The Leaning Tower of Bologna: Torre Garisenda

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 04:00
Due Torri, Bologna

“As when one sees the tower called Garisenda from underneath its leaning side...” - Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto XXXI 

Pisa is not the only Italian city with a leaning tower…nor is it the one with the most leaning of all. In fact, the record holder is the Garisenda Tower in Bologna, which leans at a whopping 4 degrees (compared to 3.97° of the Leaning Tower of Pisa). 

Standing alongside the Asinelli, the city’s tallest (97m), the Garisenda forms the so-called Due Torri (Two Towers), possibly Bologna’s most famous landmarks – also, a popular meeting point for the Bolognesi: ci vediamo sotto le Due Torri, let’s meet under the Two Towers, you’ll often hear them say.

Both the Asinelli and the Garisenda take their names from the families who ordered their construction in the 12th century, when Bologna had more than 100 towers, built both as a display of wealth and power and as defense and attacks posts, at a time when the city was divided between two opposing factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, those who supported the Pope and those who favored the Holy Roman Emperor respectively.

The Two Towers were strategically positioned at what was the entrance into the city from the ancient Via Emilia, and were probably visible from a long distance to those coming from the south.

Originally belonging to the house of Filippo and Oddo Garisendi, the Garisenda Tower was acquired in the 15th century by the Corporation of the Drapers, which had their headquarters in front the tower, in the Palazzo degli Strazzaroli, and used to hold their the market in the outside square. The tower became a property of the city at the end of the 19th century.

Shortly after its construction, the Garisenda Tower took such a steep incline that, in the 14th century, it was cut off by 12 meters to the current 48 meters it measures today.

The Garisenda was even mentioned in the Divine Comedy by Dante, who probably saw it when he was studying at the University of Bologna; he compared it to the giant Antaeus bending over him and Virgilius in the XXXI canto of the Inferno:

As when one sees the tower called Garisenda

from underneath its leaning side, and then a cloud

passes over and it seems to lean the more,

thus did Antaeus seem to my fixed gaze

as I watched him bend...

Here he also refers to an odd phenomenon which can still be observed today when you stand at the foot of the tower: if a cloud approaches the tower from its leaning side, it looks as if the tower, not the cloud, is moving, tilting even more as if to meet the cloud.

The Garisenda Tower cannot be visited inside. 

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