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San Michele in Bosco: a long history that runs through Bologna


The San Michele in Bosco complex traces the very ancient history of Bologna. Built on pre-existing buildings from the 4th century A.D., today it is one of the most impressive monastic complexes in Bologna. 

The structure stands on a balcony that offers stunning views of the city of Bologna and the surrounding hills. The monastery overlooks an evocative landscape surrounded by greenery, making it a must-see destination for those who come to visit Bologna.

the view from san michele in bosco

The history of San Michele in Bosco

The first reliable sources on the monastery are from the 11th century A.D. There is news of a bull of Pope Paschal II, in which the privileges of the monastery were renewed, which was first called San Michele in Bosco.

Beginning in 1364 the monastery was settled by Olivetan monks at the behest of  Pope Urban V. It was rebuilt by the monks on pre-existing medieval structures. The church was completed as early as 1447. 

During the 1400s San Michele in Bosco was the site of military occupations, looting and fighting because of its strategic position, which led the monks to abandon the monastery.

The Olivetan monks returned to the monastery in 1514 and began the reconstruction of the complex. From that time on, it was a succession of works that led to the rebuilding of the church, with the construction of the Carracci cloister and a makeover of the church by Biagio Rossetti . The renovation of the church provided a suitable opportunity to commission numerous works of painting.

At the end of the 1700s with the Napoleonic decree religious corporations were suppressed, so the monastery was confiscated. The Olivetan monks had to abandon the monastery, which was used as a military barracks and in 1804 as a place of punishment. In 1824 the prisoners were transferred and the monastery abandoned to itself.

In May 1878 Professor Francesco Rizzoli left the province of Bologna a substantial sum of money for the construction of an orthopedic institute on the premises of the monastery. Opened in 1896, it soon became one of the best orthopedic hospitals in the world in terms of size, equipment, organization, research and teaching.

The church of San Michele in Bosco

The church is a unique example of Renaissance work with Romanesque and Gothic reminiscences.

On the exterior of the monastery, you can admire the Renaissance facade created by the famous architect Biagio Rossetti and the marble portal by Baldassarre Peruzzi. 

The church has a single nave and five chapels: four side chapels and one for the high altar. The nave ends with a chancel enclosed by transepts. The church is divided inside into two floors, the lower one for the faithful and the upper one for the monks.

Inside there are numerous paintings by a group of painters representing Raphael’s style of the time, such as Innocenzo da Imola, Bartolomeo Ramenghi, Biagio Pupini and Girolamo Marchesi.

the Church of San Michele in Bosco

The octagonal cloister next to the church has a splendid courtyard with a portico on each side adorned with Doric columns of boulder. The building has a shape quite unique for a convent, as it is generally square or rectangular. The cloister is also called  “of Carracci” because of the paintings executed by Ludovico Carracci and his students. Many of the frescoes have been lost today. 

If you are fond of artworks, you can go to the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, which has a collection of nearly a thousand paintings made by churches and convents between the late 18th and early 19th centuries A.D. To learn more, go read our article Museums in Bologna: a must-see heritage

The Central Library

From the church it is possible to access and visit the central library, dedicated to King Umberto I of Savoy, the same king who inaugurated the Rizzoli Orthopedic Institutes in 1896. Inside the library you can find one of the rarest and most complete existing library collections in the orthopedic field. In addition, you can find the majestic world map brought to completion in 1762 by Father Rossini da Lendinara using the cartographic descriptions of experienced travelers. 

The Library Rizzoli.

Do you want to know the history of one of the most famous Libraries in Bologna? Hurry up and read our article The Salaborsa Library and its incredible uses over the time

A view toward the Two Towers from San Michele in Bosco 

Coming to visit the Monastery of San Michele in Bosco, you cannot miss the most amazing view of the Asinelli Tower. 

On the second floor of the monastery, walking through the church to the presbytery opens a 162.26 meter-long corridor, among the longest architectural compartments in Bologna, known as the Cannocchiale.  This corridor, built in 1438 to connect the monks’ cells, ends with a gigantic window that points to the Asinelli Tower located 1407 meters away. The north window of the corridor is exactly in line with the top of the Asinelli Tower. Moving along the corridor there is a perceptual illusion: moving away from the window the tower looks bigger, conversely moving closer the tower looks smaller. 

A view toward the Two Towers from San Michele in Bosco 

The telescope effect is one of Bologna’s most fascinating mysteries and one of the most beloved and photographed sights for tourists. 

