Bologna is known as La Rossa (The Red One) for its overall red hue, La Grassa (The Fat One) for its wealth of delicious food, and La Dotta (The Learned One) for its university – founded in 1088; but we also found a new name today…The Turreted One. (Although it could also easily be known as The Porta One or The Portici One.)
As for The Turreted One…
There is some debate about the number of towers that could have been spotted in the skyline of Bologna during its long history. Originally the number was thought to be around 200, but this number has recently been reduced to somewhere between 80 and 100 since the first number was based on records that might have been duplicates with differing names representing the same towers. Although one theory that supports 200 says that the count included waves of towers that appeared throughout history (meaning not 200 all at once). 200 towers in Bologna would have certainly been a sight to see, but it’s difficult to imagine them overwhelming the city all at once. Most of the remaining towers were built in the 12th century and the ruins of the third outer city walls were built in the 13th and 14th centuries, meaning all of the towers would likely be built within the first or second city walls (i.e. – they would be crammed together in a tight space). Although, as you’ll see in the photos, that doesn’t necessarily prove the 200 tower theory false. Still, 200 towers would be an amazing sight, but 80 to 100 would still be impressive. Regardless of which number is accurate, there are only about 20 left standing today. Many have been destroyed by fires, lightning, or just natural collapse, but several have also been systematically taken down to make way for modern day progress. Some of the towers have also been hidden within other newer structures. For instance, we saw the Conoscenti Tower much earlier in our Bologna stay since it is now a part of the Museo Civico Medioevale. Here is a photo of the tower from our visit to the museum on September 27, 2015.
Tower #1: Conoscenti Tower
There are other towers that you cannot miss, like Le Due Torri, which stand as the icon symbol of the city, but other towers are hidden in plain sight. This might seem impossible due to the size of some of the towers, but you have to remember this city is covered in roughly 24 miles of porticoes…so looking up isn’t really possible sometimes.
Anyway…on to the tour…
Bologna Welcome offers a pamphlet which “guides” you on a tour of 12 towers within a short walk. I put “guide” in parentheses because the pamphlet is really poorly labeled, but it got us in the general area…most of the time. However, their website is extremely helpful and will be where I get most of the history embedded into each tower’s section. Unless otherwise cited, all the quotes in this blog come from Bologna Welcome.
So, in honor of our final week in Bologna, and in the spirit of our Porta Day and Portico Walk, we decided to take the Tower Tour. It’s still surprising to find beautiful portions of the city that we’ve never seen. The tower tour…
Our first stop is the Torresotto di San Vitale. This archway is extremely close to our apartment, and we pass it nearly everyday. It is not a true tower (torresotto translates to under tower), but rather a fortified gateway of the second wall built around Bologna.
Tower #2: Azzoguidi Tower
Located on Via Altabella. The street name means ‘tall beauty’ and “owes its name to the Azzoguidi tower, the only tower standing perfectly vertical. It is “an example of the typical medieval bolognese towers: square-shaped base, ten rows of plaster parallelepipeds, an ancient pointed arch door on the ground floor and a little opening leading to the nearby flat.”
The tower is currently approximately 200 ft tall. ‘Approximately’ because it was altered in the 1500s and its façade seems to have been designed to counterbalance a taller building.
Tower #3: Prendiparte Tower
The Prendiparte Tower, also known as Coronata Tower (crowned one) because of the crown-shaped façade near the top, stands just shy of 200 ft (~197 ft). The Bologna Welcome website claims that this is the second tallest tower remaining in the city, only behind the Asinelli tower; however, I’m not sure about this because the Azzoguidi Tower (seen above) is taller. I’m wondering if the height listed doesn’t take into consideration the fact that it is leaning. Maybe if this tower were completely vertical (like the Azzoguidi) it would be taller that 197 ft.
This tower was built as a means of defense, but has been used as many things since. In 1751 it was “used it as the Archbishop’s prison for crimes against religion. At the end of the 18th century, when the tower was seized by Napoleon’s troops, the first three floors of the tower were turned into a house. The most recent changes may be traced back to that period, when some big windows were built so to create a better place to live (as seen in the photo below). Now it is used as a guest house for events.”
Tower #4: Guidozagni Tower
This tower stands at a diminutive 65.5 feet. “It is the only surviving tower of the four once owned by the Guidozagni family, a member of a noble family that took part in two Crusades (1094 and 1291).”
In the photo below the Prendiparte Tower is in the background on the left while the Guidozagni Tower is on the right. “This sight really allows you to imagine how the tower-crowded Medieval Bologna must have looked,” and it is one of the images that help support the 200 towers theory discussed above.
Although not specifically considered to be one of the “Towers of Bologna,” the bell tower of Cattedrale Metropolitana di San Pietro is the second tallest tower in the town at almost 230 feet.
