It is not the city’s Cathedral but the San Petronio Basilica that is considered the most important and beautiful church in Bologna. Named after the city’s patron saint, this basilica is one of a number of beautiful buildings in the central Piazza Maggiore. It is the sixth largest Catholic church in the world. Highlights include the sundial, the “Capel of the Three Kings” and the entrance designed by Jacopo della Quercia.
Basilica of San Petronio Bologna
Address: Piazza Maggiore – 40124 Bologna. Telephone: +39 051 6480611. Opening hours: Every day from 08:00 to 18:30 (In winter, the church closes an hour earlier). Closed: During Mass, tourists may be refused entry. Entrance fee: Free of charge. Tours: A 1-hour tour must be booked at least 2 days in advance (+39 346 5768400 or firstname.lastname@example.org). The group must consist of at least seven persons. The price is 8 Euros per person.
Terrace and panoramic view
From the 54-metre-high terrace oven the apse has a gorgeous view of the city. The entrance is on the Piazza Galvani side. You can climb the steps of the scaffolding or take the lift to the top. Opening hours are from 10am to 1pm and from 3pm to 6pm. A maximum of 25 people can go up at a time. The entrance fee is 3 euros. The visit lasts about 30 minutes.
History and description
The architect Antonio di Vincenzo began construction of the church in 1390. In 1514, Arduino degli Arriguzzi wanted to have the church completely renovated to dwarf St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He also wanted to change the floor plan to that of a Latin cross. According to legend, the work had to be interrupted by order of Pope Pius IV to start construction of the Archiginnassio, the first seat of the city’s university. Not even the façade was finished (and was never fully completed).
The covering of the nave and apse was completed in 1663. The architect of this work, carried out by Francesco Martini, was Girolamo Rainaldi.
The San Petronio Basilica is 132 metres long, 66 metres wide and has a height of 47 metres. Domenico di Varignana designed the marble covering of the façade and Giacomo Ranuzzi began the work in 1538, but it was never completed. The sculptures on the completed section are the work of Jacopo della Quercia, Amico Aspertini and Alfonso Lombardi.
The central entrance gate, called Porta Magna, is also by Jacopo della Quercia. The pillars depict events from the Old Testament, while the scenes on the architrave are from the New Testament. On the vault, 18 prophets are depicted. The works on the tympanum depict the “Madonna and Child” and “Saints Ambrosio and Petronio”. The central part of the tympanum was made by Amico Aspertini.
The door on the left depicts a “Resurrection” by Alfonso Lombardi and the one on the right a “Descent from the Throne” by Amico Aspertini.
The red brick sides are marked by chapels with pointed turrets. The decorations at the windows were made by several artists, including Antonio di Vincenzo, Francesco di Simone, Domenico da Milano, Pagno di Lapo Portigiani and Antonio di Simone.
The bell tower was built by Giovanni da Brensa between 1481 and 1487.
The San Petronio Museum was opened in 1894.
What to see
The interior consists of three naves. Ten multi-colored pillars support the arches and vaults. The bays of the central nave are square. The side naves are flanked by a total of 22 chapels. Only a few of these chapels have been preserved in their original state.
The tomb against the inside of the façade was made by Zaccaria Zacchi in 1526. The left door was decorated by Francesco da Milano and designed by Alfonso Lombardi, who himself decorated the right door. The relief on the gold door is also by Lombardi.
The San Petronio sundial was designed and made by Gian Domenico Cassini around 1656, after the original sundial had been demolished when the church was enlarged. In the church’s museum, one can see the calculations for making the sundial. At 67.20 metres, it is the longest sundial in the world. In 1775, the iron line was replaced by a version made of brass by astronomer Eustachio Manfredi.
Between chapels 1 and 2, 9 and 10, 13 and 14, and 21 and 22 are 4 stone crosses, which, according to legend, were laid down here by Saint Petronius himself to mark the corners of the city limits.
Chapels San Petronio Basilica Bologna
Chapels 1 to 11
Chapel I: In this Sant’Abbondio Chapel, Charles V was proclaimed Emperor by Pope Clement VII in 1530. Of the original chapel, the coats of arms of the patrons from 1397 can still be seen, along with two frescoes restored by Giovanni da Modena around 1420. The right-hand painting depicts the “Triumph of the Catholic Church over Heresy”. In 1865, the chapel was restored in a fake Gothic style by Albino Riccardi.
