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Basilica di San Petronio

A Masterpiece of Gothic Architecture

The Basilica stands as a testament to the skill and artistry of the 14th-century architects, who blended elements of Gothic and Romanesque styles to create a unique and harmonious design. The external walls are clad in distinctive red bricks, a local material commonly used in Bologna's constructions, lending warmth and character to the structure. The exterior exemplifies intricate carvings and sculptural details that adorn the facade, telling stories from the Bible and the lives of beloved saints. The harmonious blend of architectural styles, materials, and decorative elements, makes the Basilica di San Petronio a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, captivating and awe-inspiring in its grandiose scale.

Step Inside to Discover a World of Wonders

As you cross the threshold of the Basilica di San Petronio, prepare to be awestruck by the sheer grandeur of its interior. Lofty vaulted ceilings, reaching towards the heavens, create a sense of awe and reverence. Rows of elegant columns, each adorned with intricate carvings, line the nave, guiding your gaze towards the altar. The soft light filtering through the stunning stained-glass windows casts a colorful glow upon the interior, adding to the ethereal atmosphere within. Every corner of the basilica is a testament to the skill and artistry of the craftsmen who dedicated their lives to its creation.

The Unique Meridian Line

The Basilica di San Petronio is home to a remarkable astronomical marvel, the Meridian Line, which is located in the right aisle. Installed in the 17th century by renowned astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, this line marks the precise path of the sun's rays at midday, allowing for accurate timekeeping and the observation of celestial events. Visitors can witness a fascinating phenomenon during the summer solstice, when a beam of sunlight shines through a small hole in the basilica's roof and illuminates the line, creating a spectacle of light and shadow that draws crowds of onlookers. To find the Meridian Line, look for a brass marker embedded in the floor of the basilica, indicating the exact spot where the sun's rays fall during the summer solstice. Be sure to time your visit to experience this captivating celestial display and immerse yourself in the scientific wonders of the basilica.

The Cappella Maggiore

The Cappella Maggiore, also known as the Cappella di San Petronio, is one of the most awe-inspiring spaces within the Basilica di San Petronio. It serves as the main chapel of the basilica and is renowned for its exquisite frescoes, altarpieces, and historical significance.

The chapel's walls and ceiling are adorned with stunning frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Saint Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna. These frescoes were created by some of the most renowned artists of the Renaissance, including Francesco Francia, Giovanni da Modena, and Lorenzo Costa. The vibrant colors and intricate details of these frescoes bring the stories of Saint Petronius to life, immersing visitors in a world of artistic and religious devotion.

The altarpieces within the Cappella Maggiore are equally impressive. The main altarpiece, created by Jacopo della Quercia, depicts the Madonna and Child with Saints, while the two side altarpieces feature works by Francesco Francia and Ercole de' Roberti. These masterpieces of Renaissance art showcase the exceptional skill and artistry of their creators, adding to the grandeur and beauty of the chapel.

Beyond its artistic significance, the Cappella Maggiore holds great historical importance. It was here that Emperor Charles V was crowned King of Italy in 1530, a momentous event that cemented Bologna's position as a prominent city within the Holy Roman Empire. The chapel has also been the site of numerous religious ceremonies and celebrations throughout history, further solidifying its status as a sacred and significant space.

The Organ

A grand spectacle of sound reverberates within the Basilica di San Petronio, emanating from its colossal organ, one of the largest in the world. Boasting a magnificent array of over 5,000 pipes, this musical marvel commands attention with its sheer size and ornate detailing.

The history of the organ is as rich as the melodies it produces. Its construction began in the 15th century, and over the centuries, it underwent several expansions and renovations, each enhancing its grandeur and capabilities. Renowned organ builders, including Lorenzo da Prato and Baldassarre Malamini, contributed their expertise to this masterpiece, creating an instrument that has captivated audiences for generations.

Attending a concert at the Basilica di San Petronio is an unforgettable experience. The acoustics of the vast interior amplify the organ's majestic tones, creating a symphony that envelops the senses. Whether you're a seasoned music aficionado or simply appreciate the beauty of sacred music, a visit to the basilica during a concert is sure to leave you spellbound.

The Treasury

Nestled within the basilica's walls lies a treasure trove of sacred artifacts, the Treasury. Step inside to marvel at a collection that spans centuries, showcasing the artistic prowess and devotion of Bologna's past. Among the highlights are exquisitely crafted chalices, intricate reliquaries adorned with precious stones, and elaborate vestments that were once worn by the basilica's clergy during special ceremonies. Each piece tells a story, offering a glimpse into the rich history and religious traditions of this sacred space.

To fully appreciate the significance of these treasures, consider joining a guided tour. Knowledgeable guides will provide fascinating insights into the history and symbolism behind each artifact, bringing the collection to life. You'll learn about the skilled artisans who meticulously crafted these masterpieces, the rituals and ceremonies in which they were used, and the role they played in shaping the spiritual lives of Bologna's faithful.

Whether you're a history buff, an art enthusiast, or simply seeking a deeper connection to the basilica's sacred heritage, the Treasury is a must-visit. Prepare to be awestruck by the beauty and craftsmanship of these precious artifacts, and let their stories transport you back in time to a world of faith, devotion, and artistic excellence.

The Crypt

Beneath the grandeur of the Basilica di San Petronio lies a hidden gem—the crypt. This atmospheric underground chamber is the final resting place of some of Bologna's most illustrious figures, including notable archbishops, cardinals, and other prominent individuals.

