The Towers of Bologna

Aug 2, 2017 2 comments

In mediaeval times, the city of Bologna in Northern Italy must have looked not unlike what Manhattan appears today. Hundreds of high-rising towers stood against the sky overlooking a sea of red-tiled rooftops. These towers were status symbols built by the city’s rich families to demonstrate their power and importance.

Between the 12th and the 13th century, Bologna had as many as 180 towers, possibly more. In the 13th century, many towers were taken down or demolished, and others simply collapsed. The surviving ones were later utilized in different ways, serving as prison, city tower, shop or residential building. The last demolitions took place in the 1917 when two towers were taken down for an ambitious, but retrospectively unfortunate, restructuring plan for the city.


A computer generated 3D model of mediaeval Bologna. Photo credit:

No more than twenty towers remain today in Bologna. The most famous of them are the Two Towers— the Asinelli and the Garisenda— whose iconic leaning form provides a popular symbol for the town.

Both towers are named after the family names of their respective families. The Asinelli Tower is taller at 97 meters, but the shorter Garisenda Tower, which stands at 48 meters, has a more visible lean, overhanging by 3.2 meters. Both towers were originally of similar height of about 60-70 meters, but when the Garisenda Tower started to lean its height was lowered in the 14th century. The Asinelli Tower, on the other hand, had its height extended. In the 14th century the tower was taken over by the city who transformed into a prison and small stronghold. During this period a wooden construction was added around the tower at a height of 30 meters above ground, which was connected with an aerial footbridge to the Garisenda Tower. The footbridge was destroyed during a fire in 1398.

Today, it is possible to walk up the wooden steps to the top of the tower for a fantastic overview of the city.


Another depiction of what Bologna might have looked like in medieval days. Photo credit: Toni Pecoraro/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Melanie/Flickr


Inside the Asinelli Tower. Photo credit: kyle anthony/Flickr


View of Garisenda Tower from the Asinelli Tower. Photo credit: Michelle Lee/Flickr


View from the Asinelli tower. Photo credit: anthony rue/Flickr


The two towers Garisenda (L) and Asinelli (R). Photo credit: Rob Oo/Flickr


Another artwork depicting mediaeval Bologna’s skyline.


  1. I miss the explanation why these were built..

  2. I think they were built almost as status symbols.


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