccolò dell'Arca, Alfonso Lombardi and, last but not least, Michelangelo’s sculptures of Saint Petronius, Saint Proculus and the angel bearing a candle on the right side of the chapel.

On the other side of the nave, we find the chapel of the Rosary, belonging to the Guidotti family and decorated by the best painters of those times: Lavinia Fontana, i Carracci, Guido Reni, Michele Colonna and many others. Here Guido Reni, who died as a pauper, is buried together with Elisabetta Sirani, painter and daughter of his assistant Giovanni.

On the right-hand side of the chapel, the organ on which Mozart practiced during his stay in the city in 1770 stands out. Another high quality element in the church is without doubt the wooden choir, designed by Fra Damiano da Bergamo, finished in 1551 and embellished by the use of different types of wood producing an amazing grade of color shades.
On our way towards the choir, we can admire yet another treasure of the church: the painting by Filippino Lippi, “Lo sposalizio mistico di Santa Caterina”.

Another two features of the Basilica San Domenico are the “Chiostro dei morti” (“the cloister of the dead”) which holds some of the most important gravestones saved from the external cemetery, and the remains of the ancient gothic church (a piece of an old chapel wanted and financed by the Pepoli family).
Nearby, we find the monument dedicated to King Enzo, placed by the Bolognese people in remembrance of his 23 years as a prisoner in the city.

The Dominican community still lives in the monastery, which hosts the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, although part of the building belongs now to the Carabinieri. Inside the Monastery, it is still possible to visit, if chaperoned by the Dominicans, the old seat of the Inquisition and the cell where Saint Dominique passed away.