Emilia’s capital, BOLOGNA, is a thriving city, whose light-engineering and high-tech industries have brought conspicuous wealth to the old brick palaces and porticoed streets. It’s well known for its food – undeniably the richest in the country – and for its politics. “Red Bologna” became the Italian Left’s stronghold and spiritual home, having evolved out of the resistance movement to German occupation during World War II. Consequently, Bologna’s train station was singled out by Fascist groups in 1980 for a bomb attack in Italy’s worst postwar terrorist atrocity – a glassed-in jagged gash in the station wall commemorates the tragedy in which 84 people died. In subsequent decades, the city’s political leanings have been less predictable, although its “leftist” reputation continues to stick.
Bologna is certainly one of Italy's best-looking cities. Its centre is startlingly medieval in plan, a jumble of red brick, tiled roofs and balconies radiating out from the great central square of Piazza Maggiore. There are enough monuments and curiosities for several days’ leisured exploration, including plenty of small, quirky museums, some tremendously grand Gothic and Renaissance architecture and, most conspicuously, the Due Torri, the city’s own “leaning towers”. Thanks to the university, there’s always something happening – be it theatre, music, the city’s lively summer festival, or just the café and bar scene, which is among northern Italy’s most convivial.