Torre dell'orologio di sera, Bologna / Clock tower by night, Bologna

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Not just the Two Towers

Updated on 04 May 2022 From Bologna Welcome

Veduta sulle torri, Bologna / View of the Towers, Bologna

Accompanying us in this promenade...

Andrea Malossini, writer and journalist, has been working with Garzanti, Vallardi Editore, Rai 1 and Libri di Emil. A passionate lover of history and popular traditions, he has authored, among others, Manuale di Stregoneria ,I giochi dei bambini italiani, Superstizioni italiane and Le torri di Bologna.

Bologna is well-known for its medieval towers. Tell us more....

The medieval towers, symbol of Bologna, came into being between the 11th and 13th centuries, during the Late Middle Ages when the Empire and the Church were battling for investiture and the Guelphs and Ghibellines were at war, represented in Bologna by Geremei and Lambertazzi families respectively. The first allegedly public towers are considered to have performed a defence and surveillance function. Their construction took place between the 11th and 12th century and was carried out by the imperial administration, represented in Bologna by Matilda of Tuscany a, a supporter of feudal power. 

Following the demise of imperial influence, in the 12th century the towers passed into the hands of the wealthiest families (such as the Asinellis) and many others were built both at the behest of the Ghibelline nobles and the richest Guelphs, most of whom were of common origin. Originally conceived as a means of sighting and defence, the towers  ended up becoming a symbol of power, used for both offence and defence. From the fourteenth century onwards, when the reasons for their construction  gradually fell into oblivion, the towers lost their importance. No more towers were built, with the existing ones being cut down, demolished, incorporated into other buildings or reassigned to other uses. Only 22 survive today, few in number compared to the more than ninety towers that shaped Bologna's skyline during the 12th century.

Which of these Towers shouldn't be missed out? 

The tower overlooks Piazza Maggiore, on the medieval side of Palazzo d'Accursio, from a height of 46 metres (including the lantern). It has been remodelled several times over the centuries and was part of the possessions of the Florentine jurist and glossator Accursio in the early 13th century.
The tower owes its name to the large mechanical clock placed on its summit in 1451, perhaps the most important "addition" to the building, albeit not the only one. A bell, a small dome supported by eight stone pillars covered by a copper cap and, since 1498, wooden automata with the Three Wise Men bowing at the stroke of the hour to the statue of the Madonna and Child were also installed on the top.
In 1773 the old clock was replaced, in 1796 the automata were removed and, between 1885 and 1887, the Municipality had the Renaissance parapet of pillars removed and a brick structure put in place in an attempt to restore the tower to its original medieval appearance.
After admiring its recently renovated interior, visitors can now climb to the top of the tower and enjoy an unprecedented view of Piazza Maggiore.

 Alberici Tower

27 metres high, it was built by the Alberici, a powerful Ghibelline family of Lombard origin to whom Bologna owes many important jurists, including Ugo Alberico di Porta Ravegnana, one of the drafters of the 1158 Diet of Roncaglia, which laid down the "inalienable rights of the crown" in favour of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa.

Since 1273 the building has been the seat of Bologna's oldest trading post, housed within a space obtained by reducing the thickness of the walls (2.34 metres to 1.20 metres thick). Ever since, the tower base has always included a shop, from the famous silk retailers opened in the early 14th century by the Bolognini family, to the more recent cheese shop and the current restaurant. The present-day building is the result of restoration works carried out in 1926, when a masonry portico covering the base was removed. Noteworthy are the distinctive folding wooden shutter, a common feature of medieval shops, as well as the original entrance door, about six metres high, framed with selenite ashlars and crowned by a blind arch.

Photo by Andrea Malossini

We know that Bologna is home to Italy's tallest tower. Which one is it? 

Asinelli Tower

This is the tallest original medieval tower in Italy (97.20 m) and one of the oldest, as it was probably built for defensive purposes by imperial will in the second half of the 11th century, and then took over by the Ghibelline family Asinelli since the beginning of the 12th century. Legend has it that the tower was built on the initiative of a young man who used to transport sand and gravel with his donkeys (in Italian "asinelli")(hence the family name).

Along with its neighbour Garisenda, albeit less leaning (2.25 metres overhanging), it'S the best-known symbol of Bologna. In 1398, a fire destroyed the internal wooden structure and partially melted the selenite walls at the base. To prevent similar mishaps, masonry stairs and a 30 metre high vault were added. Towards the middle of the 15th century, a battlemented fortress was also incorporated into the tower's base, serving as both a prison and a gallows for churchmen sentenced to death.

-> Currently not visitable due to maintenance in the area

Garisenda Tower

This is our own Leaning Tower, whose inclination of 4° (3.22 metres at the top) is a close second to that of Pisa (currently 3.97°). Standing 47.50 metres high today, it was built around 1100 and first owned by the Garisendi, a wealthy family of Ghibelline money changers.

