Etruscan, Celtic and Roman times
In the 4th century BC, the city and the surrounding area were conquered by the Boii, a Celtic tribe coming from Transalpine Gaul. The tribe settled down and mixed so well with the Etruscans, after a first aggressive period, that they created a civilization that modern historians call Gaul-Etruscan (one of the best examples is the archeological complex of Monte Bibele, in the bolognese Appennine). After the Battle of Telamon, in which the forces of the Boii and their allies were badly beaten, the tribe accepted reluctantly the influence of the Roman Republic, but with the outbreak of the Punic Wars the Celts once more went on the path of war. They first helped Hannibal´s army to cross the alps then gave him a consistent force of infantry that proved itself decisive in several battles. With the downfall of the Carthaginians came the end of the Boii as a free people, the Romans destroying many settlements and villages (Monte Bibele is one of them) and the founding of the colonia of Bononia in c.189 BC. The settlers included three thousand Latin families led by the consuls Lucius Valerius Flaccus. The Celtic population was ultimately absorbed in the Roman society but the language survived in some measure until today in the Bolognese dialect, which linguists say belongs to the Gaul – Italic group of languages and dialects. The building of the Via Aemilia in 187 BC made Bologna an important centre, connected to Arezzo through the Via Flaminia minor and to Aquileia through the Via Aemilia Altinate.
In 88 BC, the city became a municipium: it had a rectilinear street plan with six cardi and eight decumani (intersecting streets) which are still discernible today. During the Roman era, its population varied between c. 12,000 to c. 30,000. At its peak, it was the second city of Italy, and one of the most important of all the Empire, with various temples and baths, a theatre, and an arena. Pomponius Mela included Bononia among the five opulentissimae ("richest") cities of Italy. Although fire damaged the city during the reign of Claudius, the Roman Emperor Nero rebuilt it in the 1st century AD.
 Middle Ages
After a long decline, Bologna was reborn in the 5th century under bishop Petronius. According to legend, St. Petronius built the church of S. Stefano. After the fall of Rome, Bologna was a frontier stronghold of the Exarchate of Ravenna in the Po plain, and was defended by a line of walls which did not enclose most of the ancient ruined Roman city. In 728, the city was captured by the Lombard king Liutprand, becoming part of the Lombard Kingdom. The Germanic conquerors formed a district called "addizione longobarda" near the complex of S. Stefano. Charlemagne stayed in this district in 786.
In the 11th century, Bologna began to grow again as a free commune, joining the Lombard League against Frederick Barbarossa in 1164. In 1088, the Studio was founded, now the oldest university in Europe, which could boast notable scholars of the Middle Ages like Irnerius, and, among its students, Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca. In the 12th century, the expanding city needed a new line of walls, and another was completed in the 14th century as the city had expanded further.
In 1256, Bologna promulgated the Legge del Paradiso ("Paradise Law"), which abolished feudal serfdom and freed the slaves, using public money. At that time the city centre was full of towers (perhaps 180), built by the leading families, notable public edifices, churches, and abbeys. In the 1270s Bolognese politics was dominated by the lettered Luchetto Gattilusio who served as podestà. Like most Italian cities of that age, Bologna was torn by internal struggles related to the Guelph and Ghibelline factions, which led to the expulsion of the Ghibelline family of the Lambertazzi in 1274.
In 1294, Bologna was perhaps the fifth or sixth largest city in Europe, after Cordoba, Paris, Venice, Florence, and, probably, Milan, with 60,000 to 70,000 inhabitants. After being crushed in the Battle of Zappolino by the Modenese in 1325, Bologna began to decay and asked the protection of the Pope at the beginning of the 14th century. In 1348, during the Black Plague, about 30,000 inhabitants died.
After the happy years of the rule of Taddeo Pepoli (1337–1347), Bologna fell to the Visconti of Milan, but returned to the Papal orbit with Cardinal Gil de Albornoz in 1360. The following years saw an alternation of Republican governments like that of 1377, which was responsible for the building of the Basilica di San Petronio and the Loggia dei Mercanti, and Papal or Visconti restorations, while the city's families engaged in continual internecine fighting. In the middle of the 15th century, the Bentivoglio family gained the rule of Bologna, reigning with Sante (1445–1462) and Giovanni II (1462–1506). This period was a flourishing one for the city, with the presence of notable architects and painters who made Bologna a true city of art. During the Renaissance, Bologna was the only Italian city that allowed women to excel in any profession. Women there had much more freedom than in other Italian cities; some even had the opportunity to earn a degree at the university.
