Wheelchair Travel to Bologna, Italy
by Mark &
Margaret Edwards © 2007
Mark & Margaret Edwards, of the United Kingdom. generously shared a host of European reports that detail the access that wheelchair users can expect to encounter. Mark is able-bodied and Margaret, who can walk a little with a cane, uses a traditional folding wheelchair to facilitate traveling.
During a recent trip to Bologna, Italy, Mark and Margaret Edwards delighted in how easy the city was to navigate. While there, they discovered access to a variety of historical venues and enjoyed the range of frescoes and artifacts on view in the many museums, galleries and churches.
In retrospect, getting around the various sights in Bologna by wheelchair was surprisingly easy compared to our recent ventures elsewhere in Europe (Madrid and Venice being the most challenging so far). Where possible, a great deal of care by the authorities has gone into making the city as wheelchair friendly as it can be – within the restrictions placed by ancient buildings and streets. The size of the city is such that there is little need for public transport to get about – and in any case you would miss out on so much of the details.
There are some areas of cobbles, some pavements are extremely uneven with huge bulges to entrap the unwary. You also have to watch out for arcades which suddenly end in a flight of steps and cause you to have to retrace your steps. However, most drivers (including cyclists) tend to stop at crossings when they see that a wheelchair is involved and there are plenty of traffic lights with linked crossings to make it easy to cross.
Even if you can’t get access to a building, it’s a pleasure just sitting at a café and watching the world go by. Sitting in the piazza Maggiore at 8.00 on a May evening was delightful – watching the swifts catching insects, the fading sunlight casting shadows across the front of San Petrano, people out walking their dogs and then having to make the difficult decision as to where we going to eat that evening. And it’s worth coming back when it’s properly dark to see the buildings and Nettuno Fountain floodlit.
The one thing which we found was that the museums and galleries were under-subscribed. In a couple of instances, we were the only visitors. Perhaps things get busier later in the year, but having visited Milan and Venice both in late May in previous years, we had the same experiences there. Worth noting that everywhere we went was free to disabled visitors and their companions although tickets are issued for a combination of “insurance” and head-counting – in one instance, we fell foul of bureaucracy by entering our names on only one line of the visitor’s register but needed two tickets. Some discussion ensued and the matter was neatly resolved by the addition of a comma between our first names.
Just for the record, I use a folding manual wheelchair and I can walk a little with help.
It’s small and fairly easy to get around. The authorities have a vehicle with a lifting platform and cabin for delivering you to the door of the plane – most of the planes at Bologna work from coaching stands – and it gets booked in advance from check-in. For departures, you need to be aware that national flights and flights outside the Schengen area leave from gates 10 upwards. Flights to the UK and for other countries outside Schengen leave from gates 1-9 and you access these by passing through passport embarkation control. Therefore it takes a little bit longer to get to these gates although the airport terminal is very compact.
Just on a point of interest, I use a series of elastic tubes with hooks on the end to keep my wheelchair from becoming unfolded in flight or by ambitious baggage staff. Its predecessor was written off by an airline earlier in the year and was troublesome to replace. These were found in my husband’s carry on bag on departure and attempts were made by security to remove them as weapons. No-one else has been bothered about them and ultimately security was persuaded that these items weren’t a problem.
For information, it’s around €15-18 to the city centre by cab from the airport.
A general warning – it is possible for Italian trains to draw away from the platform with the carriage doors still open. You will be told that it isn’t possible and that there are electronic controls so it can’t occur. Not the case. It happened to us and my husband had to grab me off the train otherwise I would have ended up in Rome which was the next stop. It’s going to be a long time before I’ll trust myself to an Italian train again.
The station itself is a bit of a challenge to put it mildly. You will need to enter the station through the section on your left as you face the main building. Pass beyond the stairs and out onto the main concourse where there are disabled lavatories to your left. They are free as the entrance is before the coin-operated gates to the “others” facilities. The light in the ladies is activated by movement and has a short timer on it which plunges you into darkness at inconvenient moments. Since the sensor is high up on the wall, you need to wave a stick in front of it to ensure it’s activated.
