We all have heard about the leaning tower in Pisa, Italy, but have you heard of the leaning towers in Bologna? While these towers may be less famous, they are the signature feature of this beautiful city, which is located roughly halfway between Florence and Venice. Two of the most famous towers in Bologna are Torre Asinelli and Torre Garisenda, which are mere feet from each other. These towers were built in the 12th century by two important families, trying to outdo each other by the height of their towers, as a way of demonstrating their power and wealth.
The Asinelli and Garisenda towers. It is difficult to get a photo of these two towers given the proximity of all the surrounding buildings.
The tallest, Asinelli, can be climbed, but get your ticket in advance. We got ours on my phone while waiting in line, not knowing how busy it would be and we were lucky to get a ticket for an immediately available time. These towers are probably the busiest spot in Bologna from a tourist standpoint. Otherwise, Bologna is fairly quiet.
A view of the Asinelli Torre. As can be seen, it leans a bit to the left in this photo.
From the top, you get an amazing view of Bologna and look down on the Torre Garisenda, which had to be shortened by about 36 feet in the 14th century due to its significant lean.
Looking down from the top of Asinelli tower towards the Garisenda tower.
A view of Bologna’s skyline and a few other surviving towers from the top of Torre Asinelli. At one point there were 200 towers in Bologna, they must have been quite a sight.
Another view from the top of Torre de Asinelli looking towards San Petronio Church, which can also be climbed for a great view of the leaning towers, shown below.
A view of some of the 500 steps descending from the top of Torre Asinelli.
A view of the Torri degli Asinelli e Garisenda towers. Torre Garisenda (the shorter) leans 10 feet off of vertical. Torre Asinelli is 318 feet high and the fourth highest medieval tower in Italy.
In addition to the towers, there are lots of other fun sights to visit in Bologna. Several of these are described below.
San Petronio Basilica
This church, named after Saint Petronius, who was bishop of Bologna in the 5th century, was founded in 1390 and was originally intended to be larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Funding for the building was diverted for other purposes and the church was scaled down and never fully completed.
Exterior view of San Petronio. The facade was never finished.
The immense interior of San Petrino, with 22 chapels off the main aisle. A bit hard to see, but in the lower left of the photo is a meridian line, drawn by the astronomer Cassini in 1655, providing a precise solar method to determine a day of the year.
Piazza Maggiore, next to the San Petronio Basilica.
Abbazia di Santo Stefano
A connected maze of four medieval churches, known as Abbazia di Santo Stefano, was one of my favorite sights in Bologna. There is a long history of churches on this site, originally dating back to about 80 CE. Over a thousand years, the site expanded with additional chapels and other structures.
Exterior view of Abbazia di Santo Stefano, located just a short walk from the leaning towers.
The 11th century church of the Crocifisso, part of the Abbazia di Santo Stefano complex.
San Sepolcro, containing the tomb of Saint Petronius, is polygonal in shape, not unlike the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
One of the courtyards in Abbazia di Santo Stefano. Note the intricate brick design on the exterior of the San Sepolcro.
The Fontana di Pilato in another courtyard of Abbazia di Santo Stefano, with a basin from the 8th century.
Bologna is home to the oldest university in continuous operation in Europe, founded in 1088. A few rooms are open to the public and a couple of these are shown below.
This is the Anatomy Theater, the cadaver would lie on the table shown for dissection and study by students in the surrounding galleries.
The “3-D” ceiling of the Anatomy Theater at Bologna University.
Stabat Mater Hall, a former reading room for law students.
San Giacomo Maggiore Church
Another beautiful church, not too far from the towers is the 13th century San Giacomo Maggiore Church. The Bentivoglio family chapel within, consecrated in 1486, has famous 15th century frescoes.
Exterior of the San Giacomo Maggiore church, with its porticoed walkway on the left side, so common in Bologna.
The interior of the San Giacomo Maggiore church. The church contains numerous famous works of art.
A view of the Bentivoglio family chapel, with the famous “Triumph of Death” fresco by Lorenzo Costa (1483).
Bologna is a great city to visit with a lot to interest the tourist, and yet it receives far fewer visitors than its more famous neighbors to the north and south respectively, Venice and Florence. If you want to stay in a smaller city, Bologna can be done as a day trip from Ferrara, about 52 km (32 miles) to the north.
Street scene in Bologna, with the 13th century Palazzo del Podesta at the end of the street.
Neptune’s Fountain, (1566), another famous landmark in Bologna.