The Towers of Bologna

Bologna has long been associated with its towers. There were at one time some 116 towers, not including those associated with churches and the city walls (see previous post The Walls of Bologna )

There’s a model of the city in the Commune Museum showing how it might have looked when the number of towers was at its peak.

Bologna towers model

Medieval painters wishing to identify  the city clearly showed them. The example below depicting San Petronio, the patron of Bologna, is typical of paintings showing the towers.

S pertronio and BO Lippo di Dalmasio
Detail from a painting by Lippo di Dalmasio showing San Petronio and Bologna.

The painting, from the 14th century, shows four towers including the most famous two which are located in the center of the city. The tower with the lean is called the Garisenda after the family that built it around the start of the 12th century.

Garisenda
The Garisenda Tower

When looking up at this tower when there are passing clouds, there’s an illusion that it’s falling. This was observed by Dante who mentioned it in his Divine Comedy as well as in a sonnet written in 1287.

”Qual pare a riguardar la Carisenda
sotto ‘l chinato, quando un nuvol vada
sovr’essa sì ched ella incontro penda”

”As when one sees the tower called Garisenda
from underneath its leaning side, and then a cloud
passes over and it seems to lean the more”

The other of the “twin towers” is the Asinelli Tower which is claimed to be the tallest original medieval tower in Italy at just over 97 metres in height.

Asinelli tower Bologna
The Asinelli Tower

Its origins are probably as a defensive tower and it was built in the late 11th century. It’s the only tower in Bologna open regularly to visitors. There’s an excellent view from the top and the climb is quite popular, especially on weekends.

Asinelli Tower Bologna
Inside the Asinelli Tower

The Prendiparte  Tower located in Piazetta Prendiparte is another tall one at almost 60 metres high.  In the 18th century it was owned by the church who used it first as a seminary and later as a prison. Amongst the detainees was a certain Angelo Rissoli, imprisoned for impregnating two nuns and a Luigi Bernardi incarcerated in 1773 for collecting chestnuts on church land.

prendiparte tower bologna
The Prendiparte tower

It was purchased by a local family in 1972 who currently operate it as a Bed and Breakfast . In 2014,  Lonely Planet voted it the 3rd most extraordinary place to stay in the world.

In Corte dei Galluzzi just off Via d’Azeglio can be found the 13th century Galluzzi tower. It was built by a family of that name who belonged to the Guelph faction or supporters of the Pope. This was a period of conflict across Italy between the Guelphs and supporters of the Emperor, known as the Ghibellines. The tower was probably built for defence from attacks by members of the Ghibelline faction.

Galluzzi tower Bologna
The Galluzzi tower

In a Bolognese version of Romeo and Juliet,  two young lovers Virginia Galluzzi and a member of a local enemy Ghibelline family, Alberto Carbonesi, secretly married in 1258. Alberto was murdered by a member of the Galluzzi family. Virginia either hung herself or was murdered by her family in a simulated suicide and left hanging from the window of a balcony of the family home next to the tower, or so the story goes.

Galluzzi tower Bologna
A view of the Galluzzi tower from inside the Mondadori store

There’s an interesting view of the tower from inside the Mondadori store in Via d’Azeglio. You used to be able to go inside the tower from the store but the last time I visited it was blocked off. 2018 update – the area is now a modern bar.

In the quiet little Vicolo Mandria just off Via Oberdan is the Uguzzoni Tower, recently restored by the bank that has owned it for some years. It’s located in one of the most original medieval corners of the city. The nearby Ghetto area is also pleasantly village-like.

Uguzzoni Tower Bologna
The Uguzzoni Tower

This is an example of the type of tower built as a family home and it dates from between 1190 and 1210. It later passed to the Ludovisi family and it was here in 1554 that Alessandro Ludovisi, the future Pope Gregory the 15th, was born.

Alessandro Ludovisi , Pope Gregory XV painted by Guercini
Alessandro Ludovisi , Pope Gregory XV painted by Guercini

The Carrari Tower, also an example of a family home, was built around the late 12th century. It’s a fine example of the transition in Bologna from wooden houses to those made from brick and stone.

Bologna Carrari Tower
The Carrari Tower

It’s also an example of a tower repurposed as a shop and is largely original except for the false arched windows. The tower and the surrounding area were purchased in the 1920s by the “Societá di Rinnovamento Edilizio” who had the aim of recreating a medieval environment. The red brick building next to the tower, in 2017 occupied by a menswear shop, is an example of their work.

The Alberici tower at 4 Via Santo Stefano is interesting in that the ground floor was turned into commercial space in the year 1273, about 100 years after the tower was built, making it the oldest continually operating shop in Bologna.

Bologna tower alberici oldest shop
The ground floor of the Alberici tower has been a shop for over 740 years making it the oldest in Bologna

It’s known to have been a silk shop in the 14th century and a cheese shop in the 19th century. Recently it has been incorporated in an expanded Papagallo Restaurant.

In this post I’ve looked at just 7 of the remaining 22 towers in Bologna, not counting church bell towers and towers which formed part of one set of The Walls of Bologna.

The towers are a precious part of Bologna’s patrimony and in 2009 the Commune commenced the installation of various instrumentation to monitor parameters such as their movement, incline and temperature.

Asinelli tower Bologna
The Asinelli Tower

Wandering around Bologna you’ll be delighted to turn a corner and find one these medieval structures in front on you.

Much of the information in this post came from the excellent little book in Italian recently published by Andrea Malossini. His site includes a map showing the location of Bologna’s towers.

Bologna Welcome has further information on the towers in English.

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