October 11, 2015 – Our “hike” to San Luca

One of the things that Brittany and I had been wanting to do since arriving in Bologna was the hike up to Basilica Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, a church sitting on a hilltop to the southwest of Bologna.  It was one of the first things we saw upon our arrival as it seems to stand watch over the city.  Then on our fabled trip to IKEA, we were able to get a few different views that further wet our appetite.

So a weekend finally arrived that was beautiful and contained no previous engagements.  Today would be the day we would make the hike; only, after doing a bit of research, we realized we wouldn’t actually be hiking anywhere, in the sense of needing hiking gear anyway.  The trip to San Luca is actually completely covered.  As we found out, it is actually the world’s longest portico, with 666 arches (we didn’t miss the irony) connecting Porta Saragozza and San Luca.  We discovered that though this was not a “hike” it was also not just a leisurely stroll.  Inclined for a good portion of the way, a one way version of the trek was almost 2.4 miles, meaning almost 5 miles as a round trip, and we live on the other side of town, so it was actually quite the ‘hike’ for us.

Our journey officially began at Porta Saragozza, which you might remember from our Porta Day.    


Across the street from the porta, we had seen this massive looking portico entrance but had not ventured to it…today was the day.

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It’s very much one thing to read about the world’s longest portico, but another thing all together to actually see it.  It seems important to know the significance of this journey as well.  This path is considered by many to be a pilgrimage.  Apparently there has been a church or chapel setting where San Luca now stands “for about a thousand years” according to Wikipedia.  What started out as a simple chapel on the hill gained significance when the bishop of Bologna decided it would serve as the home for a very important artifact.  It seems that in the 12th century “a pilgrim from the Byzantine empire came to Bologna with an icon of the Virgin from the temple of Saint Sofia in Constantinople.”  This icon was supposedly painted by Saint Luke, the same Luke whose words are recorded in the Bible.  Bologna Welcome says that the portico “connects the shrine with the town and provides a shelter for the procession which every year since 1433 has brought the Byzantine Madonna with Child to the cathedral downtown (San Pietro) during the Ascension week.” It further reveals that “construction (of the portico) started in 1674″ and before that, the pilgrimage was open to the weather, meaning if the weather was bad the icon would not be brought into the city.

We have a picture of this icon, but we’ll get to that later.  This is the image from Wikipedia‘s site:

Picture by Hay Kranen / PD

The first portion of the portico trail was interesting because we didn’t really know where we were going and were hoping that just following the portico path would lead us there, because this section looked much like the rest of the portici in Bologna adorned with shops, houses, and openings for connecting roads, but mostly because it was leaning.


Some a bit more than others:


Even though the portico arches are numbered – with 1 being the arch across the street from Porta Saragozza – the start of the up hill climb actually begins at the Arco del Meloncello.


This beautiful archway kind of comes out of nowhere if you are walking the portico path because so much of your view is blocked by the columns.  The archway serves as a bridge, letting you cross Via Saragozza, but it also acts as a clear delineation between the portico of Bologna and the portico leading to San Luca.  Suddenly you are not surrounded by buildings, but rather, clearly following a path with one purpose, ascend the hill.


And soon after crossing the Arco del Meloncello, our views became amazing.

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At times, in the city, we find the level of restoration, or rather lack of restoration, to be beautiful and sad at the same time.  The same was true for the portici as we climbed.

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But after weaving our way up, up, up, we finally managed to reach San Luca.

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And I found another of my little friends.


Construction of the church, as it stands now, began in 1723 and was completed in 1757.  It was designed by Carlo Francesco Dotti and his son, Giovanni Giacomo.  Dotti also designed the Arco del Meloncello.  As I’ve stated in previous posts, I am a fan of all things gargoyle, but I was in awe of the simplistic design of San Luca.  There were very few ornate decorations (on the exterior), but the curvature of the building as a whole was just remarkable.

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However, if the church was beautiful, the view on the hill was absolutely breathtaking.  It gave us a view of Bologna’s surrounding area that we had never seen before.

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After taking in the view for a while, we made our way up the spiraled staircase and found the entrance, which contained some of the first and only decoration adorning the exterior of the church.

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There was a sign at the door that had pictures of what you were not supposed to do while inside.  Along with a few other items it contained a no cell phone and no camera image, but we weren’t exactly sure what those images meant.  Did it mean not to use your phone or camera at all, or did it mean not to talk on your phone or use your camera’s flash?  There were several other people inside using both, so we decided to take a few photos, but to try to be discrete. 

As simple and beautiful as the exterior of the church was, the interior was a totally different matter.  Though equally stunning in its own way, I found that some of the color was a bit distracting (I can’t state this enough though…it was still gorgeous, just odd compared to its exterior).

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I’m glad we were able to find an image of the Madonna and child icon, because here are our pictures of it (in the golden archway under the sun-looking item):

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After leaving the interior, we walked around a bit more, checking out the amazing view.  

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We even had a snack.


With our upward journey complete, it was now time to begin the decent.

A word to the wise here…if you are walking 2 and a half miles (plus some to get to our apartment), be sure to use the restroom before you begin your trip.  Neither of us did, and it was about all we could talk about on the way home.  In fact, shamefully, I had to mark a tree.

San Luca actually faces away from the heart of Bologna, but there are a few breaks in the tree line that allow you to get a pretty good view of the city.

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We did snap a few more portico images on our way down.

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All in all, our journey was fantastic, but like everything else here, we are planning to go back.  There were postcards for sale in San Luca‘s “Room of Remembrance” (fancy for “Gift Shop”) that showed the church lit at night.  We have to see it then, though we might take the San Luca Express next time.


Italian word(s) of the day: apre / chiude – opens / closes (because when you’re making a 5 mile trek it’s good to know when the building is going to be opening and closing)

And now you know…


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