Bologna

   Modern Bologna shows abundant signs of its Etruscan origins, its Roman past, and its wealth in the Middle Ages. Its longlasting sense of civic engagement has been used to explain the remarkable “workability” and efficiency of this provincial and regional capital. Papal for three centuries, part of Napoleon’s Cisalpine Republic (1796–1814), followed by a period under Austrian rule, it is known chiefly for its university, the oldest in the Western world, having been founded in 1088. It is also known for its small-scale industry, its political energy, and its delicious cuisine. From 1945 onward, this city of nearly 400,000 has been mostly governed by the left. Until 2000, both its mayor and a city council plurality were drawn from the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI). Innovative governance has made it a showcase city. For example, a housing plan, begun in 1970, expropriated (with compensation) and rebuilt war-damaged properties of the inner city. Preference in rentals was given to pensioners, students, and tenant cooperatives. Thus, while retaining a mix of citizens in the heart of the city, Bologna’s center escaped being gentrified or converted to warehouses. The imagination brought by the local PCI to metropolitan problems is further illustrated by the system of quartieri or neighborhoods. Each of these decentralized units has a meeting hall, a health center, and a records section. Identity cards, citizenship papers, wedding certificates and licenses, birth and death certificates, tax status, and residency records can all be procured from one’s quartiere; in some, by computer. Eighteen were created in the original 1960 legislation; they have since been consolidated into nine of these minicity halls. Each serves as a meeting place where residents meet to discuss measures under consideration by the city council. Thus, before any initiative is taken, all affected neighborhoods will have had an opportunity to judge its impact. Closing redundant schools or modifying traffic patterns is thoroughly debated before action is taken. But all is not bliss in Bologna, the “fat and the learned,” as it is called. Its political energies have sometimes been violent. During the German occupation, the Gothic Line that ran just south of the city was often at the center of partisan warfare. After protracted battles at several of the portals between partisans and the German garrison, the city was liberated on 25 April 1945, by the Polish Expeditionary Forces attached to the British Eighth Army. The local Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale/National Liberation Committee (CLN) had already established a de facto city administration.
   The 1960s and 1970s were the years of maximum student activism, in Bologna as elsewhere. On 11 March 1977, a meeting held in the university’s Anatomy Hall by a group of militant Catholics calling themselves Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation) was set upon by student Maoists. Clashes between these groups raged in the university area and surrounding streets. Finally, the Carabinieri were called in by the rector. One student, a known militant of Lotta Continua, was killed. The ensuing rioting brought tanks and armored personnel carriers into the university district. Student activists saw the PCI as part of the bourgeois establishment and condemned it as unfit to represent any hope of revolutionary change. Such views nourished the Brigate Rosse/Red Brigades (BR) and also produced a terrible response from the political right. On 2 August 1980, hundreds were injured and 85 people were killed when a bomb, thought to be planted by fascist terrorists, exploded in the secondclass waiting room of Bologna’s railroad station.
   See also Resistance; Strategia della Tensione.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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