It has been leaning ever since its foundation, as also recalled by Dante Alighieri and poetised about on two occasions: first in his sonnet on the Garisenda, dated 1287, when the poet was only 22 years old, and then in his most celebrated verses of the Divine Comedy (Inferno, XXXI), a canto commemorated in the plaque on the eastern side of the tower, where Dante compares the building to the giant Antaeus.

Originally about 60 metres high, the town council decided to pull it down in 1293 due to its steep inclination, and offered to acquire the property from the Garisendi family. However, after a year, as the municipality was unable to find the necessary funds, the idea of demolishing the tower was abandoned. In 1353 the despot Giovanni Visconti da Oleggio managed to cut it down by 12 metres, yet not to actually dismantle it. 

Photo by Andrea Malossini

Overlooking the homonymous court, this is the last noble tower built in Bologna (1257). Designed to equal the height of the Asinelli (with base walls 3m thick), it was intended to enhance the defence of the powerful Guelph Galluzzi family and the nearby Curia of Sant'Ambrogio (ancient seat of the City Council). Its current 31 metres proved adequate to protect the family from its Ghibelline enemies ,the Carbonesi, but not from the arrow shot by Cupid, who in 1258 sparked the impossible love affair between Virginia Galluzzi and Alberto Carbonesi. It all came to a tragic end, however, with Alberto killed by Virginia's family and the unfortunate girl hanged, "made to commit suicide" on the balcony of the family home, next to the tower. The original six-metre-high door is still visible from outside, with an evident hollow in the threshold, the result of 800 years of trampling. Inner portions of the tower can also be admired from the restaurant below.

Photo by Andrea Malossini

The tower, 59.5 metres high, was commissioned around 1150 by the Prendipartes, feudal lords between Modena and Bologna with high-ranking acquaintances (Emperor Frederick Barbarossa was hosted here in 1185) and such relatives as Pico della Mirandola. The tower was part of an extensive property, between today's Via Rizzoli, Via Fossalta, Caduti di Cefalonia and Via Sant'Alò, where 218 servants would work for the family. In 1530 the tower became property of the Archbishopric, used first as a canteen, then as a seminary and finally as a prison, where people convicted of crimes against the Church were imprisoned. 
The tower is also known as the Coronata (The Crowned), because of the iconic recess set at a height of 50 metres. The interior comprises twelve perfectly preserved floors, including the former prisons (with inscriptions and drawings of the convicts), the intimate dining room and the terrace, from which you can enjoy one of the most spectacular views of Bologna.
Not regularly open to the public, it can be visited during special events and guided tours

Photo by Andrea Malossini

Lambertini Tower

25 metres high, it was commissioned by the Lambertinis between 1120 and 1142 and just a century later incorporated into Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo and the adjoining Palazzo Re Enzo, with its ancient origins as independent rampart thus being almost obscured. Among the most prominent figures hailing from the noble Guelph Lambertini family were Guido Lambertini (who contributed to the capture of King Enzo at Fossalta), and Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, ascended to the papal throne in 1174 with the name of Pope Benedict XIV, the protagonist of the eponymous play written by Alfredo Testoni in 1905.  

After falling into the hands of the City Council in 1294, the tower was first turned into a women's prison in 1327 and subsequently equipped with Bologna's first public mechanical clock in 1356. Between 1903 and 1909, the tower was adapted by Alfonso Rubbiani to the neo-medieval style in vogue at the time (along with Palazzo Re Enzo and Palazzo del Podestà), with the addition of a roof terrace, windows and a balcony.

The restaurant located at the foot of the tower offers some intersting glimpses into the building's interior.

Photo by Andrea Malossini

Where do you suggest we end our promenade on the city's towers? 

This is by far the city's finest and best-preserved tower-house
Designed to be inhabited since its construction (around 1200), it stands 32 metres high. Attributed to the Ghibelline noble family of Uguzzoni, it then fell into the hands of the Ludovisi family and later complemented with the addition of the sumptuous family palace (today known as Palazzo Tubertini), in which Alessandro Ludovisi, later Pope Gregory XV, promoter of the Gregorian calendar currently in use throughout the world, was born in 1554. 
In 1555, the tower was incorporated into the Jewish Ghetto, created by Pope Paul IV to prevent the Jews from coming into contact with the rest of the city.
Today the tower stands in a hidden corner of the most "medieval" area of Bologna. Although the roof-terrace added between the 17th and 18th centuries has pretty much altered the building's old appearance, the characteristic original pointed arch door and terracotta windows are worth the detour. Getting there from the Tubertini and Mandria alleys (on the right coming down via Oberdan), perhaps in the evening, is the most evocative approach. Restoration works were completed in 2017.

Photo by Andrea Malossini

Where are mentioned towers?

Vista su Piazza Maggiore / View of Piazza Maggiore

Read also...

Legends and Myths about the Towers

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