Rare Breed Spotlight: Royal Companions

The pure-white Bolognese, once highly sought by 14th century Italian aristocrats, continues to charm with its resounding loyalty and happy disposition.


The group of modern-day dog breeds known as the Bichon family is believed to have had its beginnings on the ancient Mediterranean island of Malta. The island, initially known as Melitaie, was settled by sea-faring Phoenicians around 1500 B.C., and turned into a bustling hub of trade. Diminutive native dogs, forerunners of the Maltese, were dubbed canes Melitenses and quickly captured attention and admirers. Even Aristotle (384 to 322 B.C.) penned their praises. The Phoenicians, renowned as travelers and traders, carried the appealing dogs on their trips and sold them at their countless ports of call. That could explain why the Bichon Frise, Coton de Tulear, Havanese, Maltese and Bolognese all appear to have shared a common ancestor in their earliest days.

When the Romans conquered the Mediterranean area, they, too, were beguiled by Malta’s petite dogs and transported many back to the Italian peninsula. A fortunate few landed in the cosmopolitan city of Bologna in the Po Valley of Northern Italy, home to the world’s oldest university, the University of Bologna, founded 1088. The small dogs could hardly have found a more suitable and welcoming locale. Although a settlement since the 4th century B.C., the city of Bologna had developed into a wealthy cultural center by the 11th century when the snowy white dogs first arrived. Bologna was a city of churches, theaters, art, scholars, architecture and incredible cuisine.

Royal beginnings
The imported dogs were quickly adopted into the lifestyles of the rich and famous, and their popularity peaked from the 14th to 16th centuries. The Bichon Bolognese pattered through the courts of the Medici, Gonzaga and Este, delighting nobility with their endearing antics.



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