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Bologna's secret canals to resurface

Mayor announces plan to unconver long-lost canal network

05 January, 16:23
Bologna's secret canals to resurface (ANSA) - Bologna, January 5 - A long-lost network of canals buried beneath Bologna's streets for decades are set to resurface, the mayor of the central university city announced on Tuesday. Mayor Flavio Delbono said a preliminary project would focus on a 50-metre stretch in the historic centre but the initiative could eventually extend throughout Bologna. ''This is a major plan to regenerate an important part of our city's historic centre,'' he said. ''I hope the reopening of the canal can be considered in a calm fashion, in order to create a comfortable and attractive place in this striking stretch of Bologna''. The first waterway to get a workover would be the Reno Canal. A tiny section of this is still above ground but most of it has long been buried.

A parking lot and part of the road would be torn up between Via Riva Reno and Via Galliera, revealing not only the water underneath but also the remains of an Ancient Roman bridge. The two banks of the canal would be connected by a footbridge, while cars would have the use of one side of the waterway. While Bologna is unlikely to ever rival Venice, said Delbono, more waterways will be uncovered if this first stage goes well, and Bologna could eventually join the ranks of Europe's major rediscovered ''canal cities'', such as Strasbourg, Bruges and Birmingham. He said the waterways would not only make the historic centre more pleasant for Bolognesi, they would also boost tourism and could even be used for commercial activities. According to the mayor, the proposal has been raised on various occasions by different neighbourhood committees over the years and enjoys wide popular support. No start date has yet been fixed but, once under way, the first stage of the project should take around 18 months.

''We are open to all ideas and proposals from everyone: the public, sector associations and various institutions,'' said Delbono. ''We want to revitalize this important part of the city but we will study the plan carefully, to ensure there is not a drop in parking availability''. Bologna's canal system, which developed between the 12th and 16th centuries, played a crucial role in powering its industries and promoting trade. Water was diverted from the River Reno en route to the Po and brought into the heart of the city.

Today, there are five main canals still running beneath Bologna's streets. The largest of these, the Navile, once boasted its own port and was constructed to link Bologna with the Po for trade and travel purposes. The Reno and the Savena were created to transport water around the city to other waterways, while the Cavaticcio and Moline canals were designed to power Bologna's watermills.

These mills were not only used to grind wheat but also played a critical role in silk production, for which Bologna was once famous across Europe. The waterways, which spanned the entire city, were gradually filled in or paved over from the 1950s onwards, as part of the city's postwar regeneration efforts. photo: the Reno river

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