Bologna’s arcades: how were born and why?

Bassorilievo Ivan Dimitrov – Sotto il segno dei portici

The arcades of Bologna arose spontaneously in the early Middle Ages, but not as decoration or protection as you might think! They were born as an abusive projection of private buildings on public land. In this way, expanding outwards, the living space was far greater.

Originally the houses were increased by expanding the upper floors with an extension of the load-bearing beams towards the outside. Over time, the extensions increased and columns were needed to help support them: this is the origin of the porticoes of Bologna.

The arcades didn’t seem such a bad idea when it was realized that they also offered shelter from the weather and made the ground floors more habitable for shops and craftsmen, isolating them from the sewage of the streets. In addition, if we consider that today they have become the symbol of Bologna in the world … well, it was a brilliant idea!


Even if they were born as illegal, the arcades became granted and even obligatory by the Municipality! With the arrival of university students and immigration from the countryside, the population was increasing and it was necessary to build new homes. In 1288 a notice from the Municipality decreed that all new houses must also have a portico, and that existing ones were required to add it. The arcades had to be at least 7 Bolognese feet high and wide (2.66 meters), to allow passage of a man on horseback. These directives were not respected, however, everywhere, in fact in the poorer areas, lower heights were used. The height and depth of the arcades was then enlarged by a later statute which imposed 10 feet (3.60 meters) for the new buildings.

Initially the porticoes of Bologna were made of wood, but a decree of 1568 indicated that the execution must be done in brick or stone.


The arcades of Bologna are a symbol for the city and make it recognizable all over the world. In fact, there is no other city with such a high number of arcades that together measure 53km. Thanks to their artistic and cultural relevance, the porticoes of Bologna are candidate as a UNESCO World Heritage Site 2021. In addition to the overall record, Bologna also boasts the record of the longest portico in the world: that of San Luca. In fact, it measures 3,796 meters and is made up of 666 arches.


Bologna is certainly a city on a human scale, which immediately makes you part of it, its life and its traditions. Visiting Bologna is a unique experience! Let us guide you! Here are some tours that might be right for you:

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