Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Secrets of Bologna (Part One)

Photo: @SaritaAgerman

A lot of attention goes to the leaning tower of Pisa. But if you, like me, found the tower to be rather underwhelming (and pretty expensive) then look no further than the city of Bologna. Not too many people know however that Bologna boasts a leaning tower that makes the tower of Pisa pale in comparison - in fact not one but two! They are called the due torri (Two Towers) by the inhabitants (the bolognese).  At 97m the Asineeli tower is nearly double the size of Pisa and the Garisenda tower (48m) matches its three metre tilt! The latter used to be taller than the Asinelli tower but had to have it's top taken off due to safety reasons but the two continue to lean towards each other. It comes as no surprise then that the smaller tower is closed to the public but you can climb up the taller Asinelli tower, all 498 steps! You can really feel the lean (a tilt of 1.3m) as you go up and get nearer to the top! But the view is absolutely incredible. 

"Imagine, they were built only twenty feet apart. If the Torre degli Garisenda had 
not been shortened, the two towers would be near to kissing each other" *

(Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

I certainly wouldn't fancy my chances living under the shadow of the two towers though! Sitting underneath the overhang of Garisenda is quite scary as the clouds passing overhead creates the illusion that the tower is falling on top of you! Dante himself was so impressed by the tower that he included Garisenda in his Divine Comedy: 

                                    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,
                                    this did Antaeus seem to my fixed gaze
                                    as I watched him bend...
                                           Divine Comedy, Inferno, XXXI, 136-140

It's a fitting tribute to the most prominent of the remaining towers in the city. Many of the approximately 180 towers have come down over the centuries due to security concerns. The two towers have survived regional conflicts and even the recent earthquake (although it was closed for a time while the tremors continued). They remain the symbol of the city today and there is even a superstition that if a student climbs the tower before finishing their degree, they'll never graduate. 

(Photo: @John1954Moi)

The historic centre is compact and all within the Medieval city walls. The best way to see the city is on foot and means you can take advantage of a unique feature of Bologna is the extensive network of arcades or porticoes within the city walls. It's the longest stretch of porticoes in Europe, 38km in total. For over a thousand years, they have protected the inhabitants from sun, wind and rain. The porticoes were built as a remedy for a sudden surge in the number of immigrants to the city and so the people built extensions to their houses to accommodate more people. At the time when they were built, each property had to pay for their own section of the arcade and so this resulted in some sections being far more ornate and embellished than others such as the section of arcades which now house Gucci in Piazza Cavour. In some of the older medieval wooden porticoes (which were banned from being constructed in the 13th century) there are still several medieval arrows embedded in the ceiling after conflicts between Bologna and nearby cities. 

(Photo: SaritaAgerman)

There's also a 4km wall just outside the city which runs up a hill to the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. The architect fell out with the Vatican during the construction and so inserted 666 arches, the number of the devil, along the wall just to spite them!  This is just one demonstration of the rebellious nature of the city which is defiantly left wing and has always been always vehemently anti-Berlusconi.  

Bizarre Windows in Santo Stefano (Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

You know a city has become your home when you come to love the small details that most people miss. There's a lot of graffiti in Bologna, both loved and hated by the citizens. Many shopkeepers prevent unwanted scribblings by pre-emptively commissioning young people to graffiti their shutters. These shutters become attractions in themselves during the lunch hour and mid evening when the shops are closed. Then there's the hickledy-pickledy architecture that you can only find in Italy!    

(Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

Cute Graffiti on the Road (Photo: @SaritaAgerman)

For the sake of balance I should also add that there is a downside to Bologna's porticoes and is in fact the bane of Bologna. To understand the problem I must first explain that Italy is dog crazy. Bologna perhaps more so than any other city. As you walk down the street, every other person has got a dog with them and I wouldn't bet against the fact that the other half have a dog waiting for them at home! Now you can imagine that having a large amount of dogs wandering around underneath porticoes which prevent rain from washing away certain material is a cause for complaint among the inhabitants. I'll say no more. 

♥    ♥    

Next Post:  Travel Journal: Secrets of Bologna (Part II) 


  1. What a fantastic report on Bologna! I'd love to visit there some day. And I'll remember to pack my boots for those encounters with presents left behind from the gracious pups. :)

    1. Thanks, I'm very glad you liked it. I fell in love with the city (puppy poops aside), it has a charm about it. Have a great week wherever you are. thanks for commenting, much appreciated.

  2. I absolutely love your blog! We're coming to Bologna next month Insh'Allah and I cannot wait! :D ...just a quick question - what's the halal food like - are there many restaurants? Thank you!


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