The Bolognese simply say “Palâz” to indicate the Palazzo d'Accursio, the old seat of the Comune which today houses Bologna’s town hall.
It is made up of a group of buildings that have been connected over the centuries. However, it started as the residence of Accursio da Bagnolo, jurist and master of rights at the University of Bologna. In 1336 it became there residence of the Anziani, the highest court of the Comune and therefore the city government seat. The clock tower was added in the fifteenth century.
In one part of the façade is the “Madonna of the Piazza with Child”, made in 1400 by Nicolò dell’Arca, completely out of terracotta. A marble plaque on the Palazzo Comunale states that Bologna’s ancient units of measurement were on public display so that everyone could control them: the most important was the “Bologna foot” which measured approximately 38 centimetres. The plaque was decorated with two clay eagles: according to legend, one of them was made by the young Michelangelo during his stay in Bologna. However these are only copies. The originals were destroyed during a riot.
Inside the palazzo are kept memorabilia and artefacts pertaining to the city’s history, as well as the Morandi Museum. The painter’s family donated his works to the museum.
Both the Sala del Consiglio Comunale on the first floor and the Galleria Vidoniana are filled with frescoes and contain important collections of paintings, furniture, and furnishings; the collection comes from donations to the Comune made in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Farnese room is on the second floor; it is named after the cardinal who commissioned it and is also called the “control room” perhaps because Emperor Charles V was crowned in a chapel nearby.
Decorations here depict important city events from the medieval period through the 17th century. One of the frescoes portrays an unusual ceremony. The kings of France (who later became the sovereigns of England and Hungary) held ceremonies in the court claimed to have healing power. It was thought that the laying on of hands could cure maladies ranging from a stiff neck to a certain strain of tuberculosis that was very common in the medieval period. The highest ecclesiastical figures and nobility attended these events.
The fresco portrays the king of France, Francesco I, in a visit to Bologna in 1515 during which he touched a subject’s scrofula (lesions caused by tuberculosis of the neck). In reality, these supposed powers of the King of England and France were an invention by court chroniclers who wanted to obtain the kings favour by writing that these healing powers came directly from god. At the beginning, this theory was not received favourably by the ecclesiastical authorities. However, once the absolute power of the Emperors was asserted, even the Church began to approve of the ceremonies which were also attended by high prelates.
The Sala dei Cavalleggeri, on the other hand, was used by the soldiers who were responsible for escorting the pope’s ambassadors.
At the corner of the Piazza Nettuno, inside the Palazzo Comunale is found the Biblioteca Sala Borsa. It stands on Roman era ruins - perhaps the Forum - which can be seen through a glass floor.
Sadly, the building is famous for the dramatic events of 21 November, 1920 when the freshly elected mayor was presiding over the inaugural session of his new term. The piazza was filled with celebrating citizens, when shots suddenly rang out. The crowd was caught between the two lines of fire: on the one side were the fascists firing at the Palazzo d'Accursio and on the other, the carabinieri returning fire. 10 people were killed and 58 injured.