At a meeting of Italy's national Unesco committee on Tuesday, Bologna's portici – covered walkways – were selected as the latest Italian nominee for World Heritage status, an honour already conferred on 55 of the country's unique historic sites.
Mayor Virginio Merola called the nomination a “great and well-deserved achievement for Bologna”.
The colonnades, which stretch for more than 60 kilometres around the centre of Bologna and its outskirts, are the result of nine centuries of urban planning, Italy's Culture Ministry said in a statement, calling them “both an architectural and a social model, a place of integration and exchange where residents, visitors and students live and share ideas and time”.
The portici date back to the Middle Ages, though most of the original wooden columns have since been replaced by more durable stone or brick.
Photo: Maria Bobrova/Unsplash
Over the centuries the city introduced regulations to keep the arcades open for public use, even those built privately, with shops and workshops typically located on the ground floor and accommodation for the university city's many students above.
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Other colonnades were designed expressly for public convenience – notably St Luke's portico, a 3.5-kilometre stretch that runs from the city centre to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca and originally sheltered pilgrims as they climbed the hill to the shrine, which was built in the 1600s thanks to public donations.
Today the arcades remain “a defining feature of Bologna, both for locals and visitors, and are a reference point for a sustainable urban lifestyle in which civic and religious spaces as well as living space for all social classes are perfectly integrated”, the Culture Ministry said.
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Italy has been considering requesting Unesco status for the portici since 2006, when it first added them to its long-list of potential World Heritage nominees. Other sites that Italy has identified as possible candidates include the Via Appia, the first major Roman road, the Baroque architecture of Salento, the historic centre of Parma, and Calabria's Sila National Park.
A decision on whether Bologna's porticos become Italy's 56th World Heritage site is expected in 2021.