A Walk along Bologna’s Navile

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.

Bologna canal port
Bologna’s canal port

The Navile is fed from water diverted from the Reno River at Casalecchio into the Reno canal, which today runs under the city.

reno canal casalecchio
The Reno canal runs next to the Reno River near Casalecchio

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.

Villa Angeletti Bologna entrance
The entrance to Parco Via Angeletti

The canal emerges from underground at this point and runs parallel to pathway on the left.

Navile in Parco Villa Angeletti bolgns
The Navile in Parco Villa Angeletti

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.

Sostegno del Battiferro lock Bologna canal
The Sostegno del Battiferro – a lock along the Navile canal.

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.

navile low water level
The Sostegno del Battiferro with a low 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.

Bologna Navile
Downstream of the lock

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.

museo dustriale bologna
The Industrial Heritage Museum is located next to the canal.

An interesting exhibit is a half sized working model of a silk mill which was driven by water.

Museo trimonio Industriale Bologna
A model of a water silk mill from 1599 in the museum
Bolonga silk product
An example of silk production from the museum

Shortly after, there’s a descent down a short flight of stairs to the tow path of the canal.

navile steps 2
The stairs down to the tow path

The walk here between the two parts of the canal is very pleasant , although it can be a bit muddy after rain.

bologna navile canal walk
Horses walking along the tow path pulled the canal boats along

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.

Bologna navile
Early 20th century lock equipment

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.

navile lock 2
Another lock and a section of formed gravel road

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.

La bionda bridge Bologna navile canal
The Bionda bridge was restored in 2004
la bionda bridge bologna navile
Looking back across the bridge towards Bologna. The tow path lies between the two branches of the canal.

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.

cammino sant'antonio bologna navile

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.

Happy walking!

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