Access to the platforms 4 onwards is by a lift which is by the lavatories and there are lifts up from a subway to each platform
Sounds reasonable. But…
The disabled facility and the lifts do not work before 09.00 and go off at 19.00. Also, in the case of the lifts, you have to be accompanied by a member of staff. This is very time consuming and inconvenient: there is an assistance office opposite the lift and they will find the lift staff for you. I do not know what you do if you want to travel outside the hours which have been set. The best advice I can give is to leave plenty of time before you travel and if you can, go to the station the previous day and try to make arrangements in advance.
I gather that there are portable lifts for getting wheelchair users onto trains – the platforms are very low in relation to the train floors. However, I suspect these are not available unless you arrange them well in advance. Bear in mind that there can be little space for carrying wheelchairs on trains – corridors are quite narrow – my husband managed to get mine onto the luggage rack much to the interest of the person sitting in the seat below it.
And if you forget to get your ticket stamped, you may not be fined. We had booked out tickets in advance on Trenitalia’s website and were so overcome that the tickets were actually printed on putting in our details to the dispenser that we forgot the rest of it. The inspector let us off for having a wheelchair and looking apologetic when we were found out. I’m not sure that you can rely on such generosity as a matter of course.
We stayed at “Break 28” which is a bed and breakfast establishment on the top (13th) floor of a splendid 1930s building at Via Marconi 28. If this isn’t the highest accommodation in Bologna, then it’s pretty close to it. There are a couple of steps up into the foyer and the lift would not quite take someone sitting in a wheelchair – the door is 56cm wide. Also, the bathroom has a step. However, our room had a remarkable view across the city towards Santuario della Madonna di San Luca which was only surpassed by the view from the dining room the other way over the roofs towards the city centre. Our hostess, Lorella Tosi and her family, was friendly and made us feel very welcome, organising transport to and from the airport – and she provided a very good breakfast each morning with excellent coffee and delicious soft boiled eggs. The building is well located being about 10 minutes’ walk from the city centre and 15 minutes from the station. Large supermarket on the ground floor. Her website is http://www.break28.it/e_home-eng.htm Very good value for money too.
We spent four days in Bologna – with day trips to Ravenna and Arezzo by train - and took things at a fairly leisurely pace. There were things which we missed – providing a good reason to go back some time – but we still have a lot of Italy to see. The sights which follow are in no particular order but are all well worth a visit. As a starting point, we used the "Footprint guide to Bologna," which provides a good introduction to the various sights and has decent maps and followed up for more details on various websites.
A good map is available at http://www.italy-weather-and-maps.com/italy/maps/bolognamap.php
is also helpful as is http://iat.comune.bologna.it/IAT/IAT.nsf/HomePageE?openpage
My husband also placed a great deal of reliance on a "Baedecker guide to Northern Italy" from 1890, which he found in a second-hand shop. Not to be really recommended but not a silly as it sounds – the sights in the inner city really haven’t changed all that much in the last 120 years.
ORATORIO DI S CECILIA
via Zamboni 15
Brilliant series of frescos covering the life of St Cecilia
Access is off via Zamboni through the portico Bentivoglio. No problem at all to get into although the swing doors are narrow and both need to be open to get a wheelchair through. The floor inside is completely flat.
SAN GIACOMO MAGIORE
via Zamboni/piazza Rossini
A massive church with a Renaissance interior containing many treasures
This church has a number of entrances with steps. However, if you use the entrance to the oratorio (above) and continue onto the cloister beyond it, in a few metres you will see a gate on your right at the end of a short path between two parts of the church itself. Pass through the gate and on your left is a door into a side chapel of the church. Follow through the chapel and this takes you into the main body of the church itself. All of this is on the flat. To get round to the chapels at the rear of the altar there is one step up. Also, back in the chapel through which you entered, you will find a WC to the right of the altar. Not sure whether it’s there for use by the public but….
piazza maggiore 6
Well worth a visit, especially the glorious “woodland” room at the far end of the main galleries with its delightful frescoes.
This is the building, which is accessible on horseback by two long staircases. Assuming that you’re not so equipped (and few are these days), getting a wheelchair up these slopes can be a challenge as each step though shallow has a slippery front edge and there are lots of them. However, there is a lift. As you enter the courtyard from the Plaza Maggiore, instead of heading off to the right to access the stairs, keep going straight on under the arch and the lift is on your left hand side. If you miss it you end up in a courtyard which is now a carpark. Oddly enough, the lift is better marked from the carpark than from the Plaza.
