Thursday, 16 November 2017
The joys and tears
evoked by travelling
by train in Bologna
Bologna is one of the cleanest, most elegant and most efficient cities I have visited in Italy. The public transport is easy to understand and is cheap, compared with travel in either Ireland or Britain. The train fare from Bologna to Ravenna is only €7.35, still cheaper than the bus fare from Askeaton to Limerick or the train fare from Lichfield to Birmingham.
And on the return journey late yesterday [15 November 2017], there were profuse apologies at regular intervals that the train was running late, first by nine minutes, and then by 12 minutes.
So often, when I have experienced delays like this on public transport in Ireland or England, there is neither an explanation nor an apology.
Part of the reading I have taken with me this week is John Hooper’s new book The Italians (London: Penguin, 2016). He expresses surprise in the way Bologna’s public transport system is 20 years ahead of Rome, but goes on explain how this reflects the innate character of Bologna.
We moved through Bologna Centrale, on the northern edge of the city centre, with efficiency and with courtesy. Yet this is the fifth-busiest station in Italy.
The new, three-level Bologna Centrale station was designed in July 2008 by an architectural consortium of Andrea Maffei, Arata Isozaki, Ove Arup and M + T & Partners. But the first Bologna Centrale station was built in 1859, and a second station was built 12 years later on the same site.
Until the 1940s, it was topped by a clock tower with marble pillars, but the tower was damaged by allied bombings in World War II and not rebuilt.
But the station was destroyed on 2 August 1980 at 10.25 a.m., when an improvised explosive device made with 20 kg of a TNT mixture exploded, killing 85 people and injuring more than 200 others.
At the time, the station was crammed full of people, and the blast was heard for miles. The roof of the waiting room collapsed onto passengers, which greatly increased the total number murdered. The youngest victim, Angela Fresu, was 3; the oldest, Antonio Montanari, was 86.
At first, the Italian Prime Minister, Francesco Cossiga, and his government said the explosion had been caused by the explosion of an old boiler located in the basement of the station. But the Italian government soon accused neo-fascist militant groups for the attack, although no group has ever accepted responsibility.
The attack was probably carried out by a small neo-fascist group, Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (NAR). The Italian press agency Ansa received a telephone call from someone claiming to represent NAR and claiming responsibility. But the call later proved to be fake, and was made from the Florence office of SISMI, the Italian Military Secret Service. Later, Federigo Manucci Benincasa, the director of SISMI in Florence, was charged with the obstruction of justice.
In the days that followed, Piazza Maggiore in the city centre hosted large-scale demonstrations. The funerals took place in the Basilica of San Petronio on 6 August. President Sandro Pertini said in tears: ‘I have no words, we are facing the most criminal enterprise that has ever taken place in Italy.’
The Bologna massacre is the fourth deadliest terrestrial terrorist attack in Western Europe – after the Nice attack in 2016, the Paris attacks in 2015, and the Madrid train bombings in 2004.
The area in the station where the bomb exploded has been rebuilt. But the original floor tile pierced by the explosion has been left in place and a deep crack, closed by a glass panel, has been made in the reconstructed main wall. In a second memorial, the station clock that stopped at 10.25 a.m., has been repaired but permanently set at the time of the explosion.