San Pietro’s bell tower is, in fact, two towers in one. This first was built in the 10th century and then a second was built around it in the 13th century.
Tower #5: Scappi Tower
Okay, back to “official” towers. The Scappi Tower is almost 128 feet tall.
The base to this tower is not accessible (by us anyway) and is surrounded by la Coroncina, one of Bologna’s oldest shopping centers.
Tower #6: Arengo Tower
This tower stands 154 feet tall in “the Voltone del Palazzo del Podestà and is sustained by four corner pilasters. It was commissioned not by a noble family, but by the Municipality (in 1252) in order for it to house the bells used to assemble the citizens.”
“In 1200, when the tower was built, it was just a little raised part. Later it was transformed into a real tower, after experiencing some renovation works including base consolidation, strengthening, and renovation.”
Under the Palazzo del Podesta is a vault (Voltone del Podesta). “It originally housed the city market and the benches of the notaries; later on, blasphemers were set on the pillory and hangings were performed under its arches.
A few centuries later, the vault acquired a religious significance when it was decorated with the terra cotta statues of the saints protecting the city of Bologna: San Petronio, San Francesco, San Domenico and San Procolo.
There is also an extraordinary acoustical effect (probably due to the curved shape of the vault): you and a friend of yours can stand in opposite corners under the arches, face the corner and speak or even whisper and hear each other loud and clearly.”
One of the whispering corners below the terra cotta statue…
Tower #7: Accursi Tower
The Accursi Tower is also called the Clock Tower (for obvious reasons). “The tower is built into the corner of a huge house (which included a school) owned by Accursio, but the tower wasn’t added to the house until after Accursio’s death. In 1287, the stucture was bought by the growing Municipality of Bologna. On the façade of the building, a huge mechanical clock was added in 1444.
Between the addition of the clock (1444) and 1796 “there was a wooden structure on the tower where mechanically animated figures representing the Magi, a knight, and an angel carrying a trumpet glided to bow in front of the Madonna and Child to strike every hour of the day.”
Again, not an “official” tower, but still impressive. The bell tower of Basilica di San Petronio is a little over 203 feet tall. It was built between 1481 and 1495.
The bell tower contains four bells that are manually operated using the “Bologna Technique.” (There’s quite a bit about this technique on Wikipedia if you’re interested.)
Tower #8: Catalani Tower
This tower-house is nearly 52.5 feet tall and was built in the first half of the 13th century.
“The outer part of the tower is characterized by narrow windows and a door surmounted with a brick arch.”
Tower #9: Galluzzi Tower
This tower is 98.5 feet tall and was built in 1257 by the Galluzzi family.
“The original entrance was on a floor about 33 feet above ground level, And the Galluzzi family used to enter it through a window located halfway up the tower, using mobile wooden bridges that stuck out from their houses.”
Tower #10: Carrari Tower
Though not on the Bologna Welcome Tower Tour pamphlet, it is listed on their website. The tower is 72 feet tall and may have been a tower-house. Immediately to the right of the tower in the photo below is the restaurant 7 Archi, where Brittany and I celebrated her birthday in September.
And around the corner from the tower is another archway…
Tower #11: Alberici Tower
The Alberici Tower stands 88.5 feet tall and has an open-air gallery on top.
It also has one of the oldest shops in Bologna at its base. The contract for the ground floor extension for the shop was done in 1273.
Tower #12: Lambertini Tower
Standing 82 feet tall, this tower shares the Palazzo Re Enzo and Palazzo del Podesta area with its taller brother, the Arengo Tower. The tower-house was commissioned by one of the most important families in the city (the Lambertini family). It was built in the first half of the 12th century and given to the Municipality in 1294.
The Lambertini Tower can be seen with the Arengo Tower (on the left) in the photo below.
Tower #13: Ramponi Tower
This tower is directly across the street from the Lambertini Tower. It also stands 82 feet tall. Brittany and I had a bit of trouble locating this tower because it looks like none of the other towers. In the photo below it is the white tower to the left of the San Pietro Bell Tower. Apparently it was turned into a shop long ago. (On the far right you can also barely see the Azzoguidi Tower.)
Tower #14: Lapi Tower
I’ve got no lie to tell about this one. I actually took the photo below randomly. I had no idea it was a tower. I actually spent quite some time looking for this tower (since the guide book doesn’t really tell you where it is), and only realized that I had taken a photo of it after we got home.
The tower was originally nearly 100 feet tall, but was cut down to 60 feet during the Napoleonic period when it became part of the Municipal building wall.
After realizing this was the tower, I went back and snapped another photo.
The photo below shows the Lapi Tower in relation to the Clock Tower, which is in the background on the right.
Tower #15: Uguzzoni Tower
This 105 foot tall tower was very difficult to see…even though the Bologna Welcome website gives you step-by-step directions “in order to have the most striking view of the tower.”