Giovanni's reign ended in 1506 when the Papal troops of Julius II besieged Bologna and sacked the artistic treasures of his palace. From that point on, until the 18th century, Bologna was part of the Papal States, ruled by a cardinal legato and by a Senate which every two months elected a gonfaloniere (judge), assisted by eight elder consuls. In 1530, in front of Saint Petronio Church, Charles V was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Clement VII.
 16th–18th century
The city's state continued, although a plague at the end of the 16th century reduced the population from 72,000 to 59,000, and another in 1630 to 47,000. The population later recovered to a stable 60,000–65,000. In 1564, the Piazza del Nettuno and the Palazzo dei Banchi were built, along with the Archiginnasio, the sugar of the University. The period of Papal rule saw the construction of many churches and other religious establishments, and the reincarnation of older ones. Bologna had ninety-six convents, more than many other Italian city. Artists working in this age in Bologna established the Bolognese School that includes Annibale Carracci, Domenichino, Guercino and others of European fame.
 19th century
With the rise of Napoleon, Bologna became the capital of the Cispadane Republic, and later, after Milan, the second most important center of the Repubblica Cisalpina and the Italian Kingdom. After the fall of Napoleon, Bologna was once again under the sovereignty of the Papal States, rebelling in 1831 and again 1849, when it temporarily expelled the Austrian garrisons which controlled the city until 1860. After a visit by Pope Pius IX in 1857, the city voted for annexation to the Kingdom of Sardinia on June 12, 1859, becoming part of the united Italy.
 20th century
1980: rescue teams making their way through the rubble after the Bologna Massacre.
In the new political situation, Bologna gained importance for its cultural role and became an important commercial, industrial, and communications hub; its population began to grow again and at the beginning of the 20th century the old walls were destroyed (except for a few remaining sections) in order to build new houses for the population.
During World War II, Bologna was a key transportation hub for the Germans. Its capture by the Polish 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division on April 21, 1945 led to the liberation of the Po Valley and the collapse of German defenses in northern Italy. It was also a centre for the Italian Resistance and after World War II became a stronghold for the Italian Communist Party.
On August 2, 1980, a massive terrorist attack killed 85 people and wounded more than 200 in the central train station (see Bologna massacre). The attack has been attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari. Only two months previously, Aerolinee Itavia Flight 870 had crashed under suspicious circumstances.
Bologna experiences a Humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classification Cfa) characteristic of Northern Italy's inland plains, with some continental characteristics like very hot summers and cold, humid winters. Temperatures exceed 30 °C (86 °F) often from May to early September and heatwaves are very common during the summer. Because of the high rate of humidity, perception both of heat in summer and cold in winter are amplified. Due to humidity, fog is very common during late autumn and winter (as in most parts of Northern Italy). Annual precipitation ranges from 700 millimetres to 800 millimetres concentrated usually in spring and autumn. Snowfall can occur from late November to April, but snow accumulation occurs mainly from December through February. The coldest temperature recorded is −19.8 °C (−3.6 °F) on 13 January 1985, the highest temperature ever recorded was 40.6 °C (105.1 °F) on August 2003.
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 Main sights
; from left to right: Palazzo dei Banchi, San Petronio Basilica, Palazzo dei Notai, Palazzo d'Accursio.
The Via Emilia crossing Bologna.
- For a complete list, see Buildings and structures in Bologna
Until the early 19th century, when a large-scale urban reconstruction project was undertaken, Bologna remained one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe; to this day it remains unique in its historic value. Despite having suffered considerable bombing damage in 1944, Bologna's historic centre, one of Europe's largest (after Venice), contains a wealth of important Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque artistic monuments.
Bologna developed along the Via Emilia as an Etruscan and later Roman colony; the Via Emilia still runs straight through the city under the changing names of Strada Maggiore, Rizzoli, Ugo Bassi, and San Felice. Due to its Roman heritage, the central streets of Bologna, today largely pedestrianized, follow the grid pattern of the Roman settlement.
The original Roman ramparts were supplanted by a high medieval system of fortifications, remains of which are still visible, and finally by a third and final set of ramparts built in the 13th century, of which numerous sections survive. Over twenty medieval defensive towers, some of them leaning precariously, remain from the over two hundred that were constructed in the era preceding the security guaranteed by unified civic government. For a complete treatment, see Towers of Bologna.
