The city along the way to Ravenna and the sea. Power and wealth.
The Two Towers are one of the symbols of Bologna, and probably were also the reference that stood out in view of the city for those coming from Ravenna and Via Emilia from the south.
With its towers, today’s Piazza di Porta Ravegnana was essentially the point of arrival and departure for connections with Ravenna, which in the late Imperial era was already a city of great importance, later becoming the capital of the Byzantine government in Italy.
This area of Bologna was the gateway to trade towards the sea and to political relations at the highest levels: first with the Empire, and then with the Pope.
The two towers have been standing for almost nine hundred years: they were built in stone at the beginning of the twelfth century. They take their names from the families who built them: the Asinelli tower, 97.2 metres high, had very few rivals at the time.
The slope yields a 2.23 metre overhang and the summit is reached via 498 steps leading to a terrace, from where visitors can enjoy a very suggestive view of the city, as did Goethe when he stopped in Bologna during his trip to Italy.
The Garisenda Tower, soon after its construction, started leaning to such an extent that further construction was presumably interrupted, and, in the fourteenth century, about 12 metres were demolished, bringing its height to ca. 48 metres, as it is today. Dante Alighieri saw this tower when it was still intact and had yet to be lowered, and compared it to the giant Antaeus bent over him and Virgil in the XXXI canto of the Inferno.
The overhang of the inclination is about 3.4 metres, compared to the base. The statue of Saint Petronius, protector of Bologna, is located in the vicinity of the two towers. From the square, two roads led south towards the sea: Via San Vitale and Strada Maggiore. About halfway along Via San Vitale, at the corner with Piazza Aldrovandi, we can see the Torresotto di San Vitale, an ancient gateway to the city walls built in the midtwelfth century, later replaced by a new and larger wall at the beginning of the fourteenth century.
Near the Torresotto, at building number 50, stands the Church of Saints Vitalis and Agricola, which, as tradition has it, was built on the remains of a Roman arena in which the saints who gave the Church its name were martyred. In the sixteenth century, it was rebuilt by Benedictine nuns, and now houses valuable works of art, including the Renaissance chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli and a crypt of the original Church.
On the left of the entrance, embedded in the wall, is the tombstone with the sepulchre of Liuzzo De Liuzzi and his nephew Mondino De Liuzzi, doctors and teachers at the Bologna Studio (the ancient name of the University) who died in the early fourteenth century. On the opposite side of the Church, not far from here, Palazzo Fantuzzi overlooks all the other houses nearby, with its 1521 facade, featuring semi-embossed columns and decorations with elephants, which bring to mind the emblem of the Fantuzzi family.
From Strada Maggiore, we immediately come across the Church of Santi Bartolomeo e Gaetano, practically under the Two Towers: it is one of the oldest in Bologna, rebuilt in 1516 by Andrea da Formigine with its beautiful portico with decorated columns.
The church has subsequently undergone further renovation and houses works by Ludovico Carracci, Guido Reni and other local seventeenth-century masters. A few steps away from the Church, at building number 19, we can see an example of a thirteenth-century local porticoed structure, Casa Isolani. The very tall oak beams of the portico (9 metres) support the third floor of the building, giving a strong visual impetus to the facade.
From here also starts Corte Isolani, an evocative path between small courtyards that connects Casa Isolani on Strada Maggiore with Palazzo Isolani on Via Santo Stefano, where the Basilica of Santo Stefano also stands.
A little further on, on the other side of the road is the International Museum and Music Library, in the halls of Palazzo Sanguinetti, housing precious collections of musical instruments, paintings and even volumes, which are integrated with those of the music conservatory library on Piazza Rossini.
Still talking about music, on very near Via Guerrazzi, at building number 13, we find Palazzo Carrati, which has served as the home of the Philharmonic Academy of Bologna since its inception in 1666.
The centre is a prestigious and famous institution in Europe, to the point of having had Mozart among its students. There is still music at the corner of Via Guerrazzi and Strada Maggiore, where we find the quadriportico with marble columns of the Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi, delimiting the churchyard with its beautiful Gothic-style facade.
Built in the late fourteenth century with three naves, the Basilica houses many works of art including the Madonna on the Throne by Cimabue, as well as works by Vitale da Bologna, Lippo di Dalmasio and Angelo di Michele, known as Montorsoli, with the beautiful marble altarpiece on the high altar, and other works of the Bolognese school realized between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
And music involves the activities of the Basilica with a calendar of concerts that is renewed every year, even the organ on the left wall often contributes to the performance of the music in the programme.
Opposite the porch of the Basilica rises the facade of Palazzo Davia Bargellini, with the statues of the two giants sculpted from enormous blocks of sandstone of the Bologna-area Apennines by Gabriele Brunelli and Francesco Agnesini around 1658.
The building houses the Civic Museum of Industrial Art and the Davia Bargellini Gallery, a collection of paintings (quadreria picture gallery) that belonged to the important local senatorial family, in addition to an exhibition of industrial art.
Continuing along Strada Maggiore, towards the outside, the majestic Palazzo Hercolani is definitely worth a visit, which is possible by appointment, while on Via Fondazza, the last right-hand cross before the gate and the avenues, building number 36 of this narrow porticoed street is the residence of famous local painter Giorgio Morandi, who lived here between 1910 and 1964, the year of his death.
His home-studio, renamed Casa Morandi, was opened to the public after a restructuring project wanted by the Municipality of Bologna. In nearby Piazzetta Morandi stands the Church of Santa Cristina, which houses works of art and has become a leading centre for listening to music, with its annual programme of concerts and events of great international interest.
• The Two Towers with their inclination
• The Church of Santi Vitale e Agricola
• Corte Isolani and the wooden columns of Casa Isolani
• The Philharmonic Academy of Bologna
• Palazzo Davia Bargellini
• Casa Morandi
NOT TO BE MISSED
• View of Bologna from the Asinelli tower
• Church of Santi Bartolomeo e Gaetano
• International Museum and music library
• Basilica of Santa Maria dei Servi
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