Via della Grada is one of Bologna’s central streets. Its name is due to a grate, still visible, which was used to control the passage of people in and out of the city. Under this grate flows the Reno canal.
This was one of the main entrances of goods inside the city, therefore it had to be extremely well-controlled, especially at night, when the grate was lowered helping the guards to avoid illegal entrance of goods to be sold at lower prices.
Until 1700 via della Grada was identified with via Riva Reno, and people did not distinguish between the two streets. During the following decades, via della Grada took its own name both because of the grate and of the Church of Santa Maria e San Valentino della Grada, currently visible at the end of the street. The church is well-known in the city because it treasures the remains of Saint Valentine, standing in the exact place of an oratory from the beginning of the XVIII century. This ancient oratory was built to worship an Image of the Madonna from the late 16th-century, probably fixed to the wall as it usually happened those days.
A bit further up another interesting building stands out: one of the most incredible hydraulic works of the city, recently restored. The building is called “Opificio della Grada” and was built across the water canal around 1681, originally as a tannery.
The earnings of its activity partially financed the construction of the Church of Saint Petronius, inaugurated in 1390 and still under construction at that time.
The surroundings of the tannery were very different to what we currently see, full of vegetable gardens and open spaces. A hydraulic centre was built between 19th and 20th century, capable of producing so much electric power as to be able to power the first X-rays rooms of the Rizzoli Hospital, a real avant-garde innovation.The centre was dismissed in 1926.
The area that divides the church from the factory is currently completely urbanized, but until recently it was a terraced area which took directly to the water canal and was used by women to enter the washhouse, placed directly on the water.
This was one of the main washhouses in the city, as it was right at the beginning of the canal; in other places the water canals picked-up all the waste from the houses, mills and factories, making its water unsuitable for washing.