The Palazzo del Podestà in Bologna is one of the first three buildings built in the early 13th century to house the city council and its various offices. These are all located around the central square Piazza Maggiore, which had been specially constructed for this motif. For this, however, several pre-existing houses and even churches had been demolished. The two palaces built simultaneously were the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo and the Palazzo di Rè Enzo.
Palazzo del Podestà Bologna
Address: Piazza Maggiore, 1 – 40124 Bologna (BO). The building can be visited only on the occasion of special exhibitions.
History and description
The Palazzo del Podestà was the first seat of Bologna’s city council, which in those days was called Podestà. The building has hardly changed since the 13th century. Even then, there were shops (artisans, greengrocers and textile sellers) under the vaulted arcades, while notaries signed contracts and other documents under the stairs.
There was also a bell tower called the arengo, which was meant to summon the citizens in case of important meetings. This tower was originally made of wood, but was replaced by the current square version in 1259. The architect was Alberto di San Pietro.
In 1453, Aristotile Fioravanti placed the current bell in the bell tower.
The four corner pillars supporting the tower open into a vault called the Voltone del Podestà. Earthenware statues of the city’s patron saints, made by Alfonso Lombardi in 1525, were placed here. These are San Petronio, San Procolo, San Domenico and San Francesco. Standing by one of the pillars, you can hear exactly what people at the opposite pillar are whispering.
It was also under this vault that people were put on the pillory (for swearing) and sometimes criminals were also executed by hanging in this spot.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the then ruler Giovanni II Bentivoglio had the Romanesque facade given a Renaisssance facelift. This renovation was based on a 15th-century design by Aristotile Fioravanti. The decorations, never completed, were provided by Marsilio Infrangipani.
What to see
The large Sala del Podestà on the bell floor was decorated in the early 20th century by Adolfo De Carolis with frescoes depicting episodes from Bologna’s history. This hall was used as a public theater between the 16th and 18th centuries. Later it was used to play some kind of handball.