With 132 meters in length and 60 meters wide, the Basilica of San Petronio is the sixth largest church in Europe, despite being largely unfinished. Although is not the cathedral of Bologna, a title that belongs to the nearby Cathedral of San Pietro, it can be considered the main church of the city.
In the 14th century, the Bolognese aristocracy revived the cult of San Petronio, bishop of Bologna during the 5th century, and planned to build a church dedicated to him. The church was founded on 7th of June 1390, when the first stone was laid in a solemn procession.
The project was given to the architect Antonio di Vicenzo, who made a design with the advice of Father Andrea Manfredi. At the beginning of the 15th century, di Vicenzo died, and the Papal Legate Baldassarre Cossa, an enemy of the Municipality of Bologna, took advantage of the architect’s death to sell the construction material that was used for the building of the church.
In 1507, the architect Arduino Arriguzzi was comissioned to continue the church. Arriguzzi was sent to Florence to see and study the dome built by Brunelleschi for the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. On 30 April 1514, the architect received the task of completing the southern part of the building, starting the new phase focused on the construction of a grandiose dome. The project will never be completed.
In 1656, the current apse was built, closing the aisles, without continuing the work of the transects, which are still unfinished. In 1659, the window for the staircase of the high altar was added. In 1663, the ciborium above the high altar was finished.
The basilica, built by the Municipality of Bologna, was transferred to the diocese only in 1929 and consecrated in 1954. Since 2000, it preserves the relics of the patron saint, Saint Petronius, kept until then in the Basilica of Santo Stefano.
The unfinished facade of San Petronio measures 60 meters in width and 51 meters in height, and is divided into two horizontal sectors. The lower one, in marble, was executed between the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 16th century, while the upper one, with exposed brick material, remained unfinished.
The central portal, partially incomplete, is the work of the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia. The two side portals were designed between 1524 and 1530 by Ercole Seccadenari.
HOW TO GET THERE
Basilica of San Petronio is located in Piazza Maggiore, the central square of Bologna. The closest bus station is Piazza Maggiore, on the bus lines 29, A, C and T2. If you explore the historical center of Bologna on foot, and you want to find the church easily, use the map below.