VIBRANT, independent and home to one of Europe’s oldest universities, Bologna is a dynamic counterpoint to more popular, touristy cities like Rome and Florence. About 50 miles north of Florence, the city is as famous for its cuisine as it is for its fiery left-leaning politics. Market stalls brimming with asparagus and fava beans, specialty shops selling cured meats, and osterias serving fresh pasta with the city’s signature ragù (known as Bolognese in the rest of the world) offer compelling reasons to linger. And then there are architectural masterpieces like the church of Santo Stefano and the iconic Due Torri (Two Towers). Grittier than in most of its northern counterparts, Bologna’s politics — the last mayor, Flavio Delbono, resigned when it was alleged that he was using public money on his mistress, and now residents are waiting to see if the new mayor, Virginio Merola, will make good on his promise to spruce up the city center — somehow only adds to the excitement of a visit here.