Hidden Heroines of Bologna: Meet the Women Who Made History

Not only Sfogline.
A great part of the history of Bologna was written by women, too.
​All around the city, you can find some hints to recall a parallel, feminine, story of the city.
Take a walk with us to meet them.

1. Laura Bassi

Anatomical Theatre of Archiginnasio
Once upon a time, in the oldest University in Europe, there was the first lady professor in history... Sounds like the beginning of a wonderful story, and actually, it is.

Laura Bassi was the first woman who was officially nominated professor in a University, in 1732.
Professor of what? you may ask.
Maybe literature, poetry, or music? Not at all.
Natural philosophy, that means physics.

She also set up a laboratory in her house, and she was one of the first to follow Isaac Newton’s theories in Italy.

Once inside Archiginnasio, one of the best libraries of Bologna, enter Teatro Anatomico, on the first floor. There Laura took her first anatomy class in 1732.
​She was 21 years old, and she faced a class full of men, in a hall full of portraits of male doctors.
​And this was only the beginning of a brilliant career.

Where to meet her
Teatro Anatomico, Archiginnasio Library
Piazza Galvani, 1, 40124 Bologna BO

2. Irma Bandiera

Irma Bandiera poster portrait by Cheap
With the Nazi troops set on the hills, Bologna had a really tough time during world war II.
Partisans were tireless, and women played a crucial part in their actions.
Mostly, they carried weapons and documents between shelters, knowing a lot of information and being especially exposed.

The young Irma Bandiera was one of them.
She was blinded and tortured but she didn’t reveal anything. In a letter to her parents, she wrote:

“I died to allow others to be free and madly love life, as I used to do.”

Want to know something more about women’s role in WWII?
Take a walk in Villa Spada Park, one of the best park in Bologna. Close to the pleasing English-style garden, there’s a walk dedicated to those heroines. It ends in a small open-air theatre, to keep the memory alive with acting and talking.

​You can also walk through Via Turati and meet Irma's face painted on the wall of Bombicci Elementary School.

Where to meet her
Villa Spada
Via di Casaglia, 3, 40135 Bologna

Scuole Elementari Luigi Bombicci
Via Filippo Turati, 84, 40134 Bologna BO

3. Ginevra Sforza

San Giacomo Maggiore Church in Bologna
San Giacomo Maggiore church looks dark and solemn.
But in a corner, at the end of the aisle, an interesting painting is hidden. It’s a family portrait of Bentivoglio's family, which ruled Bologna for almost 100 years during the 15th century.

See the praying woman on the left? The one who looks blond and devout?
She’s Ginevra Sforza, wife of lord Giovanni, and apparently the one in charge of hard decisions.

She helped their daughter Francesca to kill her unfaithful husband. Then she encouraged her son Ermes - the angelic kid in the portrait - in a cold-blooded slaughter that could have inspired the scripts of Game of Thrones.

Her husband Giovanni knew nothing about her actions: he was too merciful and could have ruined her plans.

​Only once in her life, Ginevra could not achieve her goal. It was when her friend Gentile, who helped to heal one of her 16 sons, was accused of sorcery and killed on a stake in Via Porta Nova.

Where to meet her
Basilica di San Giacomo Maggiore
Piazza Gioacchino Rossini, 40126 Bologna BO

4. Teresa Majani

Majani Chocolate poster by Marcello Dudovich
“Il laboratorio delle cose dolci” (“The laboratory of sweet things”) is the name of the first workshop on solid chocolate.

Teresa Majani started it in 1796, on the side of San Petronio church.
Before her, you could only drink hot chocolate. Teresa’s idea was incredibly successful, as we can imagine.

Majani family soon bought a building in Via de Carbonesi to start a factory, and that is still where you can go to buy their chocolate nowadays.

See the 3 coats of arms on the factory’s logo? They’re remembering the 3 royal houses they supplied. They got ahead a lot from the first Teresa’s sweet laboratory!

Where to meet her
Majani Cioccolato Boutique
Via de' Carbonesi, 5, 40123 Bologna B

5. Elisabetta Sirani

Certosa Monumental Cemetery
The history of women artists is still all to be written. In Bologna there were a few.
The most famous of them is Elisabetta Sirani.

That’s surprising if we think that she lived only 27 years.
Nobody knows exactly how she died, but poison seems to be the most accurate explanation.
Who caused her death?
Still a mystery.

Probably a jealous friend with an even more friendly fianceé, or her father, also a painter, who realized that she was having greater success than himself.

​If you’re walking in the Certosa cemetery, step inside San Girolamo Church. At your left, in the internal facade, you’ll see Elisabetta’s widest painting: Jesus' baptism.
On a rock at the bottom, there’s an uncommonly big signature: she painted it to stop the rumors about her father doing her artwork, instead of her.

Where to meet her
Cimitero monumentale della Certosa
Via della Certosa, 18 Bologna

[Photo credits: MUDU, Cheap, klausbergheimer​]

Related post

Home page icons22

Tasty newsletter

Stay in touch with monthly news and get my PDF guide with the best restaurants in Bologna and beyond