By- Claudia Quesito

Most Italian cities have a nickname. Bologna has three of them: la rossa, la dotta, la grassa. Some facts to begin with: Bologna is the capital and largest city of Emilia-Romagna in Northern Italy. With its 391,620 residents, it’s the seventh most populous city in Italy, as well as one of the wealthiest.

There are several fascinating legends surrounding Bologna’s founding, but we know for sure that the area has been inhabited since the ninth century BCE. Many traces of its glorious past are perfectly visible today, from the walls built in the Middle Ages to its twenty-eight miles of porticoes that function as coverings for the sidewalks on almost all the streets in the city center. It is from these porticos that the saying A Bologna non serve l’ombrello (In Bologna you don’t’ need an umbrella) is derived.

Let’s find out about Bologna’s past and present through its nicknames. La rossa (the red one) comes from the color of the city’s bricks and roofs—a color that still dominates the very center of the city—but it is also a reference to the city’s political leanings. In recent history, Bologna has been left-wing, and red in Italy is traditionally associated with the leftist parties. 

La dotta (the learned one) refers to the fact that the city hosts the Università di Bologna, founded in 1088. It is the oldest university of the world, and still one of the biggest and most prestigious in Europe. Its 80,000 students make the city young, diverse, and lively. Among its many departments and curricula, the DAMS—Discipline delle Arti, della Musica e dello Spettacolo—draw students from all over Italy, giving the city an artsy and bohemian vibe.

You probably don’t need much explanation for the nickname la grassa (the fat one). Lasagne, tagliatelle al ragù or alla bolognese (don’t even mention “spaghetti Bolognese” to a native; spaghetti is from Napoli and no one in Bologna would dare to combine it with ragù), as well as passatelli and tortellini, are just a few of the most traditional dishes from Bologna.

Cos’ha Bologna, che è così bella? said Pier Paolo Pasolini. Bologna is a unique mix of a glorious past and a vibrant present, with elderly men discussing politics in the main piazza, along with students and tourists. If you happen to go before your graduation, just do not climb la torre degli Asinelli, the tallest tower in town. If you do so, legend has it that you will never graduate!

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