For centuries, a number of canals traversed Bologna. Nowadays most have been covered over and within the line of the old walls (see The Walls of Bologna), only a few sections are visible from Via Piella, Via Capo di Luca and Via Malcontenti. Most of the canals were used to power mills used for various industries but especially cloth.
The Canale Navile, or navigable canal, was constructed to allow transportation of goods to Ferrara and Venice as well as provide water for irrigation. Work is thought to have started on an early version of this canal in the 12th century. However it reached more or less its final form around 1547 with an extension to a port within the walls.
The port was located near the location today of MAMbo – the Bologna Museum of Modern Art.
The Navile is fed from water diverted from the Reno River at Casalecchio into the Reno canal, which today runs under the city.
There is a pleasant walk along the banks of the Navile starting a short way from the centre of the city. The easiest way to get to the start of this walk is to cross the bridge across the railway lines at the top of Via Indipendenza, to the right of the railway station. Once across the bridge, turn to the left on Via dei Caracci past the back of the railway station.
After about one kilometre, you’ll arrive at the entrance to Parco Via Angeletti on your right.
The canal emerges from underground at this point and runs parallel to pathway on the left.
After around one kilometer, you’ll arrive at Via Yuri Gagarin which you’ll need to cross to continue along the canal. Not far from here you’ll come across a major canal lock, called the Sostegno del Battiferro. Here also there was a hydro-electric plant established in 1911.
The canal was only navigable for around 7 months of the year due to variations in the amount of water flowing through the system. As an illustration of this, the photo above was taken in May 2014 whilst the one below was taken in June 2018. There is a significant difference in water level.
At this point, the canal splits into two parts with the navigable part on the left passing through the lock. This was a way of controlling the amount of water flowing in the Navile especially after heavy rain.
A little further on the left is the interesting Museo del Patrimonio Industriale or Industrial Heritage Museum. It traces the history of Bologna’s long and varied industrial past. The museum is in a former brickworks and terracotta factory.
An interesting exhibit is a half sized working model of a silk mill which was driven by water.
Shortly after, there’s a descent down a short flight of stairs to the tow path of the canal.
The walk here between the two parts of the canal is very pleasant , although it can be a bit muddy after rain.
Despite competition from railways, the Navile continued in operation until 1934 and old machinery from early on the 20th century can be seen along the canal.
Just past the railway bridge which passes over the canal is the pleasant little Trattoria da Sandro al Navile. If you timed your walk right you could have lunch here.
About 2 kilometres further on and after passing underneath the ring road, you’ll arrive at the beautiful little Bionda bridge, “Il Pånt dla Biånnda” in Bolognese dialect. Built in the late 1600s, it allowed horses pulling boats to pass from one side of the canal to the other where the two branches of the canal come back together. It was restored in 2004.
I haven’t been past this point yet, but you can continue for over 30 kilometres.
The Cammino di Sant’Antonio follows the canal from the small town of Castel Maggiore to Bologna. This is a long distance walk from Padova to the sanctuary of La Verna in the Appennines.
It would be possible to continue along the Navile path to Castel Maggiore and then catch a train back to Bologna, or vice versa, following the Cammino di Sant’Antonio. The Cammino di Sant’Antonio site has a map showing the short walk from the Navile to the Castel Maggiore railway station. This is the Ferrara – Bologna line and there are regular trains throughout the day. The walk is around 10km from the Bologna Centrale railway station area.
The waters of the Navile return to the Reno River from where they originated near Malabergo, about 35km from Bologna.