The Bagni di Mario: discovering the underground Bologna

You’ve heard of the tunnels under the streets of Paris – with the catacombs, for example. You also know that Rome is quite excavated – with more catacombs. But did you know that Bologna has a few kilometers of galleries under its medieval streets? Some are part of the channeling system of their “Rivers” now buried – Bologna came to win naval battles against the Most Serene Republic of Venice – and others, also with water, were systems of Drinking water pipeline for sources. Of the latter type are the Bagni di Mario:one Structure to collect water and supply Bologna.

The first image of the Bagni di Mario at the beginning of the visit

Okay, we admit that it is not something for a first visit to the city of arcades and towers. Even not for a second one. But, if you have already traveled more times to Bologna or you are passionate about history or architecture, the Visit to the Mario’s Bagni You’re going to love it. Closed for more than half a century, it opened its doors to tourism after an exhaustive restoration in 2017. We feel inside a Forbidden world for the eyes of tourists “Well, in the eyes of anyone who didn’t work there.” As if we had entered the guts of the Canal de Isabel II – our “equivalent” in Madrid – but in some guts almost 500 years old.

Get ready for a surprise underground, almost unknown even to the Bolognese themselves. Enter with us in the Bagni di Mario.

The Bagni di Mario and Ancient Rome

Although the most popular name is Bagni di Mario, it must be said that it is wrong. The Bagni di Mario would be the Mario’s Baths, a kind of thermal area, and that Mario would be the consul Caius Marius who lived from 157 B.C. to 87 B.C. All very Ancient Rome. But no, it feels.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Superior Level Ojo Pez
The truth is that there is no denying that the Bagni di Mario have an air of Ancient Rome.

When was the mistake made? Well, do not think that it is a “new” thing, that the name of Bagni di Mario became popular in the mid-nineteenth century, when it was rediscovered, after having been abandoned in the mid-eighteenth century. In fact, the street on which it is located is still called via Bagni di Mario.

Then What is your real name? Conserva di Valverde, for the area in which it is located: Valverde on the hill of the Osservanza, on the outskirts of Renaissance Bologna.

The Bagni di Mario or Conserva di Valverde: a bit of history

We have already made it clear that the Conserva di Valverde has no Roman origin, but we have also said that it is approaching five centuries old. Let’s put everything in order.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Lower Level
Access to the pipeline to the center of Bologna

It was the year 1563 When the Pope Pius IV he decided to erect a monumental fountain in the center of Bologna. Yes, we are talking about the Nettuno Fountain. The commission came to Tommaso Laureti, which would also have to build another source, the Fonte Vecchia on via Ugo Bassi. The power of the Papal State had to be demonstrated and what better way to do that than by having the sources up and running all the time? All that remained was to carry the water to them.

Did you know…?

The hydraulic part of the Neptune fountain is the work of Tommaso Laureti, although the famous bronze statue from which it takes its name and the water play are by Giambologna. One was an architect, as well as a painter, and the other a sculptor.

The original idea was to take advantage of the Fonte della Remonda and bring the water to the center through a tunnel system. They soon realized that there would be no way to keep the two fountains going with that water alone. The time has come to build a reservoir to collect water from the hills and channel it, together with that of the Fonte della Remonda, to the center through an underground route of about two kilometers.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Staircase Lower Level
Stairs from the lower level

The deposit, the Conserva di Valverde, also designed by Tommaso Laureti, was built between 1563 and 1564. Since served the water to the source of Neptune, to the private residence of Cardinal Legate – the current Sala Borsa – and to the Fonte Vecchia.

What you’re going to find

The Bagni di Mario are totally Underground, Renaissance and are divided into Two levels. In the upper one there is a Octagonal pond – in reference to eternal life, like the baptisteries – to which light reaches through a span in the dome, also octagonal in shape. It was not the only eight of the work, there were also eight tanks to which the water reached through Four tunnels that went into the hill. As we entered the tunnels, it seemed to us to be subtracting centuries from the present date and we expected to meet Laureti himself at the end of one of them.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Tunnel Sara Lejos
Walking through the tunnels of the Conserva di Valverde

Do not think that it is a merely functional structure. The stay, in addition to collecting and purifying water, It was decorated with frets, paintings, niches with shells and corals – in the central one it is believed that there was a statue of Neptune and on the sides two mermaids – rampant lions, shields … Nothing remains of the statues and little is seen of the shields and one of the lions, but only the room already impresses. It was the time of the Italian Renaissance And it didn’t matter if there was no audience.

Rincon Jump with Me

Despite being completely underground, the Conserva di Valverde It had a ventilation system. There is still a chimney in one of the tunnels, but there is one more surprise: that chimney is believed to have been a Well of the Roman era Covered entirely with limestone inlays.

The lower level also has another small cistern, Cisternetta, in the form of Stepped Greek cross. We went down a flight of stairs, but the water came through the central shaft. Here it was re-purified and channeled to the center of Bologna.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Lower Level Cisternetta
The Cisternetta of the lower level

We felt inside a place forbidden to the profane, but completely decorated, as if waiting for a visit. Just as it happened to us with the Pacífico Engine Shed, one of the museums of Metro Madrid, or the Casa de les Aigües de Montcada i Reixac, in Barcelona. Places that, in addition to functional, did not forget the beauty.

Practical information for the visit

If we have already convinced you of Visit the Bagni di Mario, or the Conserva di Valverde, let us tell you everything you need to do it.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Cupula Ojo Pez
Dome with the opening to the street

Let’s start with the address. We have already said that it is in via Bagni di Mario – the erroneous name became strong in the street map of Bologna – specifically at number 10.

The structure is managed by the association It happens only to Bologna, which organizes Free guided tours –with donation at the end–, lasting one hour in Italian. You can see the next visits, to the Bagni di Mario and to other places they manage, in their web.

Curiosities of the Conserva di Valverde

During the visit we also learned of a couple of curiosities about the structure. The first is that it lit up with electric power in the 40s of the twentieth century and which served as unofficial shelter during World War II. You can see the names of some of those who took refuge during the bombings written on the bricks.

Bologna Bagni di Mario Corserva di Valverde Bricks Names
Names of refugees from brick bombing

The second is that it is one of the Film locations Last words by director Jonathan Nossiter, with Nick Nolte.

The depths and history of Bologna await you. Do you dare to go down?

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