The cityscape is further enriched by elegant and extensive arcades (or porticos), for which the city is famous. In total, there are some 38 kilometres of arcades in the city's historical center (over 45 km in the city proper), which make it possible to walk for long distances sheltered from rain, snow, or hot summer sun. The Portico of San Luca, one of the longest in the world (3.5 km, 666 arcades) connects the Porta Saragozza (one of the twelve gates of the ancient walls built in the Middle Ages, which circled a 7.5 km part of the city) with the San Luca Sanctuary, on Colle della Guardia, over the city (289 m.).
The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is located just outside the city proper. Traditional place of worship for the presence of an image the Virgin of St. Luca as well as reassuring visual landmark for Bolognese approaching town, the shrine located on top of Guardia hill is one of Bologna's symbol. The 666 vaults of the arcade – unique for his length covering almost four kilometres (3,796 m) – link the shrine with the town and provide a shelter for the procession which every year since 1433 has brought the Byzantine Madonna with Child to the cathedral downtown during the Ascension week. Built in the 11th century, it was much enlarged in the 14th and 18th centuries. The interior contains works of several masters, but probably the most important is the painting of the Madonna with Child attributed to Luke the Evangelist.
Bologna is home to numerous important churches. An incomplete list includes:
Bologna is a very important railway and motorway hub in Italy. The economy of Bologna is based on an active industrial sector which, traditionally strong in the transformation of agricultural products and in animal husbandry, also includes the footwear, textile, engineering, chemical printing and publishing industries, as well as on flourishing commercial activity. The city's Fiera District (exhibition area) is one of the largest in Europe, with important yearly international expos of the automobile sector (Bologna Motor Show), ceramics for the building industry (International Exhibition of Ceramic Tiles and Bathroom Furnishings) and food industry. Bologna and its metropolitan area have several important industries in the fields of mechanics, food, tobacco and electronics, important retail and wholesale trade (the "Centergross" in the northern part of its metropolitan area, built in 1973), and one of the first Italian vegetable and fruit markets.
Bologna is home to Guglielmo Marconi International Airport, expanded in 2004 by extending the runway to accommodate larger aircraft. It is the tenth busiest Italian airport for passenger traffic (over than 4 million/year in 2007) and is an intercontinental gateway.
Bologna Central Station is considered the most important train hub in Italy thanks to the city's strategic location. Also, its goods-station (San Donato) with its 33 railway tracks, is the largest in Italy in size and traffic.
Bologna's station holds a memory in Italian public consciousness of the terrorist bomb attack that killed 85 victims in August 1980. The attack is also known in Italy as the Strage di Bologna ("Bologna massacre").
Bologna is served by a robust system of public bus lines, run by ATC.
In 2009, there were 374,944 people residing in Bologna (while 1 million live in the greater Bologna area), located in the province of Bologna, Emilia Romagna, of whom 46.7% were male and 53.3% were female. Minors (children ages 18 and younger) totalled 12.86 percent of the population compared to pensioners who number 27.02 percent. This compares with the Italian average of 18.06 percent (minors) and 19.94 percent (pensioners). The average age of Bologna resident is 51 compared to the Italian average of 42. In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the population of Bologna grew by 0.0 percent, while Italy as a whole grew by 3.56 percent. The current birth rate of Bologna is 8.07 births per 1,000 inhabitants compared to the Italian average of 9.45 births.
As of 2009, 89.47% of the population was Italian. The largest immigrant group came from other European countries (mostly from Romania and Albania): 2.82%, East Asia (mostly Filipino): 1.50%, and the South Asia (mostly from Bangladesh): 1.39%.
Over the centuries, Bologna has acquired many nicknames: "the learned one" (la dotta) is a reference to its famous university; "the fat one" (la grassa) refers to its cuisine.
"The red one" (la rossa) originally refers to the colour of the roofs in the historic centre, but this nickname is also connected to the political situation in the city, started after World War II: until the election of a centre-right mayor in 1999, the city was renowned as a bastion of socialism and communism in particular the Italian Communist Party. The centre-left regained power again in the 2004 mayoral elections, with the election of Sergio Cofferati. It was one of the first European towns to experiment with the concept of free public transport.
The city of Bologna was appointed a UNESCO City of Music on 29 May 2006. According to UNESCO, "As the first Italian city to be appointed to the Network, Bologna has demonstrated a rich musical tradition that is continuing to evolve as a vibrant factor of contemporary life and creation. It has also shown a strong commitment to promoting music as an important vehicle for inclusion in the fight against racism and in an effort to encourage economic and social development. Fostering a wide range of genres from classical to electronic, jazz, folk and opera, Bologna offers its citizens a musical vitality that deeply infiltrates the city’s professional, academic, social and cultural facets."