The San Petronio Chapel (II) was designed by Alfonso Torreggiani to hold the relic of the head of the saint himself. The vaulting is by Stefano Orlandi and Vittorio Bigari.
Chapel III: Sant’Ivo Chapel is decorated with statues by Angelo Piò, while the altarpiece is by Gaetano Gandolfi. The walls are decorated with paintings by Prospero Pesci, Francesco Bizzi and Alessandro Tiarini, among others. On the pillar next to the chapel are two bells made by Domenico Maria and Cristino Fornasini in 1758.
The Chapel of the Three Kings (Cappella dei Re Magi, IV) is the only one almost entirely preserved in its original state. The Gothic gate was designed by Antonio di Vincenzo in 1400. Jacopo di Paola painted the wooden polyptych and the colored windows. Giovanni da Modena was responsible for the walls, with “Heaven” and “Hell” on the left, “The Three Kings” on the right and events from the life of Saint Petronio on the back wall. This Chapel is also called the Bolognini Chapel.
The San Sebastiano Chapel (V) is painted with tempera paintings by Lorenzo Costa, including the huge “Martyrdom of Saint Sebstian”, and Francesco Francia.
The San Vincenzo Ferrer Chapel (VI) is graced by the “San Vincenzo Ferrer” by Vittorio Bigari.
The panes as well as the “Madonna on the Throne” (1492) in San Giacomo Chapel (VII) were painted by Lorenzo Costa. The tomb on the right was designed by Annio Serra in 1845. It contains the mortal remains of Prince Felipe and his wife Elisa Bonaparte.
Chapel VIII: The windows of the San Rocco Chapel were designed by Achille Casanova in 1926. The “San Rocco” at the altar was painted by Parmigianino in 1527.
The San Michele Chapel (IX) houses a bust made by Vincenzo Onofri in 1479, depicting Andrea Barbazza. Donato Creti was responsible for the “Saint Michael Exorcising the Devils” painted in 1582.
The San Rosalia Chapel (X) was formerly called the Sedici del Senato Chapel and today the Municipal Chapel. The altarpiece is by Alessandro Tiarini, while the neo-Gothic ceiling and wall paintings were created by Giocchini Pizzoli in 1723.
The marble columns of the San Bernardino Chapel (XI) belong to the ciborium designed by Vignola. The large wooden crucifix standing the altar was made by an anonymous artist in the 15th century. The fresco on the back wall of the apse was designed by Cignani in 1672 and painted by Marcantonio Franceschini and Luigi Quaini.
Chapel 12 to 22
Madonna on the Throne (Lorenzo Costa, 1492)
The Cappella delle Reliquie (XII) is located below the bell tower.
The San Pietro Martire Chapel (XIII) is characterised by an altarpiece by Passerotti and by a marble end decorated with cupids by Francesco di Simone.
The Sant’Antonio da Padova Chapel (XIV) features a statue created by Jacopo Sansovino, which depicts the saint himself. Domenico Mirandola was responsible for the bronze busts.
The organ was made by Lorenzo da Prato in 1470 and is the oldest one still working in the world. There is also a second organ, made by Baldassare Malamini in 1596 and also still working.
The “Chapel of the Most Holy” (Cappella del Santissimo, XV) was restored by Angelo Venturini in 1814. In a niche designed by Vignola is an altar with the “Throne of the Most Holy”. Its designer, Alessandro Algardi, used marble taken from ruins in Rome.
The interior of the Cappella dell’Immacolata (XVI) is decorated with works by Achille Casanova and Renato Pasqui.
Lorenzo Costa was responsible for the San Girolamo in the chapel named after this saint (XVII).
The “Pietà” in the San Lorenzo Chapel (XVIII) was created by Amico Aspertini.
The highlight in the Santa Croce Chapel (XIX) is the window designed by Michele di Matteo and executed by brieder Giacomo da Ulma.
The Sant’Ambrogio Chapel (XX) features a polyptych found during the restorations, dating from the mid-15th century.
The Santa Brigida Chapel (XXI), apart from the bust by Giovanni Romagnoli, is graced by a polyptych from 1477. It was painted by Tommaso Garelli and is located near the altar.
Giovanni Ferabech crafted the “Madonna” in the Madonna della Pace Chapel (XXII) in 1394.