Perched on Colle della Guardia 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) southwest of Bologna’s historic center, the Santuario della Madonna di San Luca was built to house a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary. Its portico, running from the city’s Porta Saragozza to the hilltop sanctuary, is the longest covered arcade in the world.
There has been a church on this spot since the 12th century, though the current Santuario della Madonna di San Luca dates from the 1700s. San Luca’s roofed arcade, consisting of 666 elegant arches and 15 chapels, was built between 1674 and 1793 to protect the sanctuary’s precious icon during religious processions; today it’s a pretty uphill route climbing the over 900 feet (300 meters) in altitude between the historic center and the church. Once at the church, you can admire a number of important works by artists, including Guido Reni and Guercino, in addition to the famed Madonna and Child icon.
The Santuario della Madonna di San Luca is one of the most important churches in Bologna, and city walking or bike tours often include the trip uphill under its famous covered portico, along with attractions like Piazza Maggiore and the Basilica of San Petronio, the Two Towers, and the churches of Santo Stefano and San Domenico.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Bologna walking and cycling tours require significant time outdoors, so dress for the weather and wear comfortable shoes. Visitors are required to wear modest attire that covers shoulders and knees to enter the sanctuary.
- Photography without flash is allowed inside, though the sanctuary is a pilgrimage site, so taking photographs during Mass or other religious services is discouraged.
- The Portico di San Luca and the entrance to the sanctuary church have a number of steps—they’re not accessible to wheelchair users.
- Though the ascent is gradual, the route along the portico from Bologna’s center to the sanctuary is uphill and should only be undertaken by those in good physical condition.
How to Get There
The Santuario della Madonna di San Luca is located about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) outside the historic center of Bologna. On foot or bike, follow the covered Portico di San Luca from Porta Saragozza to the church; by car, drive up Colle della Guardia, the road that skirts the portico.
When to Get There
The walk from the Bologna’s center to the outlying sanctuary is one of the prettiest in the city, one that’s especially pleasant on clear, mild days. The church closes at midday on weekdays and Saturdays, but stays open all day on Sundays and Catholic holidays.
The Miraculous Madonna
The sanctuary’s 12th-century icon depicting Mother and Child is one of the most precious religious objects in Bologna, said to have saved the city from torrential rain in 1433. Since then, an annual procession, held on the Saturday preceding the fifth Sunday after Easter, celebrates the miraculous Madonna. The icon is taken from the sanctuary and transported under the covered portico first to the Cathedral of San Pietro and then to the Basilica of San Petronio, where it stays for a week before returning to its home up the hill.