Bologna … the Manhattan Island of the Middle Ages, and arguably the more impressive equivalent to Pisa with its fine array of leaning towers

Poor Bologna. When it thought it had something truly iconic to give it world recognition, a fellow Italian city would steal the idea for themselves, leaving Bologna stuck with the erroneous distinction of being the home of a certain pasta dish; order Bolognese sauce in Bologna and one will be treated to a delectable local dish, but try to order a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese anywhere in the city, and one may be ordered out of the restaurant in a fit of disgust. Spaghetti is a southern Italian pasta, not a northern one, and many locals are often insulted by the idea of a ‘foreign’ ingredient bastardising their prized northern cuisine.

Bologna could have been famous for having the largest cathedral in the world if local architect Arduino degli Arriguzzi had got his way in the sixteenth century. But, Pope Pius IV put a stop to this plan half way through the build, handing Rome (later Vatican) the world record with its basilica dedicated to Saint Peter. Bologna’s unfinished Saint Petronio’s Basilica had to make do with being only the fifteenth largest church to date, with the whimsical boast that it is at least the largest Gothic church in the world made of brick.

Bologna also has a network of medieval canals running through the heart of it and could have been famed for its fine waterways. Yet, when one thinks of an Italian city full of canals, it is certainly not Bologna that comes to mind (not even for the local Bolognese).

During the fourteenth century however, Bologna was famous for its vast array of medieval towers. It is believed there were as many as one hundred and eighty of these tall, thin constructions standing in the heart of the city. Little is known as to why Bologna became the medieval equivalent of Manhattan Island during this time, but some historians believe that it may have been because rich Bolognese families simply wanted to “keep up with the Joneses”; when one tower was built as a means of defence, next door just had build a slightly taller one, then the neighbour down the road was compelled to build one just as tall but with fancier cornicing… etc. etc.

Around twenty of these towers are still standing in Bologna today, some in good enough condition for the brave to climb and admire the view from the top. They are iconic, unique and certainly can’t be missed, particularly Torre Garisenda and the huge 97 metre high Torre degi Asinelli next to it, together known as Le Due Torri (the Two Towers). Both towers lean quite precariously due to the subsidence of time, so-much-so that even health-and-safety-less Italian authorities will not allow tourists to climb Torre Garisenda, tilting over three metres from its centre of gravity.

Bologna therefore, should have had no trouble bagging the accolade of being the city of leaning towers. But, as luck would have it, another Italian city not so far away was evidently much better at marketing such a quirk, even with just the one tower to boast of.

Oh well.

The leaning tower of... Bologna. Torre degli Asinelli - the taller of Le Due Torri - standing nearly one hundred metres high and over one metre from the vertical, in the heart of Bologna's old city

The leaning tower of… Bologna. Torre degli Asinelli – the taller of Le Due Torri – standing nearly one hundred metres high and over one metre from the vertical, in the heart of Bologna’s old city

Torre degli Asinelli and the less stable Torre Garisenda to its left

Torre degli Asinelli and the less stable Torre Garisenda to its left

Illustrating just how far Torre Garisenda is leaning

Illustrating just how far Torre Garisenda is leaning

Only the brave walk alongside the towers

Only the brave walk alongside the towers

Bologna Le Due Torri, Torre Garisenda base with girl walking past

A statue of the city's patron saint, Saint Petronio, placed next to Torre Garisenda in the hope divine intervention will keep the tower from falling over

A statue of the city’s patron saint, Saint Petronio, placed next to Torre Garisenda in the hope divine intervention will keep the tower from falling over

Unlike Torre Garisenda, Torre degli Asinelli is open to the public and can be ascended. Ooo, I do like a challenge

Unlike Torre Garisenda, Torre degli Asinelli is open to the public and can be ascended. Ooo, I do like a challenge

Inside Torre degli Asinelli there is actually little to see, apart from the great drop down if one somehow falls over the side of the banister

Inside Torre degli Asinelli there is actually little to see, apart from the great drop down if one somehow falls over the side of the banister

There are 498 steps leading to the top of Torre degli Asinelli with little space to stop to catch one's breath. The narrow stairway is the only way to ascend and descend the tower, and there is often a lot of traffic either way

There are 498 steps leading to the top of Torre degli Asinelli with little space to stop to catch one’s breath. The narrow stairway is the only way to ascend and descend the tower, and there is often a lot of traffic either way

There is the odd window to look out of along the way, as long as there is no one behind tutting that the stairway is being blocked again by yet another window-gazer

There is the odd window to look out of along the way, as long as there is no one behind tutting that the stairway is being blocked again by yet another window-gazer

This is not actually a window but a hole that previously held a joist in place for floors no longer present inside the tower. It is now a place where superstitious tourists with good aim, throw unwanted change from the stairway

This is not actually a window but a hole that previously held a joist in place for floors no longer present inside the tower. It is now a place where superstitious tourists with good aim, throw unwanted change from the stairway

A glimpse of Via Rizzoli from inside the tower

A glimpse of Via Rizzoli from inside the tower

A glimpse of neighbouring Torre Garisenda's subsidence and a sudden reminder that we're two-thirds of the way up a tower that could fall over at any moment.

A glimpse of neighbouring Torre Garisenda’s subsidence and a sudden reminder that we’re two-thirds of the way up a tower that could fall over at any moment

The fear of collapsing and dying a painful death under several tonnes of medieval brick, soon slipped away (no pun intended) on finally reaching the top of Torre degli Asinelli. The views over the medieval Italian city were absolutely stunning.

The view from the top: looking down Via Rizzoli

The view from the top: looking down Via Rizzoli

The unfinished façade of the Basilica di San Petronio and Piazza Maggiore can clearly be seen from here

The unfinished façade of the Basilica di San Petronio and Piazza Maggiore can clearly be seen from here

...as well as the remaining leaning towers in the city

…as well as the remaining leaning towers in the city

Bologna Le Due Torri, Torre degli Asinelli view from top, San Michele in Bosco

Looking down over Torre Garisenda below, which appears so small from here... and straight!

Looking down over Torre Garisenda below, which appears so small from here… and straight!

Torre degli Asinelli is opened daily from 0900 until 1800, except in the Winter when it closes one hour earlier at 1700, and is not open at all during public and religious holidays. Entrance is €3 (2015). Booking in advance is not required, although the queuing time can be long because of its popularity and how narrow the stairway is. Get there early or an hour before it closes to avoid the crowds.

TLT x


Bologna Hidden Canals, Canale di Reno, view through little window along Via PiellaBologna’s hidden canals, so hidden even the locals don’t seem to know they exist

 

 

 

 

 


Bologna Portico di San Luca, long length, sun shining, bad conditionThe delights and disappointments along the longest portico in the world – Bologna’s Portico di San Luca – and where exactly is arch 666?

 

 

 

 

 


This figure (and what a figure!) is one of four buxom sirens representing the four continents known to sixteenth century Europeans. Water does spout out from her nipples, but thankfully not from anywhere else

Bologna’s Basilica di San Petronio not only double as a sundial, but also appears to celebrate polytheism

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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