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Exploring Bologna's Iconic Portico di San Luca: A Journey Through the History and Architecture of Italy

The Portico di San Luca in Bologna, Italy is a remarkable structure that spans over 3.5 kilometers (2.1 miles) and connects the city center to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca, located on a hill overlooking Bologna. It is the longest portico in the world and a significant symbol of the city.

I have been wanting to walk this path for quite some time. My friend and I planned a perfect day in May when the temperature was cooler than most seasons.

A long patch with yellow and terracotta orange arches that make up the portico. to the left is the view of the city below and lush greenery.
The view of the city below from the Portico

Portico entrance (arch on the right) at Porta Saragozza
Portico entrance (arch on the right) at Porta Saragozza

Porticos - What are they?

Porticos serve both practical and aesthetic purposes: they provide shelter from the sun and rain, create a shaded and pedestrian-friendly environment, and add visual charm to a city. Though porticos have been built in cities all over the world, Bologna perfected this form of architecture long ago. 

We were fortunate to experience the very reason this particular portico was built. It started to rain on our way down (see the video above). It cooled us off nicely, kept us dry from the rain, and provided a nice calming sound to enhance our walk.

Fun Fact:  Urban planning rules, specifically the Municipal Statute of 1288, helped design the porticoes: The statute specified that the minimum measurements of the porticos should be seven Bolognese feet (2.6 meters) in both height and width to allow a horseman wearing a hat to pass under them.

The History of Portico di San Luca

The history of the Portico di San Luca dates back to the late 17th century when construction began in 1674. The portico was designed to provide a covered walkway for pilgrims making their way to the sanctuary, which houses an icon of the Madonna that is believed to have miraculous powers.

A portion of the Portico crosses the street designating the exiting of the city center and the climb up to the hilltop church.

The Portico di San Luca ( the longest in the world) consists of 665 arches and over 15,000 wooden supports. It is a remarkable testament to Italian engineering and architecture. Each arch is numbered with the largest number starting at the top of the hill and the lowest number in the city center (see photo below). It winds its way up the hill through the lush greenery of the Colle della Guardia, offering panoramic views of the city and the surrounding countryside along the way.

One of the numbered arches on the way up

The left side of the photo is the many arches of the portico.  The Chiesa di San Luca is in the center of the photo
Almost to the top. You can see part of the Santurio (church) di San Luca in the center of the photo

The Portico di San Luca has become an iconic symbol of Bologna and is a popular destination for both pilgrims and tourists. I was amazed at how many people were actually running up the portico.

The Annual Procession of the Madonna

This portico is also used for the annual procession of the Madonna di San Luca that takes place on the second Saturday of May, where the icon is carried down the portico from the Santuario di San Luca (see below) and through the city in a grand procession. The tradition began in 1443 when the icon was carried down into the city to end a period of heavy spring rains that threatened the harvest and risked famine. According to legend, the rain stopped and the sun came out that day, inspiring the annual procession.

The Santuario di San Luca with the church entrance in the top center section.
The Santuario di San Luca with the church entrance in the top center section.

The Portico di San Luca is not only a historic and architectural marvel but also a significant cultural and religious landmark in Bologna, deeply ingrained in the city's identity and heritage.

And a great way to burn off a few extra calories from your pasta meal.

TRAVEL TIP: For those who cannot make the hike up and/or down, there is a local bus (looks more like a train) that shuttles people up and down the path along the Portico.


The Way To Italy has been providing fee-based, custom travel planning for travelers to Italy for 23 years. I handcraft once-in-a-lifetime Italy experiences down to the last detail.



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