Bologna’s most famous panoramic view is the one from the Torre degli Asinelli, but there’s a new panoramic spot in town you don’t want to miss: the rooftop terrace of the Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) on Piazza Maggiore.
Where is the Clock Tower of Bologna?
The Clock Tower of Bologna is located inside Palazzo d’Accursio. Despite being centrally located on Piazza Maggiore, this beautiful palace with an interesting past is often bypassed by tourists.
Palazzo D’Accursio has been the seat and symbol of Bologna’s political power since medieval times. It was where the highest magistrates of the city – the Elders, or Anziani, congregated, and later it became the seat of the papal legate, the representative of the pope in town when Bologna was under papal rule.
Today, Palazzo D’Accursio still houses some administrative offices and the Civic Art Collections museum.
How to Visit the Clock Tower in Bologna
Enter the main courtyard of Palazzo d’Accursio and traverse it diagonally to reach the grand staircase designed by Bramante which leads to the first floor. You may skip this floor and return to it later (use my blog post as a guide) and continue to the second floor to reach the grand Sala Farnese, where you’ll get the first lovely view of Piazza Maggiore. This part of the building housed the apartments of the cardinal legate and his court, and it is the oldest part of the building.
Toward the end of the room to your right you’ll find the entrance to the Torre dell’Orologio.
By scanning a QR code on your phone, you’ll download an audio guide that will accompany you throughout the visit with detailed information about the history of the tower and of the clock. Bring your own earplugs.
A Brief History of Bologna’s Clock Tower
As odd as it may sound, it was common in medieval times in Bologna to live in the so-called case-torri, houses built in the shape of towers.
Around 1250, Accursio di Bagnolo, an important jurist and a prominent professor at the University of Bologna, built his tower-house on the west side of the central square of Bologna. Later, his children sold the house to the city. The local government demolished parts of the edifice, but kept the tower in its entirety.
In 1444, the Council of the Elders mandated that a clock be installed on the tower. The tower was then raised about 10 meters to accommodate the clock and completed with a small wooden turret. In 1451, the first mechanical clock connected to a bell was installed. Since then, the Torre dell’Orologio has marked the passing of time for the Bolognesi.
The first tower clock was used until the second half of the 18th century. The clock was astronomical-astrological: the dial had a sphere (representing the cosmos), with the earth at the center; three superimposed disks with different speeds rotated around it and indicated the phases of the moon, the solar motion and the zodiac signs. The dial was divided into 24 hours, indicated with the Roman numbers (I, II, V, X, etc.).
You’ll learn about the history of the tower and the clock itself in detail thanks to the panels installed throughout the rooms that you pass before you reach the two panoramic terraces.
Not One but Two Spectacular Views
The first terrace is along the crenellation that crowns the top of Palazzo d’Accursio. You can see up close the Palazzo del Podestà with the Arengo tower, and a bit farther away the landmark Two Towers. Right in front of you is the Palazzo dei Banchi, designed by the Mannerist architect Iacopo Barozzi, known as Vignola, and just behind the dome of Santa Maria della Vita. To the right is the imposing facade of the Basilica of San Petronio, and, next to it, the Palazzo dei Notai, built as the seat of the notaries’ guild at the end of the 14th century.
Before reaching the top of the tower, make sure you stop to admire the clock mechanism enclosed in a glass bell. It’s impressive! The one you see dates from 1774, which substituted the original one from 1451.
The last stairs take you to the very top of the Clock Tower, where you can enjoy a 360° view, from the city to the hills. You can see Via Indipendenza, the main shopping street of the city center with the Cathedral, several medieval towers including the Altabella and the Prendiparte against the backdrop of the modern white towers of the Fair district in the distance, providing for a nice contrast.
Pro tip: go up towards dusk for an even more spectacular view, like the one below 😉
**If you love viewpoints, check out my post on the best panoramic views in Bologna.
The stairs you must take to reach the panoramic terraces are rather steep, especially the last one. This visit is not suitable for people with mobility issues.
Entrance to the Clock Tower of Bologna costs €8. It includes an audio guide as well as the entrance to the Civic Art Collections. Visits are arranged according to time slots and last about 40 minutes.
The Clock Tower of Bologna is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.
You should book in advance on the Bologna Welcome website.