Green Bologna

by Paola Emilia Rubbi

The Montagnola and the Regina Margherita promenade.

How much it has seen! And how many roles it has played in the unwinding of the history of the city through the centuries!
Already, its beginning was the result of ancient events and it could be said that it is the evidence of the indomitable spirit of freedom of the Bolognese people, because the Montagnola is not a natural hill (almost ten meters in altitude). It was gradually made by the accumulation of rubble from the repeated destructions of the Rocca di Galliera, rebuilt five times from the beginning of year 300 until 1511 as a means of power of Papal Legate over the city, and each time brought down by its citizens.

Picture - Park of the Montagnola, monument dedicated to August 8th, 1848
The ruins of the Rocca di Galliera, "five times built against the Bolognese freedom, five times brought down by its people" (Carducci), raised from the year 500 and on from the earth of the excavations, the high ground was raised on a flat land historically important in the life of Bologna: the northern area of the ancient Campo Magno, which in the year 200 was the very animated animal market (horses, cows, porks, etc.) and was also called the Prato di Magone ("avere il magone" in the Bolognese dialect means to have a lump in one's throat - Zanolini) because this is where hangings of common delinquents took place.
In the year 600, the small rise was meant for the public passage of carriages, becoming this way the city's first public garden: the slopes were arranged, a wide road was built which ended in an octagonal large square surrounded by elms and adorned, in 1757, with seven large stone seats and numerous mulberry trees. The Montagnola began to be the place for festivities, fireworks and, at the end of the 700s, even a few corridas. In 1805, Napoleon ordered the creation, on the seven hectares of the park, of a French-style promenade. Assigned to the project, Giovanni Battista Martinetti realized "a lovely site
and quite a bit raised” (this is how Ugo Foscolo had Jacopo Ortis describe it) which little by little became also a place for the ascent of the hot-air balloons of Marquis Francesco Zambeccari and his friends; for horse and bicycle races; for military parades and magnificent carnivals.

Picture - Fountain in the park of the Montagnola

In the meantime, in the south area of the hill, the Giuoco del pallone or Spheristerion was built in 1822, a project by Giuseppe Tubertini, and, in the years 1893-96, on the side of Independence Street, the imposing flight of steps, called the Pincio by the Bolognese, was built.
At the end of the 800s, enriched with imposing sycamores, rows holm oaks, and paths of lime-trees and fresh conifers, the Montagnola had also its café chantant and, in the 900s, it was the venue for many important manifestations such as the railway show Direttissima, the 1934 exhibition, the first editions of the trade fair.
But, in July 1879, the Montagnola, a public city park par excellence, was overwhelmed by the Regina Margherita promenade, carried out at the foot of the hill and between Porta S. Stefano and Porta Castiglione, over an area of 231,122 square meters that the city had purchased from Count Angelo Tattini. An inscription, found in the actual chalet, recalls that the project of the "promenade" was executed by Ernesto Balbo Bertone, Count of Sambuy of Piemont, who "from ploughed land created these gardens" designing a landscape of English inspiration later called after Queen Margherita, spouse of Umberto I who had become king the year before. At the centre of the park, a small lake was created using the water from the Savena canal; it is bordered on the north side by selenite rocks, and on the south side by picturesque bushes of vegetation, bridges pass over the lake inhabited by an aquatic birdlife. Like the lake, the large central lawn and the pathways, then in pebbles, are elements dating back to its origins. Since then a permanent destination of the citizens of Bologna of all ages and conditions, the Margherita Gardens have hosted

Picture - Lake at the Margherita Gardens
a variety of events: in 1888, the Emiliana Exhibition (for which were built elegant pavilions, such as those of Industry and Music, later dismantled) made even more evocative and prestigious with the steam tramway that brought visitors to San Michele in Bosco, There were also horse races, festivities, concerts, shows, as well as political, cultural and sporting events.

Picture - Vittorio Emanuele II on a horse in the Margherita Gardens

In this highly visited green area, there are also testimonies of the more ancient history of Bologna: the reconstruction of a Villanovan cottage created by the Archaeology Museum; two Etruscan tombs in travertine from the necropolis discovered while the park was being done; a strip of Roman road from Via Rizzoli and, on the south side of the lake, a part of the ancient Savena canal, built in 1176. There was also, for a number of years, a small zoo with fallow deers and goatlings that had as their most natural king the much loved (by kids) lion Reno. At the entrance of Porta Santo Stefano, dominated Vittorio Emanuele II who during many years rode his horse in Piazza Maggiore.
If Montagnola and the Margherita Gardens are among the greenest areas of the city, essential to its growth, Bologna, at the beginning of the third millennium can be proud of its more than a thousand hectares of public parks. It also possesses an ancient and hidden wealth of private green areas: numerous luxuriant gardens of its large palaces and small vegetable gardens and courtyards of the modest homes of the historical centre. But that is another evocative story of the turreted city.