Filling the western side of the Piazza Maggiore, the crenellated Palazzo Comunale incorporates the Casa Accursio of 1287 (the arcaded section, once the home of the great medieval Jurist and law professor Accursio), and the 1425 annexe by Fioravante Fioravanti. It has been the centre of local politics ever since 1336, when the Casa Accursio became the seat of the Anziani (Elders), the magistrates in charge of the Commune.
The Palazzo took on its current fortress-like appearance in a rebuilding of 1365, when Cardinal Albornoz had taken over the city for the Church and feared a revolt. Fioravanti also added the tower, the Torre d'Accursio; other remodellings took place in the 16th century after the fall of the Bentivoglio.
The Palazzo has seen its share of recent violence as well. On 21 November, 1920, it was scene of the infamous massacre that marked the beginnings of the Fascist party in Bologna. Newly elected Socialist mayor Enio Gnudi, who had served as president of the railway union, was presiding over his first session of the city council when a band of squadristi entered the piazza and started shooting at the Palazzo d'Accursio; the carabinieri inside shot back; the Communists threw bombs. Eleven were killed, including a member of the opposition, and fifty were wounded; the city government was dissolved by the prefect.
Galeazzo Alessi designed the main portal, presided over by a bronze statue of Pope Gregory XIII (1580), the reformer of the calendar and a native of Bologna. Originally this spot held a gilded statue of another pope–bad old Julius II–but this was destroyed in 1511 during an attempted coup by the Bentivoglio. Under a canopy just to the left is a beautiful terracotta Madonna (1478) by Nicolò dell’Arca.
The Ex Sala Borsa, the old stock exchange on the ground floor which covers remains of what was probably the Roman forum (the archaeological excavations are visible through the glass floor) has been transformed into a ‘Piazza Coperta’, a kind of indoor extension of the square to hold exhibitions, office space and the city’s new multimedia library, including the English language collection from the British Council.
Near the entrance is Bologna’s shrine to the Resistance, with photos of all 2,000 of the partigiani who died in the war and all those murdered by the SS in the massacre of Marzabotto. Also present are the names of all the ‘victims of fascist terrorism’ who died in the 1980 bombing at the Stazione Centrale.
The city council meets in the Sala del Consiglio Comunale on the first floor, under quadratura frescoes painted in the 1670s by Angelo Michele Colonna and Gioacchino Pizzoli. The Sala d’Ercole is named for a statue of Hercules battling the Hydra (1519) by Alfonso Lombardi ; here too is a fresco of the Madonna del Terremoto (1505) by Il Francia , commissioned after an earthquake struck the city.
The Sala Farnese on the second floor saw Charles V crowned king with the Iron Crown of Italy before he was crowned emperor in San Petronio. Prospero Fontana frescoed the Cappella Palatina here, while the walls are covered with scenes of Bologna's history from the Middle Ages to the 1500s.
Also on the second floor, reached via Bramante’s grand staircase, the Sala Urbana, originally winter quarters for Bologna's Cardinal legates, now houses the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte.
Piazza Maggiore 6
Hours Ex Sala Borsa: Tues-Fri 10am-8pm, Sat 10am-7pm. Sala del Consiglio: Tues-Sun 10am-1pm. Archaeological excavations: Tues-Sat 10am-1.30pm and 3.30-6pm. Other rooms by request.
Adm Free (except for the Collezioni Comunali d’Arte)
+39 051 203040
Images by: Paul Hermans, Creative Commons Licence, Roberto Taddeo