Portland’s sister city: Bologna, Italy

Say buongiorno to beautiful architecture, rich cuisine, and fascinating history in the capital of the Emilia-Romagna region

A panoramic view of Bologna shows terracotta roofs, Renaissance architecture, and distant green hills.

With a compact core, Bologna is a very walkable city.

Table of Contents

Like Portland, its most-recent sister city — a connection established in 2003 — Bologna is a city of many nicknames.

La Dotta, “the learned one,” refers to its university, which was founded in 1088 and never ceased operations. La Rossa, “the red one,” is a reference to the terracotta rooftops of the historic district (and locals’ left-leaning politics). La Grassa translates to “the fat one,” highlighting the famously rich cuisine.

We can see some familial resemblance already.

A bowl of flat pasta with red meat sauce

Tagliatelle al ragù is made with flattened, fresh egg pasta.

Photo by Ivan Vighetto

Key facts

When you visit Bologna, you had best prepare to eat. It’s the birthplace of tomato-and-meat-based Bolognese sauce, a key element of the city’s signature dish, tagliatelle al ragù. Just know, you won’t find the sauce on spaghetti here.

While strolling the colorful streets, you’ll notice the prevalence of porticoes, or covered walkways, built with wood or stone and varying degrees of ornamentation. These open-air spaces are a symbol of Bologna’s urban identity, offering a place for commerce and socializing, and are officially on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

As the capital of the centrally located Emiliana-Romagna region, it is a vital agricultural, industrial, financial, and transportation hub. Ducati is based there, and Ferrari was founded in nearby Maranello.

A small square window with locks on it peers out into a colorful canal

Finestrella di Via Piella offers a peek at Bologna’s lost canal system.

Main attractions

Traces of human habitation stretch back to the third millennium BCE — you can dig into this layered past at the Archaeological Museum of Bologna.

The Two Towers, or “Le Due Torri” — Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda — are Bologna’s best-known landmarks. They were built between 1109 and 1119 at the intersection of the ancient roads that lead to five gates in the outer wall; legend has it they were shows of status and power between rival families. Both lean significantly, but you can climb 498 steps to the top of Asinelli for an unrivaled vista.

From Piazza Maggiore, you can view many of Bologna’s other important buildings, including the Basilica di San Petronio, and Palazzo d’Accursio.

Hiking the “path of the gods” up to the hilltop Santuario Madonna di San Luca offers a breathtaking vantage point.

Other sister cities

If you enjoy exploring Portland’s sister cities, read our previous stories about Ulsan, South Korea, and Guadalajara, Mexico.

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