Why are there so many arcades in Bologna?
In Bologna, as in nearly all medieval cities, arcades were built mainly in the market areas. Starting in the 13th century other cities prohibited the construction of new arcades on public soil, while in Bologna the opposite happened: for social and economic reasons, the citizens of Bologna willingly gave up part of their private property to the rest of the community.
The arcades were indeed very useful for the many craftsmen and shop owners who used to work out of their workshops in daylight and they sheltered passers-by from the rain and muddy streets and from the summer heat typical of the Po valley.
Between 1100 and 1400 private buildings still featured wooden arcades in most of the city, while in public buildings the arcades were already built with bricks, columns and pillars.
The whole bearing structure of private buildings was supported by wooden structures.
Contrary to popular belief, the essence used in Bologna was not oak but chestnut wood, which could be found in the Apennines and transported to the city via the river Reno.
Unfortunately today there are only a few medieval buildings which still have the wooden arcades. The most popular include: Palazzo Isolani, Palazzo Grassi in via Marsala, the Palace in Piazza della Mercanzia and the 14th-century building in via Begatto.
These houses escaped all provisions adopted since the 14th century ordering to replace wooden columns with brick ones to prevent fires.
Other examples can be found in the areas surrounding the City of Bologna, such as in San Giovanni in Persiceto, Cento and Pieve di Cento.
Sources and Photographic References:
I portici di Bologna nel contesto europeo, edited by Francesca Bocchi, Rosa Smurra.