The Longest Arcade in the World? The Portico di San Luca in Bologna

View from the Sanctuary of San Luca, Bologna
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There was a solitary jogger, but otherwise silence. The arches of the Portico di San Luca stretched into the distance. We had the place all to ourselves.

Roofed Arcade of the Portico di San Luca

The roofed arcade of the Portico di San Luca starts in the centre of Bologna, at the Porta Saragozza. At the beginning shops nestle behind the arches, and the arcade is busy with people going about their everyday business. But as the arcade starts to climb the hill the shops peter out, and there is no-one to be seen.

Portico di San Luca, Bologna
At the beginning of the Portico di San Luca the arches are filled with shops and shoppers

One of the longest arcades in the world, 3.5 km and 666 arches long, the Portico di San Luca winds its way up the hillside to the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca. It was built between 1674 and 1793 to provide shelter for worshippers making the long trip up the hill to the sanctuary.

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The arcade was a testament to the city’s wealth, each arch sponsored by a local family. At the time of building, each arch contained plaques and artworks provided by the sponsor. Peering into the arches, we saw the remnants of this munificence: fifteen tiny chapels, as well as icons, frescoes and decorated ceilings.

Portico di San Luca, Bologna
Pinnable image of the arches of the Portico di San Luca

Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

View from the Sanctuary of San Luca, Bologna
As you walk up the hill you are rewarded with views of the surrounding countryside

At the top of the hill we were rewarded with views of the surrounding hills and the Sanctuary itself, a fine building with a classical interior, built in 1723.

Sanctuary of San Luca, Bologna
Interior of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca

There has been an icon of the Madonna on this site since the 12th century, although its history is uncertain. But what is sure is that there is a long tradition of carrying the icon up the hill, a tradition that persists to this day, with a replica of the icon being brought down to the Cathedral of San Pietro after Easter, and returned on Ascension Day.

As we walked back down the hill I thought about returning for the icon-carrying procession. It must surely be a magnificent sight, although perhaps not quite as peaceful as our visit!



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4 thoughts on “The Longest Arcade in the World? The Portico di San Luca in Bologna”

  1. This is one of my favorite places in Bologna. Truly memorable place! I went there with me friend when she visited us in march and it was simply spectacular. The weather was marvelous and there was no one but us. Peaceful path under these amazing arcades. Thank you for sharing!

  2. My wife and I have completed 3 travelogues on Venice and so we have decided to write one about Bologna. Next to Venice, this is our favourite city in Italy. There are many places in Bologna that we love to visit but the walk to San Luca is one of the greatest of its kind in the world. Why? So many reasons, too many to list here as you are aware but one sticks out as we climb or descend; it is the mindful loneliness and sense of the people who created this wonder all those years ago. Could they ever have realised the fascination of many many generations to come that this beautiful structure was to have on us. Did they realise also as they directed the changing sunlight with their design, how our moods would change as a result; changing the pattern and mood of this unique arcaded Portico every few hundred yards?
    I feel very sorry for those people who cannot walk all the way to the top and we are very thankful too that, after over 35 years of visiting bologna, we can still climb it.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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