I couldn’t get too much closer to the base because there was some type of construction going on there.
Tower #16: Oseletti Tower
Honestly, we just stumbled into this tower. I was looking at the building below it because it had some interesting reliefs and…bam…there it was.
Thanks to Virtual Tourist for this since I couldn’t find it on Bologna Welcome. The tower “once rose to a grand height of 230 feet. It has since been reduced to 102 feet and incorporated into the construction of two palaces on Strada Maggiore: Casa Masetti (no. 36) and Palazzo Sanguinetti (no. 34, also the Museum of Music).
Tower #17: Agresti Tower
Located in Piazza Galileo, this tower has had a tumultuous history. Fire destroyed the buildings that surrounded it in 1641. After that, it was partially deconstructed by removing its standard selenite base and it height was reduced to 65.5 feet. It was also covered in Spanish plaster. In 1945, the area was bombed during World War II, but the tower survived.
It currently serves as one of Bologna’s Questure (police stations).
Tower #18: Bertolotti-Clarissimi Tower
This tower is not on the Bologna Welcome website or their pamphlet. It is listed on the Wikipedia page title “Towers of Bologna,” and after a bit of searching I was able to find its Wikipedia page. The page lists it as the Bertolotti Tower, and claims that the plaque listing it as the Clarissimi Tower is a mistake, so I guess leaving it as the Bertolotti-Clarissimi Tower was the best idea.
It is currently 52.5 feet tall, but that’s because its upper half was removed in the later half of the 15th century. The top section was then transformed into a roof terrace.
Tower #19: Ghisilieri Tower
Like the Bertolotti-Clarissimi Tower, this tower was not listed by Bologna Welcome, but was listed in the Towers of Bologna page. On Wikimapia.com, I found out that this tower has been converted into the bell tower of the Church of San Gregorio and Siro.
There’s not much in the way of information about this tower, other than the fact that the Ghisilieri family were the owners.
Tower #20: Toschi Tower
Again, not listed by Bologna Welcome, but Wikipedia states that this tower is 85 feet tall and was probably commissioned by the Toschi family. The tower has been incorporated into the surrounding buildings, so accessing it was impossible (at least for me).
It is adjacent to Piazza Minghetti, which is full of beautiful trees…that made getting a picture difficult.
Towers #21 & #22: Asinelli Tower and Garisenda Tower (Le Due Torri)
And finally, the pièce de résistance…the cream of the crop…the awesomest of the awesomest…Asinelli Tower (the taller one) and Garisenda Tower (the leaning one). Let’s begin with Asinelli.
Torre degli Asinelli was built between 1109 – 19 by the Asinelli family, and in the following century it was acquired by the Municipality of Bologna. It is almost 319 feet high with a lean of 7 feet. Fire has threatened to destroy the tower at least twice – once in 1185 (arson) and once in 1398. The plinth is surrounded by a small ‘stronghold’ built in 1488 to house the guards.
Torre Garisenda “was built around the same period and is much smaller (154 feet) with a steeper lean (10.5 ft).” According to Wikipedia, “initially Garisenda Tower was approximately 197 feet high, but had to be lowered in the 14th century due to a yielding of the ground which left it slanting and dangerous.”
These two towers haven’t always been the “center” of town. They were located at Porta Ravegnana (a door into the first wall around the city) meaning they were once near a gateway into town. (Just for reference, the Torresotto di San Vitale shown earlier in this blog would have been from the second wall and the Portas from our Porta Day would have been the third, and final, wall.)
In 2001, the statue of St. Petronio, sculpted by Gabriele Brunelli in 1670, was placed back under the towers…after having been removed in 1871 for “traffic reasons.”
St. Petronio with Asinelli Tower…
St. Petronio with Garisenda Tower…
And St. Petronio with Le Due Torri…
Another interesting note about the two towers, specifically Garisenda Tower – it was cited several times by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy and the Rime. Some sources claim that Dante attended the University of Bologna, while others claim that he declined the offer to transfer to the university and just visited the city on multiple occasions. However, his presence in the city, in whatever form that actually took, is undeniable. Here are a couple of excerpts from the Divine Comedy and the Rime taken from Wikipedia…
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,
thus did Antaeus seem to my fixed gaze
as I watched him bend…
Divine Comedy, Inferno, XXXI, 136-140
Never can my eyes make amends to me –short
of going blind– for their great fault,
that they gazed at the Garisenda tower
with its fine view, and –confound them!–
missed her, the worthiest of those
who are talked about.
Towers seen from Piazza Maggiore:
(Left to Right) Scappi Tower (the flat, jutting rectangle to the right of the Italian flag), San Pietro’s bell tower (the pointy tower in the back), Arengo Tower (in the center), Asinelli Tower (the thin tower to the right)