Marco Brucato, Italian pastor and missionary, reflects on the significance of porticos for life.
My hometown of Bologna is known for many of Italy’s traditional symbols: from the gastronomical greatness of tortellini, lasagna and ragù, to the mechanical ingenuity of Ducati and Lamborghini. One of the more classic architectural symbols of the city is the portico. A portico is an open gallery where an arch extends out from a building and covers the walkway. In Bologna the porticos line the sidewalks of the city center for more than 40 kilometers – virtually every street of the historic downtown!
Growing up I remember going for walks even in the pouring rain, and not getting wet. In fact, it was on rainy days that a passegiata (downtown stroll) was most fun in Bologna. Families, youth, and shoppers were crowded under the painted archways, arms locked, walking casually beneath these ancient awnings. One almost felt a sense of jovial solidarity while taking shelter from the rain.
In fact, originally these structures were much more than a simple shelter from inclement weather or relics of Romanesque architectural décor. The porticos served as a meeting ground: a place in the middle, between the private residence and the public via. Each building would own the portico attached and were responsible for its stylistic features, maintenance, and decoration, but the space below, the sidewalk, was public. Families and neighbors would gather in the entrance without having to entertain in their homes, but vendors and strangers could also join in.
Though the culture of Bologna has changed over the centuries, relating to people still happens under these sheltered spaces. Now sidewalk cafés, restaurant seating, and market booths make use of these vaulted verandas for business and leisure. Bolognesi (people from Bologna) are certainly more reserved and agenda driven today. It may still take years of friendship before being invited into someone’s private home. However, the public spaces and cultural meeting areas are still where people relate, share, and make new friends. Whether it’s under the shelter of a portico, in a town square, or the comfort of a living room, we hope and pray to be a contagious gospel witness – sharing our faith with all those whom we meet and love.
More reflections from Pastor Marco Brucato are available here.