The gallery is on one level although there are slight “lips” between each room.
There is a disabled lavatory at the end of a corridor on the right hand side of the entrance foyer after you come out of the lift – this is the area leading to the museum shop and the entrance to the gallery itself. It also has a number of comfortable sofas running down the middle of the room.
MUSEO CIVICO MEDIOEVALE E DEL RINASCIMENTO
via Manzoni 4
Attractive building set around a central courtyard
A curious collection of items from around the world – Aztec carvings, a stuffed crocodile etc – through to bronzes and carvings representing the best of medieval art together with some weapons. Early on a Saturday morning, we were outnumbered by the attendants. Best approached along the arcade from the via Independenza end of the street (there are steps up from the other end), a ramp leads into the courtyard and gives access to the ground floor. You will see another ramp at the back of the courtyard – this leads to a lift which serves the upper floor and the basement – the later is very cool and a welcome haven on a hot day.
There is a lavatory near the lift on the upper floor – it is up three steps and is not disabled accessible unless you can walk.
COLLEGIO DI SPAGNA
Via del Collegio di Spagna
A charming small garden off a busy street. Just wheel in through the street door for a look.
DAVIA BARGELLINI MUSEUM
strada Maggiore 44
A very unusual museum combining art, artifacts – one of the finest collections of door furniture I’ve seen in a long time – and Bologna seems to be a haven for spectacular door knockers – up to and including a small coach. An eclectic collection with something for everyone. Access is up a couple of steps from the Via Maggiore and the access is currently through the usual exit to the museum at the far end of the corridor by which you enter – the builders were in when we visited but it was still ok to enter the corridor. Inside, everything is on the level and it is an interesting way of spending half an hour.
CHIESA DELLA MADONNA DELLA COLOMBANO
via Parigi 1
Closed for restoration at the time of our visit and looking to be that way for some time.
CHIESA DELLA MADONNA DI GALLIERA
via Manzoni 4
An elegant sandstone façade with figures and inside a beautiful altar and paintings
Access not a problem from via Galliera
Access from the piazza is not easy as there are seven steps to get up. The security staff watched my husband pull me up the steps backwards with great interest. However, if you go round to the back of the church in Piazza Galvani, there are only three steps up to that door. However, the guardian of this door is on the inside of the building so it’s a case of depositing the wheelchair user outside while the pusher goes round to the main entrance and goes down the left hand side of the church to come at this door from the inside – and to explain to the guardian why you are doing it.
METROPOLITANA DI SAN PIETRO
via dell’Independenza 7
Details at http://www.bologna.chiesacattolica.it/cattedrale/index2.php
Access is from via Independenza at the right hand end of the façade facing the building. Take the opportunity to pass through the cathedral and out into the cloister at the rear – rather attractive.
SANTUARIO DI SANTA MARIA DELLA VITA
via Clavature 10
A tiny church but notable for its sculpture of the Three Marys Lament over the Dead Christ by dell’Arca – one of the most moving works of art in all of Italy.
Access to the church is by a ramp leading to a door in the frontage to the left of the main church and this leads round into the body of the church itself. A lift leads to a museum on the first floor – sadly we didn’t have time for this
SANTUARIO DELLA MADONNA DI SAN LUCA
via di San Luca
Sitting prominently on the summit of the Colle della Guardia at around 300m is worth a visit for the views over the city and the surrounding countryside as well as the icon of S Luca. Traditionally, it is accessed on foot by some 2kms of covered arcade. Do not try to get a wheelchair up the arcades – this involves in the region of 600 steps. Do not try to push the wheelchair up the road which follows the arcades – it is extremely steep and the surface is rough. The taxi will cost around €5 from the bottom of the hill – it is worth it – and you’ll notice that it will probably take the hill in bottom gear – that’s how steep it is..
Once at the top, there are disabled parking spaces at the left hand side of the entry of the facade of the church. To get into the church, cross in front of the facade to the righthand side, pass under an archway and follow the path round to a door. Through that door is a lift which will take you up to the floor of the church and enable access out to part of the balcony looking over the countryside.
