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Piazzetta Betlemme: a piece of Hollywood in the Bologna’s countryside

by /// May 13, 2024
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

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24 h

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About 30 minutes by car from Bologna there is a town beloved by the locals and famous above all for its Historical Carnival. We are talking about San Giovanni in Persiceto, a town in the heart of the Bolognese countryside that has preserved all the charm of a country village.

Houses with green courtyards, façades in soft, soothing colours, cosy shops and bars: the whole town has a calm and relaxing atmosphere. San Giovanni in Persiceto is the ideal place for a trip outside Bologna, to discover the Bolognese countryside and perhaps take a break in one of the local restaurants.

But there is more: there is a corner of San Giovanni in Persiceto that perhaps not everyone knows about and that is linked to Hollywood! We are talking about Piazzetta Betlemme, also known as Piazzetta degli Inganni (Little square of Deceptions), and now we will tell you why it has such a strange name.

Don’t expect a large square, because the name itself indicates that it is a small, intimate square. On its walls, there are the drawings of Gino Pellegrini, a famous Italian set designer who emigrated to the United States at a young age and ended up painting sets for Hollywood greats such as Hitchcock and Kubrick.

Hanging shoes and clothes, fake windows, oversized vegetables and farm animals drawn in a fanciful way, to evoke the rural life of the area: these are the protagonists of the Piazzetta’s street art walls.

  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)
  • Piazzetta Betlemme, San Giovanni in Persiceto (Bologna)


This is Piazzetta Betlemme.
If you are coming to San Giovanni in Persiceto by car, we suggest you park near Porta Garibaldi; from there, it is a three-minute walk to the Piazzetta.

How did the ‘Piazzetta degli Inganni’ come about?

The history of Piazzetta Betlemme as a cultural venue began in 1980 when it was chosen to host a summer film festival dedicated to comic cinema.

Two years later, in 1982, it was decided, with the agreement of the owners, to repaint and decorate the walls of the houses facing the square, which were looking old and untidy.
Gino Pellegrini, who had just returned from Hollywood, was called in. He painted a world somewhere between rural and western, in homage to the cinema.

In the summers of 1982 and 1983, the comedy film festival was transformed into something more: on a small stage placed under the screen, illusionists, musicians, singers and entertainers performed; in the stalls, populated by small tables, it was possible to eat and drink.

In 1990 the small square was redecorated with a trompe l’oeil of painted scaffolding supporting real doors and windows with ropes, poles and pegs. All this in a rural setting of rustic walls and cultivated fields in the Po Valley.

In 1996 Pellegrini created a new game of deception, enriching the drawings with oversized vegetables and fantastic animals: giant cabbages and cauliflowers, winged donkeys, three-metre geese, and cartoonish frogs, which we can still admire today when we stroll around the Piazzetta.

Who is Gino Pellegrini?

Gino Pellegrini was born in Lugo di Vicenza in 1941. In 1957, at the age of 16, he moved to California, where he obtained a master’s degree in fine arts from the Art Center School in Los Angeles.

After starting out as an advertising poster painter, Pellegrini entered the American film and television industry, where he began his career as a set designer, passing through the various stages of set design: sketch artist, set painter, assistant set designer, set designer.

He has worked on many successful films, including Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, musicals such as West Side Story, Hello Dolly and Mary Poppins, famous films such as Mutiny on the Bounty, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Planet of the Apes, and even Disney animated films such as The Sword in the Stone.

In 1972, Gino Pellegrini returned to Italy and settled in Bologna, where he continued to work in set design, cinematography and documentary filmmaking.

In 1982, he created the first version of the ‘Piazzetta degli Inganni’ as the setting for a comedy film festival. Around 1990 his artistic production turned towards naturalistic ideas and themes, one of the most representative examples of which is the second tromp l’oeil project in Piazzetta Betlemme.

Gino Pellegrini died on 20 December 2014 in San Giovanni in Persiceto.

What to see around San Giovanni in Persiceto

A San Giovanni in Persiceto è presente anche Il Museo del Cielo e della Terra, museo della scienza e dell’ambiente volto a raccontare i rapporti che esistono tra cielo e terra, stelle e animali, sole e piante, senza dimenticare l’uomo e l’uso che fa delle risorse e della tecnologia.
Fanno parte del Museo del Cielo e della Terra:

Non distante da San Giovanni in Persiceto c’è anche l’area di riequilibrio ecologico La Bora, una zona umida boschiva dove è possibile fare attività di birdwatching nei quattro punti di osservazione. Diverse specie di avifauna utilizzano infatti l’area protetta per riprodursi, riposare durante i passi migratori e alimentarsi. Inoltre qui è possibile osservare da vicino farfalle, cavallette, mantidi religiose e libellule, ma anche rane, tritoni e testuggini palustri, che qui trovano un’area favorevole per la riproduzione.

San Giovanni in Persiceto is also home to the Museo del Cielo e della Terra, a scientific and environmental museum that aims to illustrate the relationship between the sky and the earth, the stars and animals, the sun and plants, without forgetting man and his use of resources and technology.
They are part of the Sky and Earth Museum:

  • THE ASTRONOMIC PLANETARY, one of the most important in Italy;
  • THE BOTANICAL GARDEN, dedicated to Ulisse Aldrovandi, with more than 300 botanical essences;
  • THE INSECT LAB, a real “living museum”;
  • THE PHYSICS EXPERIENCE LABORATORY, housed in the evocative cloister of San Francesco, to illustrate the history of physics and to experiment with its didactics.

Not far from San Giovanni in Persiceto there is La Bora ecological restoration area, a wooded wetland where birdwatching is possible in the four observation points. Various species of birds use the protected area to breed, rest during their migrations and feed. Butterflies, grasshoppers, praying mantises and dragonflies can also be seen at close quarters, as well as frogs, newts and tortoises, which find a favourable breeding environment here.


Elisa Mazzini

Social Media Manager for @inEmiliaRomagna and full-time mom.

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