Skyscrapers Transcending Time: Unveiling Bologna’s Medieval Marvels

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Seeing Bologna’s Medieval Wonders Through Skyscrapers That Cross Time

In the middle of ancient Europe, there was an Italian city that showed how creative people could be and had buildings that were beyond the standards of their time. Bologna is a city with a lot of history and wonder. It used to have a skyline that was as impressive as those of modern cities. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, Bologna grew and built a huge number of tall buildings that will forever be remembered in the history of architecture. These tall buildings, which were sometimes called “towers,” were more than just structures. They were skyscrapers from the Middle Ages, like the grand buildings in Manhattan.

At the very top of this amazing skyline was a tower that stood 320 feet (97 meters) tall, which was an amazing feat given how advanced technology was at the time. It’s amazing that this largest tower is still standing strong after hundreds of years.

There are a lot of similarities between medieval Bologna and modern Manhattan. With around 180 towers so high, the city must have had a feeling of vertical beauty similar to how busy the streets are today. These towers weren’t just extras for looks; they were built with purpose and forethought to protect important areas. Scholars and historians have thought about why this huge building project was undertaken, but the answers are still unclear, buried in the mysteries of the past.

According to one popular idea, these huge buildings had two uses during the troubled time known as the Investiture Controversy. The church and the state were fighting over who should be bishops and abbots, so the city’s wealthy families had to take precautions to stay safe. During these uncertain times, these towers may have been used as defensive strongholds. They are a real-life example of how power, politics, and building all affect each other.

As the years went by, these beautiful towers’ fates went in different directions. In the 1300s, many towers were slowly taken apart, and others were destroyed by the effects of time and nature. Still, their influence lived on and became part of what makes Bologna unique. As prisons, city landmarks, shops, and homes, these towers changed the story of the city and are now an important part of its cultural history.

Medieval Bologna, full of towers, as imagined by modern engraver Toni Pecoraro.


Toni Pecoraro, a modern engraver, pictured Bologna in the Middle Ages as being full of towers.

In his masterpiece, “Inferno,” the great author Dante Alighieri immortalized some of these towers, making them even more important to everyone. Even though the problems that came with reorganizing cities in the 20th century meant that some towers had to be torn down, Bologna’s strong spirit lived on.

A few of these old towers can still be seen in Bologna’s skyline today, standing as live reminders of a different time. There is the famous Azzoguidi Tower, which people playfully call “Altabella.” It is 61 meters tall. The Prendiparte Tower, also known as the Coronata, is 60 meters tall and proud, while the Scappi Tower is 39 meters tall and reaches the sky. This beautiful group includes the Uguzzoni Tower, the Guidozagni Tower, the Galluzzi Tower, and the famous “Two Towers,” which are the 97-meter-tall Asinelli Tower and the 48-meter-tall Garisenda Tower.

Inside Asinelli Tower – the larger of the two towers, Bologna. Image credit: leiris202

It took a lot of work to build these huge giants. To complete the task, a committed group of serfs and peasants worked nonstop for several years. These towers had a unique square cross-section and were supported by foundations that were five to ten meters deep. The towers were amazing feats of building. They were made stronger by pebbles and lime covering wooden poles that were buried in the ground.

The new “a sacco” masonry method was used on these buildings as they rose to the heavens. A thick wall on the inside and a smaller wall on the outside made up this clever method. The space between them was filled with stones and mortar very carefully. Spannings could fit through holes purposely made in the outer wall, and hollows in the selenite stone gave support for later coverings and improvements.

Inside Asinelli Tower – the larger of the two towers, Bologna. Image credit: leiris202

In the 1800s, a visionary historian named Giovanni Gozzadini began a thorough study of Bologna’s skyscrapers. Using old records, he tried to figure out how many towers the city had built. In the end, he came up with an amazing 180. Today, this number has been lowered to between 80 and 100 towers, but the sheer size of Bologna’s plans in the Middle Ages is still amazing.

he same towers today. Image credit: Gwendolyn Stansbury

Bologna’s towering mystery continues to captivate and interest us, letting us look through the cracks in time and imagine a city that didn’t follow the rules of its time. These old buildings, with their mysterious uses and lasting appeal, are a testament to human creativity and the never-ending search for architectural grandeur.

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