The Towers of Bologna

Anyone who has ever visited Bologna knows that the city’s symbolic landmark is its two towers (known as I Due Torri) which can be seen from afar, slightly leaning, hovering tall over the rest of  Bologna. What most people don’t know is that Bologna hosts more than just two towers – in fact it has as many as 21 towers still standing today! Even more amazing is the fact that during the Middle Ages there were as many as 80-100 towers, crowding the city like an ancient Manhattan.

Sketch of Bologna Towers in the Middle Ages

Sketch of Bologna Towers in the Middle Ages

However unlike Manhattan, Bologna’s towers weren’t built to host offices or corporate giants. Back in the Middle Ages, when land equaled money and power, it was imperative to guard your space with a watchful eye. Constructing a tower allowed you to do just this because you could see potential threats from far away. After sometime, building towers became somewhat of a family feud  – in which a tower’s height demonstrated a familiy’s status within society.

View from the Asinelli Tower

View from the Asinelli Tower

Today only a few of the towers can be seen from afar. In fact, most of the towers are quite short comparatively speaking, and therefore can only be viewed up close. Perhaps the best way to see the other towers is to climb up the tallest tower in Bologna: The Asinelli Tower (one of the Two Towers). Located just a few meters away from Piazza Maggiore, the Asinelli Tower is open to the public during the day and can be climbed for a small price of 3 euros. From above you can see the entire city – which is quite a different view point considering the usual view from below is of the surrounding porticos.

However, if you’d like to see the city from above after the sun goes down, you must go to a different tower. The second tallest tower in Bologna is the Torre Prendiparte – and it’s unique because not just anyone can climb this tower. If you want to climb this tower you must also spend the night in it. That’s because its a hotel – only open to those who rent it or host special events inside.

Prendiparte Tower

The Prendiparte Tower

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One floor of the Prendiparte tower displays the etchings of prisoners

Prendiparte Prison

Drawings sketched by the prisoners kept locked inside the Prendiparte tower

Lucky for you I had the opportunity to go inside the Torre Prendiparte. During my tour, I learned that the tower has 12 floors – the first 6 floors especially dedicated to hotel use. The first floor is the lobby, the second floor is the living room, the third floor is the bedroom, the fifth floor is the kitchen, and the sixth floor is the dining area – all elegantly decorate with vintagey/medievalish furniture. The other 6 floors are an open museum, including a carefully preserved prison from the 1700s, which lead to the rooftop, where guests can enjoy an impressive view of Bologna including the Two  Towers.

And of course there is the amazing story of the man who now owns the tower. I had the pleasure with speaking to Signore Matteo Giovanardi during our personal tour. He recounted his story of how he came to own this precious tower. When he was 17 years old, his father purchased the tower – a fact that he likes to coke about, saying that he would have prefered a new car instead of his future of inheriting this massive strutture.  When his father passed away, Matteo took full ownership of the tower, and thereafter actually spent several years living with his family inside the tower. Recently, Matteo decided to open up his home to the public and turn it into a hotel. Today the Torre Prendiparte is his life and he, along with a few staff personnel, clean, cook and maintain the tower for its guests.

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