Most visitors planning a visit to Bologna will probably read about “Le Due Torri” (Two Towers) or see photos of them in guidebooks – after all, they are landmarks of the city.
But not many know that one of Bologna’s nicknames is “la turrita”, meaning, the city with many towers. It’s estimated that, between the 12th and 13th centuries, Bologna had as many as 180 towers, built by the wealthiest local families both as a symbol of their power and as a defense system during the bloody wars between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, factions supporting the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, respectively. Over the centuries, many towers were severed or torn down, others collapsed; only 24 remain today, and often are not clearly visible, sometimes sort of disguised between two buildings, much shorter than what they used to be.
An original way to discover Bologna is to follow a path connecting some of the towers still standing today.
Start in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna’s main piazza, with:
- Torre Accursi or dell’Orologio (Clock Tower), Piazza Maggiore 1. Overlooking Piazza Maggiore, this 13th century tower takes its name from the large clock that was added in 1444; all other clocks in the city were adjusted according to this one.
- Torre dell’Arengo (Arengo Tower), Piazza del Nettuno 1. It is located on top of Palazzo del Podestà, visible if you stand in the center of the piazza and look toward the palace. This tower has been testimony to the lively activity of this area of the city since the 13th century.
- Torre dei Lambertini (Lambertini Tower), Piazza Re Enzo 1. In order to see the tower, you need to stand on via Rizzoli, just behind Piazza Maggiore, by Via Caduti di Cefalonia, and look toward Palazzo Re Enzo. This 12th-century tower takes the name from the Guelph family who built it, the Lambertini, responsible for the famous capture of King Enzo, son of Emperor Frederick II, one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages; Enzo remained imprisoned inside the palace (hence the name Palazzo Re Enzo) for the rest of his life.
Since you’ve moved over to via Rizzoli, continue to the end of the street to reach:
- Le Due Torri (The Two Towers), Piazza di Porta Ravegnana. The Asinelli and Garisenda towers, which take their names from the families who had them built, are the iconic symbols of Bologna, and still a beloved landmark (also, a popular meeting point for the Bolognesi! “Vediamoci sotto le due Torri”, let’s meet at the Two Towers). Both were built during the first two decades of the 12th century. The taller one -the Asinelli- is 97 meters high and you can climb the 498 steps up to the top for a great view of Bologna; the shorter one -Garisenda- is 47 meters, but used to be taller; it had to be shortened because of its dangerous incline!
Fun Fact #1: at 97 meters, the Asinelli is one of Italy’s tallest towers.
Fun Fact #2: the Garisenda, which leans at an impressive 3.22 meters, is mentioned by Dante in the 31st canto of the Inferno: “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…”
Now go back to via Rizzoli and turn right onto via Oberdan. Turn left on via Altabella to find:
- Torre Azzoguidi or Altabella (Azzoguidi Tower), via Altabella 15. It represents the classic medieval tower, with a perfectly squared base made of selenite blocks. From their tower, the powerful Azzoguidi family, along with the Prendiparte family, who owned a tower nearby, watched over St. Peter’s Cathedral and the entire city, ruling over Bologna between the 13th and 14th centuries. Both families belonged to the Guelphs faction, therefore they were supporters of the Pope.
Fun fact: from here, you may catch sight of another tower, the Bell Tower of the Cathedral of San Pietro, Bologna’s cathedral dedicated to Saint Peter.
Head down via Sant’Alò to reach:
- Torre Prendiparte or Coronata (Prendiparte Tower), Piazzetta Prendiparte 5. Bologna’s second tallest tower at 60 meters, it was built in the 12th century as a defense tower and is one of the city’s best preserved buildings from the Middle Ages, thanks to its solid bricks. In the 18th century, it was used as a prison.
Fun fact: the Torre Prendiparte is now a Bed & Breakfast. Read my article about its history and how you can experience a magical stay there.
Now head back toward Piazza Maggiore and turn right on Via IV Novembre until you reach Piazza Galileo Galilei, where you’ll find:
- Torre degli Agresti (Agresti Tower), Piazza Galileo Galilei 1. Nestled between two buildings, this 13th century tower had to be rebuilt and leveled down following a fire in 1641.
Fun fact: This tower shows perfectly how many of the surviving torri of Bologna are often not immediately visible – you sort of have to know where to look, or, perhaps, lift your gaze up frequently when you’re walking around town!
As you retrace your steps back on via IV Novembre, look to the left and you’ll see:
- Torre Lapi (Lapi Tower), via IV Novembre 1. Incorporated into the complex of the Palazzo Comunale, this tower is thought to have originally been a passage of the walls that encircled Bologna in the Middle Ages. It was later converted into a tower by the Lapi family.
Now head down the pedestrianized via D’Azeglio to check out the last tower on this itinerary:
- Torre Galluzzi (Galluzzi Tower), Corte de’ Galluzzi 1. Built in 1257, it belongs to the so-called “triad of Bologna’s medieval skyscrapers”, along with Torre Azzoguidi and Torre Prendiparte, all built by powerful Guelph families who supported the Pope. It used to be taller than its current 30 meters, which, along with its very thick walls, helped protect it from attacks or fires, and made it a perfect symbol of power and wealth.
Although I haven’t included all of the towers still standing in town, this itinerary should provide you with enough material to spend a couple of fun hours exploring Bologna through one of its most distinct features: le torri.
If you’d like to go on a guided “Torri Tour”, please contact me at email@example.com. More info on my tours here.