This article in Ansa brought me back today to quite possibly my favorite place in Italy, Bologna. True, every other major country in the country has more sights (Rome), more art (Florence), more flash (Milan) more natural beauty (Naples) or more industry (Genova). But alongside Torino, Bologna just has that je ne sais quoi, that spirit that does not rely on its staid past to invigorate its present-day population. Although it could really sell its school--the oldest in the world--as a tourist attraction, the city's life really revolves around its students, which turns this city, like any college town, vibrant and lively, brimming with the possibilities only the youth has the naivete to find apparent. During the day, there are kids everywhere, reading in the main squares, debating, and rushing to and from classes. Heck, even performing at the Piazza Maggiore. At night, Strada Maggiore is filled with revelers occupying dance clubs, bars, jazz clubs, and late-night South Asian fast food. The people walk with a swagger, the traffic moves with an inexplicable urgency, and life just seems to offer a more exciting tomorrow than the one you had yesterday--If given the option, I would move to Bologna in a heartbeat.
The towers referred to by the article. Torre Asinelli, the taller of the two, is also accessible. However, I would not recommend the climb to the risk-aversed acrophobes, as the stairs are tiny and slopes towards the middle; there are no barriers but a measly wooden hand rail between the climber and a very long fall; and the tower's lean makes for a very disorienting experience. I do agree with the findings regarding the traffic around the towers. Not only is it a very busy intersection, the cars also get extremely close to the towers.
Even though San Gimignano's towers are better preserved, Bologna must have been a crazy sight during the Middle Ages, with up to 180 towers being built. Towers up to 100 meters crowded the centro with sunlight almost completely blocked. When intermittent wars flare up, flaming arrows rain from above. If you were from some backwards town somewhere in the countryside, the view must have been incredibly terrifying.
A few blocks west of the towers down Via Francesco Rizzoli is the Piazza Maggiore. The center of life in Bologna, rarely have I seen this place empty, with dance parties breaking out once in a while.
One of the best things to do is to grab a seat in one of the cafes in the piazza or on the steps leading to the basilica and watch as the setting sun turn everything into gold and people start their nightly passeggiata.