Basilica di San Luca

It seems that you can take a girl out of Seattle, but not the Seattle out of the girl — because whenever there’s a warm, sunny day in the forecast (especially on a weekend), I feel a sense of urgency and must immediately start strategizing about how to get outdoors.  This past Saturday, was one of those days.  And so, we decided to venture outdoors to visit one of Bologna’s most well known symbols — the Sanctuary of the Madonna Di San Luca.

View of the Basilica di San Luca, picture taken during our first hill adventure from the park on Via di Casaglia

San Luca is Bologna’s Space Needle (but much, much older and with a much richer history of course).  I say this because I’ve read that when someone from Bologna returns to the city, the sight of San Luca reassures them “I’m home”.  The basilica sits on top of Guardia Hill, which is very fitting because, from a far, it does look like a guardian watching over the city.

The Icon

The basilica houses the shrine of the Madonna di San Luca, a painting of the Virgin Mary and child, which according to legend, was painted by the Evangelist Luke.  The story goes that in 1433, after three months of incessant rain in Bologna, the icon was carried down the hill from the original church* into town as a gesture of prayer to ask for the rain to stop.  And as they entered the gates of the city, the rain stopped.  Every year since (except twice, I read), there is a procession in which the Madonna is carried into the center of the city.  Today this happens in May during the days leading up to Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) as a form of prayer for a good harvest season.  I believe, but don’t hold me to this, that the procession starts on Saturday evening before the fifth Sunday after Easter (mouthful).  The Madonna is carried to the Cathedral of San Pietro in the main plaza of Bologna and held there until the following Sunday, when there is a second procession to return the Madonna to her home on the hill.

*Note: the current church is a replacement built in the 1700s

The Portico

In the late 1600s, a portico was built connecting the city to the Basilica to provide shelter during the annual procession.  This portico measures 3,796 meters in length (roughly 2.4 miles), has 666 arches, and is purportedly the longest portico in the world!

The route between Porta Saragozza and the Meloncello Arch is fairly flat, but the section from the Meloncello Arch to the Basilica is uphill and quite the workout!  We did the abbreviated walking tour and started at the Meloncello Arch (about 1.4 miles). We drove to the arch and were easily able to find street parking nearby.

Longest portico in the world, as we make our descent from the Basilica di San Luca

Wait… there’s more!

Since we only had a couple of hours before the Basilica closed for the day, and since our prevailing objective was to be outdoors, we headed straight for the Basilica from Meloncello Arch.  If you’re looking for even more action (both physically and site seeing-wise), there are a few more sites to see if you make your way to Guardia Hill from Porta Saragozza.  You can read more about those here in the city’s brochure for San Luca.  If you are looking for an extra dose of physical activity, the Bologna Tourism website offers a walking itinerary starting at Piazza Maggiore in the city center.

And, of course… there’s food nearby!

I’ve read in numerous places (like here and here) that Meloncello Trattoria located near the Meloncello Arch is one of the gastronomic gems of Bologna, and it’s on my list of places I’d love to eat.  The trattoria has limited hours — a good sign that it’s frequented by Italians!  It’s open from 12:30PM – 3PM for lunch and 7:30-10:30PM for dinner, but closed Mondays for dinner and all day Tuesday (and likely other times depending on the time of year). We descended from the Basilica a little past 6PM very hungry and hadn’t planned ahead by making a reservation, so we ended up going elsewhere for food.  If you have your heart set on pairing a trip to San Luca with a meal at Meloncello, I’d recommend checking the hours of both for the particular time of year that you’ll be visiting (to avoid closures and awkward gaps in time), and also making a reservation.

Trattoria Meloncello
Via Saragozza 240/a
+39 (0)51 614 3947

Up close view of the Basilica di San Luca


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