Alberto Belli

Alberto Belli

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Underground Bologna: a journey into the four Crypts

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Bologna is a mysterious city full of hidden treasures. Under the surface, there are extraordinary places: come and discover the four crypts of Bologna!

The crypt of San Zama

Under the Abbey of SS. Naborre and Felice, there is the crypt of Saint Zama. Dedicated to the first bishop of Bologna, this crypt is a fundamental place for the first Christian community of Bologna. It is said that, in 270 AC, Zama himself wanted the renovation of a previous church, in order to dedicate it to St. Peter. Currently, the Cathedral dedicated to St. Peter is located in Indipendenza street: discover it in our article The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna: What’s to know?.

The church then took its current name with Zama’s successor, Bishop Faustiniano, who increased the fame of the current basilica.

Initially, people believed that the church was the first cathedral of Bologna, since the first Bolognese bishops were buried there. In fact, it is possible that the building stood above one of the first Christian cemeteries, where the bodies were interred as a cause of the ban on burial within the city walls.

The crypt of Saint Zama as we know it dates back to the 11th century, when it was configured as a place of prayer for the Benedictine monks. The crypt is made up of three apses, three naves and three rows of Corinthian-style columns, probably the result of the reuse of other buildings.

Cripta di San Zama
Source: storie.ivipro

An interesting curiosity concerns the presence of windows. In fact, it is strange to find them in an underground crypt: this peculiarity is probably due to the fact that originally it was not located underground. Later,the Poor Clare nuns occupied the place and built a church above it, transforming the previous structure into a real crypt.

In addition, the Abbey of SS. Naborre e Felice was also the seat of the Military Hospital of Bologna.

The crypt of Saints Vitale and Agricola

The crypt of SS. Vitale and Agricola is located under the homonymous church, in St. San Vitale 50. Read also A Trip to the Ancient Jewish Ghetto of Bologna: the church is just a few minutes of walk away from the Jewish Ghetto and the Two Towers!

According to the tradition, the current church would rise on the remains of the ancient arena of the Roman Bononia, where gladiator shows and executions took place. In fact, the church takes its name from the two Saints Vitale and Agricola, Christian martyrs under the empire of Diocletian.

The crypt was built in the 11th century AC, right on the remains of a previous ancient Roman basilica. Centuries later, during the Napoleonic era, the building was destroyed. Later, the church of SS. Vitale and Agricola was bought by the Countess Cornelia Rossi Martinetti, who transformed it into a literary circle. In the so-called Orto delle Esperidi very famous international artists and writers met, including Foscolo, Monti, Canova, Leopardi and many others. In a short time, this club became one of the most important cultural salons in Europe.

The parish was then rebuilt in 1824 and, six years later, the crypt was rediscovered that we can still admire today.

Cripta dei Santi Vitale e Agricola a Bologna
Source: artemusei

The crypt of Santo Stefano

In Santo Stefano square, in the basement of the church of the Crucifix, we can find the crypt of Santo Stefano.

The crypt was built in the 11th century AC. and it was a place of prayer for the monks. Later, the church was renovated and enlarged, allowing access to the crypt also for the faithful.

The crypt of Santo Stefano is very particular, starting from its structure. Inside it is possible to admire a very unique peculiarity: each of the columns is different from the other, and one even has no capital. In the crypt, next to the altar, you can admire numerous frescoes that make it an important place not only in terms of religion, but also on an artistic level.

The crypt of Santo Stefano has not lost its original function, as it is still a very important place of prayer for the faithful. Moreover, there is the Museum of Saint Stefano, where it is possible to admire numerous artworks, such as statues, bas-reliefs and paintings. Read the article Museums in Bologna: a must-see heritage to discover everything about the museums of the city!

In Santo Stefano square there is also one of the most important churches of Bologna, discover it with us in the article Everything you do not know about the Basilica of Santo Stefano in Bologna.

Did you know that Saint Stefano Square is also called Seven Churches? Discover why in the article Seven Churches: a treasure in the center of Bologna.

The crypt of Saints Bartolomeo and Gaetano

The crypt of Saints Bartolomeo and Gaetano is located below the homonymous church, in St. Maggiore 4.

According to tradition, the church of SS. Bartolomeo and Gaetano dates back to the 5th century and was built for the behest of San Petronio, on the remains of an older early Christian basilica. If you want to deepen the knowledge of Saint Petronio, bishop of Bologna, we advice you read also Everything you need to know about the Church of San Petronio in Bologna.

The church is built in full Baroque style, with richly decorated walls in shades of gold. Its structure underwent various modifications over the centuries following various maintenance and expansion works. 

Not everyone knows that, initially, the church was dedicated to Saint Bartolomeo. Then, in 1627 Saint Gaetano was canonized as well and therefore it was decided to combine the titles of the two apostles.

The crypt of Saints Bartolomeo and Gaetano is located under the presbytery of the church and is of seventeenth-century origin. Its structure is particular, as it has a barrel vault. The walls and ceilings are decorated with frescoes representing the Via Crucis and there is a statue of the Virgin Mary.

We have seen the four most important crypts of Bologna. Don’t waste any more time and run to visit them!

Lastly, if you like these themes, we advice you give a look at The Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi, Sanctuary of Santa Maria del Baraccano and The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca between sacred and legend.

Bibliography

  • Belvederi G., La cripta dei SS. Naborre e Felice in Bologna, Bologna, Studi Locali Adulti, 1911.
  • Bergonzoni F., Memorie antiche e tombe future nella cripta di San Pietro in Bologna, Bologna, Studi Locali Adulti, 1995.
  • Della Longa G., Marchesi A., Valdinoci M., Le cattedrali dell’Emilia Romagna. Storia, arte, liturgia, Rovereto, Nicolodi Editore, 2007.
  • Porta P., Giordano F., Collina L., Brunelli M., Guida della cripta di San Zama. Storia e leggenda, Bologna, Persiani, 2019.

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