13 October 2014- Portico of the Madonna of San Luca, Bologna
Me n’ Paddy Garcia
Supposedly the longest colonnade in the world, the portico runs from central Bologna to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca on a hill outside the city. Being sans guidebook, we weren’t entirely sure what walking the longest colonnade in the world would be like, but decided to tackle it anyway.
We cheated slightly by taking the bus from central Bologna out through the Saragozza Gate to the Arch of Meloncello and began the walk there. Much more than just an archway, this marvellous orange Baroque extravagance set the tone for the whole walk.
It’s an unusual experience, walking 3.5 km under a colonnade. Built in the 17th- 18th century to protect the annual procession of the icon from the sanctuary down to the city and back, its 666 arches are all pretty much the same. Beautiful, winding and with the occasional altar, but you never see the way ahead, or glimpse how far away the destination is until you arrive. All the better for focusing on the pilgrimage we assume.
The arches do frame a great view down over the city and surrounding countryside, of course, which we very much enjoyed- beautiful though it is, Bologna is not a very green city.
The surprisingly tough ascent of uphill steps and slopes, combined with the hot humid weather, made us glad to reach the extremely imposing sanctuary. Amazing views over the Apennine Hills from the church terrace. Found ourselves in the back of mass in the church (again!), and then set off back down the colonnade. Equally tough on the legs downhill, and we were truly impressed by the number of locals who passed us jogging up and down. Hardcore exercise.
PG was pleased to get a view of the Bologna football stadium as we made it to the bottom again, then we headed back into the city for a well-earned cold drink. Nothing like a bit of Catholic pilgrimage to whet the appetite.