16. Santuario Madonna di San Luca, Bologna, Italy

Pew with a view

When I was planning this trip, I spent a long time carefully studying exactly where I wanted to go, how long I wanted to go for, and how much I thought it would cost me. My itinerary was as impressive in its detail as it was in the nature of its content.

But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my travels so far – besides not putting a bottle of liquid detergent next to your passport in your rucksack – it’s that, with regards to where to go and what to see, impulse decisions are normally a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong, a general sense of direction and a modicum of common sense are fairly important, but there is definite value in looking at a map of the nearby area that you’re currently in, seeing what shouts at you, and saying “let’s go there and see if it’s any good”.

That’s exactly what I did during my stay in Bologna, and boy did it work.

The city itself I found pretty, but relatively uninspiring, but drive up the right (very long) hill, and you reach the Santuario Madonna di San Luca, or, in English, one of the most impressive churches you’re ever likely to see.

When I say impressive, I don’t mean millions of tons of stone, thrown together to create a vast cathedral. What it is, however, is unique. It’s orange exterior provides a beauty from the outside, whilst the deceptively large interior is beautifully presented, with the tourists and worshippers both gathering their thoughts in respectful quietness.

The focal point of the interior is the icon of the Madonna of San Luca. This is why the religious – of which there seem to be quite a few in Italy – make the journey to the top of the hill, some of them by walking it under the famous portico, with its 15 chapels and 666 arches, which was built in the 1700s to protect the Madonna during her annual descent. The portrait sits proudly at one end of the church, accompanied by a constant throng of Christians of all shapes and sizes, praying, reflecting, or simply admiring the beauty of what lays before them.

As if a uniquely beautiful building with an unusual pathway and a world famous religious symbol isn’t enough, the Santuario has one more, breathtaking ace up its sleeve. If you’re willing to give a handful of Euros to a cheerful young lady at the front of the church, you can climb the steps to the top, where you will be greeted by a panoramic view of mile upon mile of Italian countryside. The view is, to crudely shoehorn a pun in this blog because I haven’t done so in too long, biblically beautiful, and a fitting reward for those who braved the everlasting ascent under the portico (I didn’t, because I’m lazy and didn’t really know what I was doing).

So if somewhere looks interesting on a map, go check it out, because you might just get rewarded with a spectacular view. Sadly, I can’t share this view with my adoring fans because Italian internet still hates me, but trust me, it was pretty damn awesome.

Sorry for swearing.

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