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The Two Towers

Historical building, Bologna

The Two Towers: Attraction informations

The Two Towers, main symbol of Bologna, have distinguished Bologna’s skyline throughout centuries.

Placed at the end of the modern Via Rizzoli, they stand in a central point with, at their feet, the crossing over of some of the main streets of the city: via Zamboni, via San Vitale, Strada Maggiore, via Santo Stefano and via Castiglione. Right in front of the towers the blessing statue of Saint Petronius stands out, gazing towards the main square and looking over the city traffic.

The Asinelli Tower

The highest and probably most famous tower in the city takes its name from the Asinelli family, who built it from 1109 to 1119. With its almost 100 metres it’s the highest building in the town centre. Its height was the reason this tower was used as a public outpost and defensive tower: from its terrace alarm signals from the countryside could be seen (smoke during daytime and fire at night).

The Asinelli tower is also one of the few ones open to the public and rewards whoever overcomes the strain of its 498 steps with a breathtaking view of Bologna. From such height it is possible to distinguish the linearity of Via Emilia, which passes next to the Two Towers and traces Via Rizzoli and Strada Maggiore.

The base of the tower is wrapped by a 15th-century building called Rocchetta that, in past centuries, housed the guards. Today, the rocchetta hosts a store which, having maintained its original characteristics, shows us how the workshops and grocery-shops used to be during the Middle ages.

In fact, during the medieval period, at the tower’s feet the “mercato di mezzo” market took place. Apparently, when the Visconti ruled the city a wooden scaffolding connected both towers, allowing the guards to control the marketplace and stop any signs of insurrection.

The Garisenda

The lower tower is called Garisenda and is famous because of its overhang (greater than the Pisa Tower), mentioned by Dante Alighieri in his “Divine Comedy”. In the presence of Anteo the Giant, Dante and Virgilio ask for help to overcome an obstacle that blocked them in their journey towards hell. The Giant bends down offering the palms of his hands for them to hold on. Dante describes the feeling of seeing the giant bend down over their heads like the feeling of seeing the Garisenda:

“(…) Such as the Carisenda seems, when viewed
beneath its leaning side, whene’er a cloud
sails o’er it so, that opposite it hangs;
such did Antaeus seem to me, who watched
to see him stoop, and such a moment ’t was,
that I had gladly gone another road

The tower of Garisenda cannot be visited, but it is constantly under control and supervised to ensure its stability. Its height and overhang are due to the caving in of its underground, which has apparently been going on since its construction as Dante, a student in Bologna at the end of the 1200, had already noticed it.

The Two Towers were not the only ones in this part of the city, there were in fact other 3 towers in the corner between Via Rizzoli and Piazza della Mercanzia which were demolished for security reasons in 1919 during the construction changes that made Bologna the modern city we can see today.

The works were objected by the committee for the historic and artistic Bologna, by the commission for the conservation of historical monuments in Emilia and by professor Giorgio del Vecchio who even launched a popular petition for their conservation. Every single opposition was in vain.

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