The monumental complex of San Martino Maggiore is one of the main tourist destinations of art for history and beauty in the city of Bologna. It is situated between Via Marsala , Via delle Moline, Via Oberdan and via Mentone, in the ancient heart of the city. The origins of this church are lost in time , at the beginning of Christianity, when a temple dedicated to Mars was converted to the new cult. In 1293 the parish of San Martino (the saint of Tours) was entrusted to the Carmelites, who, according to tradition, brought from Palestine where the Mount Carmel, their place of origin, is the image of the Madonna di San Luca. Since then and to this day this Order was to take care of the church and convent.
Many great artists in the centuries have adorned the Church of San Martino, making it a veritable art gallery. Among the many works present we cite a statue (Madonna with Child) by Jacopo della Quercia, a fresco by Paolo Uccello (1437 ), a statue of St. Mary Magdalene by Giacomo Piò, a portrait of St. Jerome by Ludovico Carracci, a table altar by Francesco Francia, a colorful wooden sculpture by Guercino, the baroque chapel of the Madonna del Carmine by Alfonso Torreggiani.
Within the complex of San Martino is a remarkable Cloister, adjacent to the left aisle of the church, dating back to 1217, although it has seen many renovations over the centuries. Erected on a square pattern, the Cloister is constituted by two superimposed orders. The lower order consists of 24 cylindrical columns with Corinthian capitals. The Cloister project is due to the brothers architects Borso and Stephen Jelmi and Thomas from Imola. The upper Cloister was finished in 1510 on behalf of the convent by the Brensa from Como. It consists of 35 stone columns. The cells of the religious faced the Cloister with their own small windows. The walls of the porch on the ground floor are adorned with sepulchral inscriptions, some with ornaments and decorations in terracotta. There are two frescoed lunettes of the sixteenth century depicting the Madonna and Child and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The gate of the staircase of the Cloister contain a seventeenth-century a wrought iron work depicting St. Martin on horseback.
The atmosphere and the effects of light and shadow created by these structures of classical beauty give to the Cloister a comfortable feeling of harmony, peace and serenity.
Parallel to the loggia above the eastern Cloister is the Theatre, which is the former library of the convent. Its construction began in 1625 and ended in 1629 by the architect Giovan Battista Falcetti. The ceiling was restored and renovated in 1697 with figures in perspective by Gian Antonio Burrini. The architectural squarings were made by James Anthony Nannini. However, the current neoclassical style coffered ceiling decorated with stucco is of the end of the 1800th.
The back wall contains a large fresco (M 13×8 ) dated 1629 by Lucio Massari. Massari was a scholar of Bartolomeo Passarotti and Ludovico Carracci. His works are now exhibited in the Louvre, the Uffizi, as well as in the museums of Rome, Boston, Prague. The fresco depicts the dispute of St. Cyril of Alexandria and is composed of more than 60 subjects.
During the ninetieth century the former library became part of the theater Contavalli. Reacquired by the parish became a cinema, a theater and home of university lectures.