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Bologna has a series of nicknames: ‘la Dotta' meaning ‘the learned' derived from the fact its an ancient university city; ‘la Rossa' meaning ‘the red' which refers to its politics rather than to its red-brick buildings; and ‘la Grassa' meaning ‘the fat' which comes from the inhabitants reputation of appreciating good food and wine.

Medieval Bologna is one of the most civilised cities in Europe. It has elegant palaces, arcaded streets, superb cuisine, youthful population, a vibrant art scene and an efficient public transport. The citizens are helpful and charming, and proud of their heritage but not precious. It is a city of piazzas and porticoes.

Bologna has been a centre for learning since the 7th century. In 1088 the city's famous law school was founded. The city is bound by 14th century walls and can be entered through any one of twelve impressive gates. It is a pioneering city being, for example, the first to introduce pedestrian precincts and permit gay couples to apply for communal housing.

A great way to get your bearings is to climb the Torre degli Asinelli, one of the two towers that lean drunkenly at the foot of Via Rizzoli, just to the south of the old Jewish Ghetto, from where it's possible to get an amazing view of the city's red rooftops.

The main square, Piazza Maggiore stands at the heart of the city. One of the grandest palaces with a Renaissance façade is the Palazzo del Podestà, facing which is the looming bulk of San Petronio, one of the largest churches in Christendom, founded in 1390.

There are no casinos is Bologna but there are numerous clubs and bars, and entertainments for all occasions, including live music, opera and theatre.

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