The Quadrilatero: Bologna Italy’s Oldest Market and Premier Foodie Destination
Italy is filled with enough history, amazing architecture, and dreamy landscapes to last a thousand visits. But if you’re looking for a more authentic view of everyday life in Italy (with stunning and well-preserved medieval architecture and an endless selection of typical Italian food to boot) then you should really head to Bologna.
To really find the beating heart of this culinary city, stroll the Quadrilatero, Bologna Italy’s oldest market. It’s here where you’ll taste some of the best street food in Italy, find local shopkeepers, tradespeople, fish mongers, bakers, and other food and retail vendors working at selling everything from fresh fish and produce to local meats, cheeses, regional wines, homemade tortellini pasta, fresh Italian breads, and other goods.
If you’re looking for foodie things to do in Bologna, no trip would be complete without time spent in the Quadrilatero. A walk down the narrow streets of this medieval city lined with shops, vendors, and places to eat is like stepping back in time.
Located in the historic city center of Bologna adjacent to the Piazza Maggiore, the historic heart of Bologna is a mecca for foodies and historic architecture buffs. If this is your first visit to Bologna, don’t skip this part of the old city.
The Quadrilatero Bologna
Although the name might seem a bit cumbersome, the Quadrilatero should be one of the very first places you visit in the city. It’s not hard to find, and the experience will stay with you forever. On every trip to Bologna, it’s the first place we head to relax and find something tempting to eat. It gets us into the local vibe and the feel of Bologna.
This Bologna market is several streets wide and actually contains several indoor markets within its boundaries like the Mercato di Mezzo, an indoor market, pizzeria, beer pub, pasta bar, and restaurant.
Except for the modern window displays of clothing shops and the colorful awnings of the osterias and trattorias, there are parts of the narrow lanes that look much the same as they did when DaVinci walked these cobblestone streets. We love exploring areas like this where slow travel rewards us with fascination and great local food.
The beautiful and well preserved city of Bologna is fortunate to have escaped centuries of devastating earthquakes that have occurred not so far away. And so it is with the Bologna Quadrilatero. The buildings remain largely intact and well preserved. It’s that special place in the city you’ve been searching for.
Nervous about getting off the beaten path at Italy’s local restaurants?
Be sure and read our Essential Guide to Italian Food Phrases for ordering food in Italian!
History of the Quadrilatero
The name ‘Quadrilatero’ is derived from the word for a defensive system or fortress, Quadrilateral. This area of Bologna had its strongest development during the Middle Ages and hasn’t really changed much over time.
Located here were the major craft and merchant guilds of painters, goldsmiths, barbers, fish mongers, furriers, butchers, and meat processors. These guilds lined a small enclave known as the Mercato di Mezzo (The Middle Market) which became the city’s first covered market.
Today this area is expanded and just a two minute walk from the Piazza Maggiore on Via Clavature. Here you can eat the food and wine delicacies of Bologna. And if your Italian isn’t really bad, vendors and shop owners are happy to chat especially about their products.
The Quadrilatero today has butchers, excellent delis, fish and produce stands, bakeries, jewelers, and high end apparel stores.
This is also the place where locals and visitors alike socialize at the enotecas (wine bars) and small eateries with Aperitivo starting around 6pm in the evening. We love this social tradition and the Bolognese love to chat and socialize. Aperitivo time is a great way to taste Bologna’s and Emilia Romagna’s iconic foods like mortadella, prosciutto, parmigiano reggiano, and of course tortellini in brodo. For lovers of Italian food this is foodie heaven.
Food Shopping in Bologna
On a corner of Via Pescherie Vecchie in the Quadrilatero is one of the best gourmet delis in Bologna, Ceccarelli Amedeo Srl. They will make you a sandwich on freshly baked bread with whatever ingredients you want. We suggest you buy some bread — a little of this and a little of that — or a sandwich to take-out.
Or pick up some cured meats and cheeses at the well-known Salumeria Simoni in the heart of the Quadrilatero. The food here is some of the best in the city.
Osteria del Sole, The Oldest Pub in Bologna
Once you have your food goodies in hand, head up the short narrow side street and look for the sign for Osteria del Sole just a block or two away from Salumeria Simoni on Vicolo Ranocchi. Here your imagination of Bologna’s history can run wild.
The Osteria del Sole is one of the oldest pubs in the world having been in operation continually since 1465. You read that right… 1465!
Here’s the etiquette: you can bring the food you just bought at the deli into the pub and grab a seat at one of the communal tables. There’s a small bar to purchase beer and wine and pay as you go. It’s helpful to learn a few basic Italian food phrases before any trip to Italy, but especially so if you want to hang out at a real locals place like this.
Hang out as long as you like and enjoy your food and conversation. You won’t be rushed or get dirty looks. Leonardo DaVinci probably won’t show up, but this is truly one of the most fun and best social experiences you can have in Bologna!
If only the walls could talk.
IF YOU GO
People watching and making new friends over a glass, or two, of wine while enjoying the wonderful foods of this culinary city in the Quadrilatero is one of the best things to do when visiting Bologna. Definitely tour the marvelous and historic sites of the city. Stop for a coffee and a pastry and chat with vendors. Many of them are fluent and others will speak at least some English. But be sure to plan an afternoon, aperitivo, dinner, or all three in the Quadrilatero to cap off your stay in Bologna.
Check out the Bologna Tourism website for lots of great information to help plan your visit. Better yet, stop in their office on the north side of the Piazza Maggiore and meet them in person!