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Trip Report Bologna Churches for the Mobility Impaired

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This topic will probably not be relevant to most of you, but I hope it might be helpful for some.

One of the major attractions in Bologna consists of its many churches, of which six stand out: San Pietro (St. Peter’s); San Petronio (the Basilica of St. Petronius); Santa Maria Della Vita; Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s); San Dominico (St. Dominick’s); and San Francesco (St. Francis). Each of these has something unique, yet the entrances to many of them make access difficult or impossible for persons of limited mobility. As one who encountered this difficulty in a recent trip to Bologna, I would like to share some information as to how wheelchair-bound persons or others with severe mobility problems can access these magnificent churches.

The Cathedral of St. Peter
This is Bologna’s cathedral, located on Via Dell’Independenza, on the right hand side of the street about 200 meters down from Piazza del Nettuno (Neptune). It is a light and airy Baroque church which features a number of statues and frescoes, most notably a terra cotta version of “The Lamentation over the Dead Christ,” of which another version is found in Santa Maria Della Vita. Photographs are prohibited in the church, and there are services going on in the morning and in the late afternoon.

A number of steps lead up to the main entrance from the street, making access difficult for mobility-impaired persons. However, about 50 meters to the right of the main entrance (toward Piazza del Nettuno) is a single door at street level. To get into the cathedral, simply go through this door, then turn left and go through another door, and you are there.

The Basilica of St. Petronius
Located in Piazza Maggiore, this most important church in Bologna honors a fifth-century bishop and patron saint of the town. As one of the largest churches in the world, it can only be appreciated from the inside. The interior contains a large number of side chapels with many different types of art work. But the most important feature inside is the sundial of Giovanni Cassini, by which, at exactly midday, a beam of light coming through a window in the ceiling illuminates the correct day of the year along a meridian strip inlaid into the floor along the left side of the church.

St. Petronius is not to be missed. Unfortunately, many steps lead up to the front of the church, and there is neither a ramp nor a railing by which mobility-impaired individuals can enter the building. So, there is no access to the church from the front for mobility-impaired persons. There is, however, a way for them to get in, but it takes some effort (plus an able-bodied companion) to do it.

The handicapped access is actually on the back of the church, at 14 Corte di Galuzzi. To find it, walk down along the outside of the church along Via dell’Archiginnasio. Arriving at the the piazza behind the church, walk diagonally across the piazza to a little side street called Corte Galuzzi. Go down that street with the windows of the Bank of Bologna (Banco di Bologna) on your right until you come to number 14, which looks like garage door. That is the handicapped-access door. However, you’re not done, because you now must find someone to open that door from the inside!

To do so, an able-bodied individual must walk back and enter the church from the front steps. Go to the souvenir desk in the rear and tell the person there that you need someone to open the handicapped-access door. (“Per favore, appre l’entrata per gli infirmi a Corte di Galuzzi 14.”) That person will then find another employee who will go the sacristy, get a remote-control, and open the door, at which time you can enter. To get out, find the man with the remote control and ask him to open the door for you.

I told you it was convoluted, but it is worth it to see this magnificent church!

The Church of Santa Maria Della Vita
This church is found on Via Clavatura, one of the side streets coming out of the Piazza Maggiore near the steps to St. Petronius. The church, located at Via Clavatura 10, has a number of steps, but there is also a railing on each end of the stairs. However, wheelchair access is available at Via Clavatura 8. Go through the gate at #8 and enter through the door at the end of the sidewalk, and you are in the church. The major attraction of this church is a larger and more-expressive version of the “Lamentation” found in the cathedral. There are four or five steps with railings leading up to the display from the main floor; however, there is no wheelchair access to this level. Unlike in the cathedral, photos are allowed here.

The Complex of St. Stephen
This “church” is actually of complex of four different churches. (Originally, there were seven, but only the four survive, the oldest of which dates to the fifth century.) To go through the complex, you enter the main church, then go down a short set of steps at the side of the sanctuary and get a map of the complex from the person at the souvenir desk. From there, make your way through the maze of rooms and courtyards that make up the complex. The bones of St. Petronius are on display in the Chiesa del Calvario (Calvary Church). The entrance to the main church is at ground level. The other parts of the complex are not wheelchair-accessible, but they can be navigated by someone who can walk up or down a few steps with assistance.

The Church of St. Dominick
This beautiful Baroque church honors the founder of the Dominican order of priests and nuns, and his statue sits on a column in the piazza outside the church. The piazza is covered with large stones that can make navigation difficult for mobility-impaired individuals. However, there is a small sidewalk around the edge of the piazza that is easier to walk on. The set of four stairs leading up to the church has a handrail on each side but no ramp; however, someone could possibly pull a wheelchair up them. I do not know if there is another handicapped-accessible entrance or not. St. Dominick’s body is encased in a beautiful marble complex elevated from the main floor which is gated and inaccessible to the general public. Near the rear of the church is a museum/gift shop. If you need to use the WC, go into the gift shop and ask the attendant, who will send someone to unlock it for you.

The Church of St. Francis
This is a beautiful French Gothic church with flying buttresses made of brick, not stone. The main entrance of this church, on the Piazza San Francesco, has one step up to the church. As an alternative, you can approach the church from Piazza Malphigi in the rear; the little sidewalk under the portico from the street leads to a handicapped-accessible entrance that opens at the side of the sanctuary.

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