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Porticato (the Portico di San Luca)

The Big Daddy of Porticoes

Portico to the Madonna di San Luca

In the southwestern corner of the centro storico is the Porta Saragozza, the starting point of the portico to beat all porticoes – the Porticato, winding 4km up the Colle della Guardia to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, with 666 arches along the way, a kind of eccentric embellishment only possible in the Age of Baroque (not to mention quite a popular addition to the local pilgrimage trade.

19th century photo of the porticata

It took them long enough to build it. Begun in 1674 and finished in 1793, each arch was financed by a different family, religious group, guild or other corporation, each of which set up plaques along the way, although many have vanished or resemble ghosts of their former selves.

The Porticato was also intended as a meditation exercise, like the chapels representing the stations of the cross (Via Crucis) that were laid out on hillsides around Europe in this era. Beginning at the Arco del Meloncello (1732), there are 15 rest stops for prayer, corresponding to the 15 Mysteries of the life of the Virgin Mary. Not even Bologna’s numerous students of the occult can explain why there are exactly 666 arches. That, at least is the traditional number; people often try to count them, and they never get the same answer twice.

Practical Info Practical Info icon

It begins at Porta Saragozza in the southwest corner of the centro storico. If you can’t face the whole hike, just take the No. 58 bus from Villa Spada or Arco di Meloncello, both along Via Saragozza west of the Porta Saragozza, and then walk down.

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by Fotografia dell'Emilia, PD Art, Picture by Hay Kranen / CC-BY 3.0