The good news is that if you continue along the road past the church you will come to Vito’s Restaurant – disabled access, a disabled toilet and very good food at a respectable price. It’s the only restaurant in the vicinity of the church and it’s recommended - indeed the priests who had been celebrating mass during our visit to the Santuario were lunching there and we later discovered that it was run by relatives of the family we were staying with. Very helpful and friendly staff – they’ll also arrange for a taxi back to the city.
CHIESA DEL CORPUS DOMINI
via Tagliapietre 19
One step up into this small and slightly out of the way church noted for its beautiful portal and Carracci frescos.
LA PINACOTECA NAZIONALE
Via delle Belle Arti 56
Details at www.pinacotecabologna.it
The main gallery in the city with a wonderful collection of paintings from the C13th onwards
There is ramped access from the street to the entrance foyer and then a lift serves the basement and upper floor, the latter being the permanent gallery area with temporary
It is split into two sections by the period of the paintings and as a result of staffing restrictions it can happen that only one area is open at any one time with the openings being swopped over in the course of the day.
The earlier section has some short flights of stairs but there are stair lifts which are operated by the staff and there is also a lift to a mezzanine area in the later section.
Staff may choose to direct you to the WCs which are in the medieval section and only accessed by stairs. However, if you go down to the basement using the lift in the foyer you will find a disabled WC plus far more copious (and attractive) facilities for everyone else.
Via IV Novembre, 5 - 40123 Bologna
An unusual choice, not disabled accessible and not open to the general public as it is the offices of the splendidly entitled “Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e per il paesaggio di Bologna, Modena, Parma, Piacenza e Reggio Emilia”.
Built between the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, the entrance hall (at first floor level) is decorated with beautiful ceiling frescoes, and the reception room contains some valuable works of art by Tiarini, Reni, and Tibaldi. The palazzo also contains an unusual oval shaped room which was decorated in the Pompeiian style.
Access involves two flights of stairs but once on first floor, everything is on the flat and I was fine to use my wheelchair
To make an appointment, the numbers are tel. 051-237795 fax 051-264248. The lady who showed us around spoke excellent English but to my chagrin I have forgotten her name.
MUSEI DI PALAZZO POGGI
via Zamboni 31-33
Site in English at http://www.museopalazzopoggi.unibo.it/
We went there for the maritime discovery and map exhibition which was on during our visit and can therefore only cover a limited amount of the building.
Access from via Zamboni is up three steps. However, if you use the side entrance off via Trombetti Belmeloro it is all on the flat but considerably longer. Passing up the side of the building with it on your left, the entrance is about 75m along the façade and leads into a corridor. Follow that corridor and make a left turn which brings you to the main entrance off via Zamboni. It is easy to get lost in this building but there are plenty to people about to help with directions.
There is a lift to the first floor – the best approach is to get one of the staff from the ticket desk on the first floor to help as the lift is secured against unauthorised use. However, once on the first floor, in cases where there are steps, there are stair lifts which are attended. Also a disabled WC.
CHIESA DI SAN DOMENICO
piazza San Domenico
Approaching the church from the front, there is a route which will take you into an adjoining building to its right. Follow along the corridor and turn right at the end into the cloister – a particularly lovely area in itself. Go around the cloister and the entry to the church itself is up a ramp in a corner about three quarters of the way round. The church is almost fully accessible inside. There is also a disabled WC in the cloister (not tested)
piazza Galvani, 1 via dell’ Archiginnasio
So far as we know, the only reasonable disabled access is to the courtyard with its remarkable display of coats of arms around the cloister. The famous anatomical theatre is on the first floor up two long flights of stairs – with spectacular ceiling frescos.
CHIESA DI SANTO STEFANO
via Santo Stefano 24
A fascinating complex of seven churches and one of the must see sights of Bologna – unfortunately the levels between the various churches make internal movement between them very difficult indeed.
LA TORRE DEGLI ASINELLI
498 steps - need I say more?
Bologna is a great place to
visit and doesn’t offer too many challenges to the wheelchair user. All the
principal sights are in a fairly limited area and there are all sorts of
interesting things to see as you are moving between them. It’s also a good base
for exploring such places as Ravenna and if you are prepared to use trains,
there is no need to take on all the hassle of a car. May is a good time to go –
the temperature was in the low 30s which was fine with the pusher.
Don't miss Mark & Margaret Edward's other journeys to these destinations:
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