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The Mask of Palazzo Malvasia

Attraction, Bologna

The Mask of Palazzo Malvasia: Attraction informations

The building formerly owned by the Malvasia family in Bologna is a combination of different architectural elements covering several centuries. For instance, the 16th-century façade was built above a 15th-century portico, inspired by Formigine’s techniques.

The interior of the palazzo is richly decorated and displays a magnificent stairway designed by a member of the Bibiena family, famous for being set designers, who was also in charge of the construction of the city theatre, the Teatro Comunale.

Beside the Palazzo, a gate was the main entrance to the former Jewish Ghetto. As in many cities, the ghetto was separated from the rest of the city through gates that were closed at nighttime preventing Jews from freely strolling the city.

What immediately captures our attention is the mask decorating the arch. Looking upwards we can’t fail to notice this unsettling face, with its mouth wide-open towards Via Zamboni. Although placed at the entrance of the former Jewish ghetto, the mask has nothing to do with the story of the Jews in Bologna and is in fact connected to Palazzo Malvasia.

Apparently, when the Papal State started its control over Bologna, noble and wealthy families wanted to impress the papal legate, hoping to obtain as many favours as possible. The Malvasia family was no different and competed with the rest of the noble families, trying to offer the best receptions.

On such occasions the mask, connected to the palazzo, served as a fountain from where wine poured out for the joy of passersby who would fill their glasses and toast to the family. Such proof of wealth and power was usually displayed during the election of one the family’s member as a gonfalonier, event which increased the Malvasia’s prestige in the eyes of the papal legate.