Cannabis has a long, fascinating history. Lit History is a weekly series that tells follow that history by sharing some of the long-forgotten stories of weed’s contribution to medicine, science, and culture. Today, Schwilly examines the artistic representation of Bologna’s hemp history.
Cannabis is so ingrained in Italy’s history that it is literally inscribed into one of its most famous walls.
Bologna is the capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region in northern Italy and one of Italy’s oldest hemp-growing regions. Civic records indicate that hemp was one of Bologna’s primary agricultural crops beginning in the 15th century.
The historic Via dell’Indipendenza sits in the shadow of Casa Stagni, formerly known as the Torre degli Scappi, one of 20 ancient towers left standing from the Middle Ages. The tower’s original structure was built by the Scappi family in the year 1220 and had additional buildings added to the base during the 15th century. These additional structures included an incredible arched portico.
It is in this arched portico that Bologna’s hemp history is detailed. The arched ceiling design is dominated by cannabis leaves that are painted in stunning detail. The cannabis-leaf border intertwines with wheat and grape plants to complete the fresco’s botanical motif.
The Latin words “Panis Vita,” “Canabis Protectio” and “Vinum Laetitia” are written on the ceiling, which roughly translates to, “Bread is life, hemp is protection, wine is joy.”
The cannabis-themed fresco was added during an 1892 reconstruction of the tower by the Italian artist Augusto Sezanne. Potentially working from a faded pattern from the ancient architects, the cannabis-centric design is an homage to when the building was used as a textile and storage area for the weaving of the area’s vast hemp supply.
Colorful murals tucked within the roof’s arches further illustrate Bologna’s hemp history. A Bolognese farm is recreated in fresco as a cow plows through a hemp field in preparation for seed. Another fresco shows a seated woman weaving hemp on a loom as an elegant spinning wheel sits at her ready.
Small paintings found in between the columns also signal the building’s ancient hemp history. The small scenes come complete with Italian prose.
A wheel spins a hemp thread, with an inscription that reads, “mi muove il piè gentil,” or “the gentle foot moves me.”
Where cannabis leaves meet the wheat, a hemp spool turns with threaded hemp. The prose, somewhat facetiously, relays the age-old groan of hard work, reading “io ruofo e tu sospiri,” or “I turn, you sigh.”
Today, the historic building is home to restaurants and businesses, including the general store La Coroncina, established in 1694.
When dining at one of the restaurants, such as the Canton De Fiori, you are literally walking on cannabis history. The words “Canabis Protectio” are artistically tiled into the dining room floor to remind patrons of Bologna’s hemp roots.
Fittingly, the Canton de Fiori is the namesake of the Flower Market that was historically in this area.