To reach the large window you can access it from the monumental part of the Rizzoli Hospital. 

Do you know the legend about the Asinelli Tower? To find out read our article Myths and Curiosities of the Two Towers of Bologna: Garisenda and Asinelli

The two towers also hide one of the seven secrets of the city of Bologna. Curious to know them? Run and read our article A Journey Through the Seven Secrets of Bologna

The park of San Michele in Bosco

The park of San Michele in Bosco

San Michele in Bosco stands on a hill surrounded by greenery. The park is the third historical park in the city of Bologna after the Montagnola Park and the Margherita Gardens

It was built in the late 1800s when the monastery became a hospital for use by citizens and relatives of visiting patients. 

Stendhal, who found himself walking here back in 1817, wrote about it: 

I come from San Michele in Bosco. It is a convent situated in a picturesque position, like all those in Italy; the vast building crowns the most graceful of the wood-covered hills to which Bologna is leaning; it is like a promontory shaded by large trees advancing into the plain.

Around the 1950s the park was subjected to forestation, and this obscured the view of Bologna, no longer allowing the telescope effect. Restoration in 2007-2010 rebalanced the physiognomy of the park, recovering the beautiful view of the city. 

Inside the park you can take a beautiful walk through the hairpin bends leading up to the Sanctuary, surrounded by cedars, black pines and centuries-old oaks. 

The park is accessible from the square of San Michele in Bosco downwards, or at the beginning of Codivilla Street, from the entrance to the Remo Scoto garden. The park is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

San Michele in Bosco: a terrace above Bologna

What makes a visit to San Michele in Bosco unique is the magnificent view that monastery offers from its terrace, “second only to that observable from the Asinelli Tower,” according to people living in Bologna. 

From the square in front of the church, you can enjoy an incredible view of the city of Bologna. It is the most famous terrace in the city as it offers a complete and impressive view of Bologna. All the most beautiful buildings in Bologna can be seen from above. 

In addition, the glimpse  allows you to see the entire plain surrounding Bologna up to the Alpine chain. 

By going there at the hour of the setting of the sun, one can enjoy a beautiful sunset over the city of Bologna. As the first lights of night come on, the view is even more impressive, seeing the city illuminated in the dark.

What are the Masses times at the Church of San Michele in Bosco?

The Church of San Michele in Bosco is open daily to the public at 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. 

Masses are held Monday through Friday at 6:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.; Sundays at 10 a.m., 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. During Masses, visitor admissions may be limited. 

The Library is open to the public on the following days: Monday from 10 a.m. to  4 p.m.; Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Friday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

How to get to the monastery of San Michele in Bosco

The monastery of San Michele in Bosco can be reached on foot and through the use of a bus or car. 

If you prefer to go on foot, you have to reach Porta San Mamolo, push out of the walls and walk along Via San Mamolo, then take Via Alessandro Codivilla. On Via Codivilla 33 you can find the entrance to the park of San Michele in Bosco. From here you have access to a long winding road dedicated to the memory of orthopedic physician Oscar Scaglietti. This small road allows you to cross the entire park and admire the flourishing vegetation, finally reaching the monastery. The monastery is about 1.2 km from Porta San Mamolo, and the walk will take about 20 minutes.

San Michele in Bosco view

For those who choose to reach the complex by car, it is also necessary in this case to drive along Via San Mamolo and turn onto Via Codivilla, drive along it to the end and turn right onto Piazzale Giuseppe Bacchelli and then right again onto the San Benedetto hill. From here you go up the hill of San Michele and have access to a short scenic route that ends in front of the entrance to the church of San Michele in Bosco. From Porta San Mamolo, the route is 1.4 km.

At last, you can reach the monastery by bus. The line that leaves from the center of Bologna and stops at San Michele in Bosco is the 30. You can catch the bus at Via Ugo Bassi and be at your destination in about 20 minutes.


-Lorenzi E., Il monastero di San Michele in Bosco e L’Istituto ortopedico Rizzoli, Edizioni Pendragon, Bologna, 2006

-Naldi M., (a cura di), San Michele aveva un bosco: vedute e visioni sul colle di San MIchele in Bosco dal 500 ad oggi, Bentivoglio, l’Artiere, 2010.

-Raule A., San Michele in Bosco, Bologna, Bologna, Nanni Editore, 1963.

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