BOLOGNA’S TWO TOWERS: TORRE DEGLI ASINELLI E TORRE GARISENDA

From Bologna Welcome

The two towers, Bologna’s commonly recognized symbol, are strategically placed at the entry point of the city in the ancient Via Emilia (Aemilian Way).  The seclusion in which they appear to us now, at the center of Piazza di Porta Ravegnana does not correspond to the original layout, where they were surrounded by wooden buildings and suspended passageways.

Made of masonry, similar to few other buildings, they carried out important military functions (signaling and defense) as well as representing, with their grandeur, the social prestige of the noble families who built them. In the late 12th century, at least one hundred towers punctuated the city’s skyline, although only twenty of those survived the ravages of fires, wars and lightning strikes, and are still visible today. Recently, the statue of San Petronio, sculpted by Gabriele Brunelli in 1670, which stood in front of the two towers until 1871 and then was removed for reasons of traffic safety, has been restored in it’s original place.

Torre degli Asinelli

The Tower was built between 1109 and 1119 by Asinelli family, and was handed over to the municipality as early as the following century.  Measuring 97.20 meters in height, it has an overhang of 2.23 meters and an internal staircase containing 498 steps, which was finished in 1684. The base is surrounded by a “rocchetta” (stronghold), which was built in 1488 to accommodate the soldiers who were standing there to surveil the city.  Currently, underneath the arcade, there are some craft shops, as a reminiscence of the mercantile functions carried out by the medieval “Mercato di Mezzo”.

Torre Garisenda

The nearby Torre Garisenda, built contemporaneously with the Asinelli tower, is visually different due to its lower stature of only 47 metres and the steep overhang (3,22 metres), caused by an early and greater subsidence of the land and the foundations.  Dante, who once saw it still intact, compared it to the stooped over Anteo in the XXXI Canto dell’Inferno (31st Song of Hell).  During the middle of the 14th century, it became necessary to lower it.  The base of the tower covered in selenite stone dates back to the late 19th century.

THE LEGEND

From Bologna Welcome

In the 12th century, there was a very poor bricklayer who lived in Bologna, who had two donkeys to pull a cart carrying sand and gravel from the Reno River to various building sites.

One day, while the man was digging the foundation of a house, the donkeys started to dig insistently, too. He tried to stop them, but then he noticed something that caught his eye: a trunk full of gold coins.
The man did not reveal his discovery to anyone and continued to live modestly, jealously guarding his precious treasure.

Sometime later, the son of the bricklayer, walking around the city, lifted his eyes and saw a beautiful young girl at the window of a noble palace. It was love at first sight! The girl, who belonged to one of the richest and noblest families of Bologna, felt the same, so the young man went straight to the girl’s father to ask her hand in marriage.

The father burst out laughing and answered, “You can marry her only if you build the highest tower of Bologna!”

The dejected young man returned home with a heavy heart, much to his surprise his father gave him the treasure that he had guarded until that moment. The next day the boy contacted a master builder and commissioned him to build the highest tower of the city, right in the center of Bologna. Nine years later the tower was finished and the two lovers were finally able to marry. As you can imagine, their union was celebrated with great joy.

The tower was called Asinelli (donkeys) Tower in honor of the two faithful animals that found the treasure. To this day it stands as a symbol of all-conquering love.