The crypt is steeped in history, dating back to the early 12th century when the basilica was first constructed. Over the centuries, it was expanded and adorned, becoming a repository for the city's rich past. Visitors can explore this sacred space and pay their respects to those who have shaped Bologna's history.

To access the crypt, visitors must descend a narrow staircase hidden behind the altar in the Cappella Maggiore. The crypt is a labyrinth of low-ceilinged corridors and small chambers, each with its unique stories to tell. Along the walls are niches and tombs, each adorned with intricate carvings and inscriptions that provide a glimpse into the lives of the departed.

Among the most notable figures buried in the crypt are Archbishop Enrico Bentivoglio, who played a crucial role in the construction of the basilica, and Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, a renowned humanist and patron of the arts. Their tombs, along with many others, are exquisite works of art, showcasing the skill and devotion of Bolognese craftsmen.

Visiting the crypt offers a unique opportunity to connect with Bologna's past and pay homage to the individuals who have contributed to the city's rich cultural and religious heritage.

The Tomb of King Enzo

The Basilica di San Petronio is home to the tomb of King Enzo, a fascinating figure from Italian history. Enzo was the son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and was crowned King of Sardinia in 123However, he was captured by the Bolognese in 1249 and spent the rest of his life in captivity, dying in Bologna in 127

His tomb is a beautiful and elaborate work of art, featuring intricate carvings and sculptures. It is located in the left transept of the basilica and is a popular attraction for visitors. The tomb is a reminder of the tumultuous history of Bologna and the important role that the city played in the Middle Ages.

Piazza Maggiore

The Basilica di San Petronio stands proudly in the heart of Piazza Maggiore, the main square of Bologna. This historic square has been the center of city life for centuries and is surrounded by other impressive landmarks, including the Palazzo d'Accursio, the Palazzo del Podestà, and the Palazzo dei Notai.

In the Middle Ages, Piazza Maggiore was used for markets, fairs, and public gatherings. It was also the site of executions and other public spectacles. Today, the square is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, who come to admire the architecture, soak up the atmosphere, and enjoy the many restaurants, cafes, and shops.

Piazza Maggiore is a great place to start a visit to Bologna. From here, you can explore the basilica, the other historic buildings, and the many narrow streets and alleyways that lead off from the square.

Guided Tours

The Basilica di San Petronio offers a range of guided tours that provide visitors with an in-depth understanding of its history, architecture, and artistic treasures. These tours are led by knowledgeable guides who bring the basilica's stories to life, allowing visitors to appreciate its significance and beauty fully.

Availability and Types

Guided tours are available in various languages, including English, Italian, French, and Spanish. Visitors can choose from standard tours that cover the basilica's highlights to more specialized tours that focus on specific aspects, such as its architecture, art, or history.

Benefits of Taking a Tour

Taking a guided tour offers several advantages. Visitors can learn about the basilica's fascinating history and the symbolism behind its artistic details. The guides provide insights into the construction techniques and the lives of the artists who contributed to the basilica's creation. Moreover, visitors can ask questions and receive personalized attention, ensuring a more enriching experience.

How to Book

Guided tours can be booked in advance online or at the basilica's ticket office. Advance booking is recommended, especially during peak tourist season, to secure a spot and avoid disappointment. Visitors should check the basilica's website for the latest tour schedule and availability.


The Basilica di San Petronio is committed to ensuring that everyone can enjoy its beauty and grandeur, regardless of their abilities. Wheelchair accessibility is a priority, with ramps and elevators available to facilitate movement throughout the basilica. Visitors with disabilities can also request assistance from the friendly and knowledgeable staff, who are always ready to provide guidance and support. Additionally, there are accessible restrooms conveniently located within the basilica, ensuring a comfortable and inclusive experience for all visitors.

Photography Tips

Capturing the beauty of the Basilica di San Petronio through photography is a rewarding experience. Here are some tips to help you achieve stunning shots:

  • Choose the right angle: Experiment with different angles to find the most flattering perspective. The basilica's facade looks particularly impressive when photographed from a low angle, while the interior's grandeur is best captured from a higher vantage point.

  • Utilize natural light: The basilica's interior is illuminated by natural light streaming through the stained-glass windows, creating a magical ambiance. Plan your visit during the golden hours of sunrise or sunset to take advantage of the warm, diffused light.

  • Use a tripod: A tripod will help you stabilize your camera, reducing blur and allowing you to capture sharp, detailed images, especially in low-light conditions.

  • Experiment with different lenses: A wide-angle lens is ideal for capturing the basilica's vast interior, while a telephoto lens can be used to zoom in on intricate details, such as the carvings on the facade or the frescoes in the Cappella Maggiore.

Insider Tip

  • Secret Spots for Unique Perspectives:
  • For a heavenly view of the Basilica di San Petronio, climb the stairs to the terrace of the Archiginnasio, the oldest university building in the Western world. From this vantage point, you can capture the basilica's grand facade, the sloping roofs of Bologna, and the distant hills in one breathtaking panorama.

  • Hidden Details to Look For:

  • Pay attention to the intricate carvings adorning the basilica's facade. Among the grotesque figures and fantastical creatures, you might spot a self-portrait of the architect himself, hidden among the foliage.
  • Inside the basilica, don't miss the unique astronomical clock, which displays the time, the date, and the position of the stars and planets. It's a marvel of medieval engineering that still operates today.

  • Participating in Local Festivals:

  • If you happen to visit Bologna during the summer, be sure to check out the Piazza Maggiore during the "Festa del Patrono San Petronio." This lively festival, held in late June, features a historical procession, street performances, food stalls, and live music. It's a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in the city's vibrant culture and traditions.

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