A considerable portion of Bologna’s prosperity, medieval and modern, is due to La Bassa, the rich, well-watered plain north of the city, laced by rivers, streams and the canals, some of which go back at least as far as the 13th century. Even when you get beyond the sprawl and small industrial towns that surround the city, it’s a monotonous bit of countryside, without any compelling attractions along the way. But if you’re passing through…
Northwest on the SP568, San Giovanni in Persiceto is famous for its century-old carnival, where each year the people spend months creating a parade of lavish allegorical floats. What sets it apart from others is the Carnival Sunday spillo or 'transformation': when the floats reach the main piazza, they open up to reveal their hidden allegorical meaning.
San Giovanni, like many towns around Bologna, has an impressive theatre, the 18th-century Teatro Comunale (Corso Italia 72) that after serving as a cinema has been restored to its original glory (visits by appointment, +39 051 6812953).
Ten km north of San Giovanni towards San Matteo della Decima, the pretty castle known as the Villa Giovannina (Via Sette Famiglie; open by appointment only, +39 338 6200300) was designed for Giovanni II Bentivoglio in 1504 by Sebastiano Serlio, the Bologna-born Mannerist architect who canonized the classic orders of architecture in his Seven Books of Architecture, the first practical handbook for architects). Today used for weddings and other events, Villa Giovannina has fine frescoes by Guercino (1617-32), although its famous Aldrovandi Dog, the Baroque era’s most striking canine portrait, now adorns the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.
Getting There: Eleven S3 Suburban trains a day run from Bologna to San Giovanni in Persiceto. For the Villa Giovannina you’ll need a car.
Image by Threecharlie, Creative Commons License