Good news! If you’re making a stop in Bologna Italy you’ll be in for some of the best food in all of Europe. However, you should know there’s plenty more to see in this amazing city. When you’re not busy tasting authentic Italian cuisine, there’s a must-do hike to a viewpoint like none other. The long 3.8 km archway to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is more than just another piece of history in Bologna. The Portico Di San Luca is actually the longest form of portico architecture in the world!
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The Portico di San Luca is not only the largest display of Portico architecture ever but also the longest covered walkway in the world! Built from 1674 to 1793, this beautiful archway connects the city to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca and its green hilltops.
Unsurprisingly, the history of Bologna and its famous portico begins and ends with the church up above. The story goes all the way back to 1192 when a woman from a nearby town (Angelica de Caicle) created a small religious community on top of the mountain. The community grew over time and is said to have guarded an image of the “Virgin with Child” painted by Luke the Evangelist himself.
The pilgrimage started to be made regularly from town and was so important that they decided to build a walkway in the mid 17th century. The craziest part of it all is that the town did not have enough money to build the portico. Citizens of Bologna both rich and poor scraped money together, and paid for the hillside section of the monument to be built themselves!
Getting to the Portico Di San Luca
From the city center, it’s a 30-minute walk to the start of the Portico Di San Luca. There’s no shame in taking the tourist train there, as you’re already in for a good sized hike.
It runs from the center of Bologna and cost 10 Euros round trip. If you do decide to walk, you will see the Portico architecture begin before you get to the actual start of the hike. It runs along Via Saragozza, a street with many cafes, bars, and shops to enjoy.
The start of the hike is marked by the Arco del Meloncello, an 18th century pedestrian walkway that hangs above the main road. If you need a quick pick me up before the real incline starts there is a nice little cafe here. Bar Billi is the spot to get your espresso jolt, or even try an Aperol spritz drink!
Hike to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
One thing we wanted to point out is that this hike is no joke! Maybe it was the fact that we were at the end of our Italian city tour, and already had many hours and miles walking under our belts. Or it could have been the pizza, pasta, and endless amounts of wine we had been consuming during our first week in Europe after 5 months in Asia.
Nonetheless, the steady incline of the Portico Di San Luca will be no easy task! The entire length of the Bologna Portico is 3,796 meters, with a good portion of that being completely uphill.
View From the Top of the Bologna Portico
Due to the mesmerizing Portico design, you really have no idea when it’s going to end. Honestly, at times it almost feels like it could go on forever! On the climb you’ll be passing under 666 arches, winding and hypnotizing you until the very top.
I guess for Italians this is an easy one because we saw joggers running up and down passed us the entire time! However, once you get there you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of both Bologna city and the beautiful countryside.
Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca
The centerpiece of the Portico Di San Luca is the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca church, which is free to go inside. When we entered the basilica we were not expecting church to be in session, and hence were a bit taken seeing it packed with people.
It was so surreal listening to the traditional hymns and songs bounce off the painted walls! This was quite the end to our visit to Bologna, and one of the best things we experienced in Italy.
Have any questions on our Portico architecture walk, or want to share where to see more amazing Bologna history? Feel free to comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar!
Where To Stay In Bologna Italy
Ultra Luxury (High End) – Grand Hotel Majestic gia’ Baglioni – Set in an 18th century palace with antique furnishings and modern luxuries. This five-star hotel is located in the heart of Bologna and is so incredible you’ll never want to leave.
Fun Vacation (Mid Range) – Residenza Bianconcini – Stay in a historic Italian building just steps from all the action of the city. Unique rooms with wooden features, and a wonderful breakfast with homemade cakes!
Hostel Life (Budget) – Dopa Hostel – One of the most popular and stylish hostels in Bologna. You’ll have your pick of dormitories or private rooms, and located just 800 meters from the Bologna Towers.
For more places to stay in Bologna you can find the latest prices here!
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Italy Travel Planning
Rental Car: We use Discover Cars to explore when traveling. Consider renting a car in one city and dropping it off in another for an epic Italian road trip!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without protection! We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
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