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Piazza and Palazzo della Mercanzia

Square, Bologna

Piazza and Palazzo della Mercanzia : Attraction informations

It is hard to imagine the area surrounding Palazzo della Mercanzia in the old days, livened up by the city market. So lively it was that during the Visconti control of Bologna, the towers of Asinelli and Garisenda were fortified with a wooden sledge between them, from where soldiers could control from above what happened below and of course avoid any sign of dangerous gatherings during the market days.

The old market district was right in front of the palazzo. Currently called “quadrilatero”, it enclosed 3 towers, hidden amidst its old buildings: Artenisi, Guidozaghi and Riccadonna. All three towers were sadly demolished in 1919 during the works to enlarge Via Rizzoli despite the cries of protest of professors and scholars, and regardless of a written petition which was even signed by the poet D'Annunzio.

Currently the seat of the Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Agriculture and Craftmanship of Bologna, Palazzo della Mercanzia was built under the project of Lorenzo Bagnomarino and Antonio Di Vincenzo, the same di Vincenzo who will later work on the construction of Saint Petronius. The palace, started in 1384 and finished in 1391, was used for customs and taxes.

It has undergone several restorations in the past, the last one in 1949 after a bomb exploded nearby during World War II. With the explosion almost all the left part of its façade collapsed.
A previous restoration took place during the years of Giovanni II Bentivoglio when the Torre de Bianchi crumbled down destroying a part of the palazzo, killing many people and trapping several others. A porter who was pulled out after being under the ruins for hours attempted at humour, declaring to have mistaken the trumpets played by Giovanni as an alarm signal to the city for the trumpets played on the day of the Final Judgement.

A small balcony that still decorates the façade, currently out of use, was used by the Judges of the Merchants when reading verdicts and communications. The condemned were usually tied to a ring, since then disappeared but still visible on prints, anchored to the central column of the portico, and exposed to people’s mockery.

One characteristic feature of the building is the plaque on the side looking towards Via Castiglione. It states the privileges reserved to students in 1417, among which we could find having a right to free books, supplies and clothes. The inside of the Palazzo della Mercanzia is not open to the public except on occasion, as it is currently the operating seat of the Chamber of Commerce.

In one of its main rooms we can still see the symbols of the main merchant corporations in Bologna: Goldsmiths, Barbers, “Salaroli” (in charge of salt-cured food) and many others.

The most particular thing guarded within the Palazzo della Mercanzia though is the ensemble of old recipes for traditional Bolognese dishes, so precious as to be written down and protected inside the building. Among these recipes we can find of course the one for the Bolognese ragù, the certosino (a Christmas cake), the original stuffing for tortellini or the green lasagne.

Another interesting item guarded inside the building is the so-called “golden tagliatella”, a real tagliatella made of gold that shows the exact dimensions of this type of egg-pasta.