March 28, 2023

The Museum of Bologna in Palazzo Pepoli #BolognaWelcome

The grand Palazzo Pepoli houses the Museum of the History of Bologna, a story that is followed from the Etruscans to today. This museum is new and the displays are designed to appeal to all ages. The building itself is architecturally interesting, a contemporary glass structure containing the stairs in the centre of the covered courtyard of the old palazzo. This is known as the Tower of Time, as Bologna is one of the world’s time-keeping capitals, along with Greenwich and Geneva.

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The route around the museum is easy to follow and directs visitors on a historical journey through Bologna’s history.  It is a long an interesting route, and it would be impossible to mention more than a few of the many exhibits on show. We started off walking through Felsina as Bologna was originally known.  On a recreation of a road lined with funereal stelae and stone tablets we learnt about the very earliest Etruscan residents. It was at this time that Bologna first developed into a city – almost 500 years before Christ. Bologna grew rich owing to its position on traditional routes linking north and south Italy, making it an ideal place for trade to develop.

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Roman Bononia was founded at the end of the second Punic war in 202BC. By 90BC the city was fully Romanised and sitting on the Via Emilia, which since gave its name to the surrounding region. It was an important region – after all it was here in 43BC that Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus agreed to the Second Triumvirate. The museum has preserved part of a Roman roadway, showing how the carts of the citizens wore grooves in the stones.

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Bologna has had several important patrons. Mark Antony was one, Nero was another, persuading Claudius to give millions of sesterces to Bologna after a fire destroyed it. However by the mid-12th century various forms of associations and guilds had developed and by the 15th century Bologna was in the hands of the Bentivoglio family which had made its money through butchery – though the family members appear much grander than that origin suggests in the statues in the museum.

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The museum also contains a selection of old paintings of Bologna, showing the way the city has developed over the centuries, and how towers have played an important part in the urban landscape. The Jewish community in Bologna is documented back as far as 1387.The Jews were a part of Bologna, money-lending, manufacturing silk and printing. For eleven years Bologna opposed the segregations ordered by Pope Paul IV, although when Pius V banned Jews from the Papal State in 1569 800 people were forced to leave the town.


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The museum houses a reproduction of the plan of Bologna that is painted on the walls of the Vatican. As you would expect with an ancient Italian city the story of its history is long and intriguing, covering wars with Modena, infighting amongst Bologna families, Renaissance painters, coronations, Ecclesiastical councils,  WW2 bombing and much more. There are rooms devoted to Bolognese inventors and writers, as well as an engrossing short 3D film explaining the history in a means accessible to adults and children – who will also enjoy the nearby displays of Bolognese puppets.

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A cellar is filled with a multimedia installation which immerses the viewer in an underground section of the Aposa river. High-tech effects make the water appear to move when you step into it. This is a reminder that Bologna used to be a city of water, the power of aqua being used to power mills and make silk.

The city has experienced much more over the centuries. Napoleon invaded, musicians composed and the city has found itself under the aegis of Austria. It was even the location of the invention of the Italian tricolore in 1796. There is much to discover about Bologna and this new museum gives a contemporary twist to learning about the city’s history.


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We were welcomed to the museum by Elena and Filippo who explained everything and helped us to work our audio guides. Thanks!

Palazzo Pepoli



More information

We visited the museum as guests of BolognaWelcome

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