Known in Italian as Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda, Bologna Towers (Le Due Torri di Bologna in Italian), are one of the symbols of the capital city of Emilia Romagna, and impossible to miss during a trip to Bologna – you can literally see them from pretty much anywhere in the historic center.
The view from the Torre degli Asinelli (the only one that can be climbed) is quite impressive, and one of the best in the city: you can see Piazza Maggiore and San Petronio Basilica, the Basilica della Madonna di San Luca, the ancient Roman road of via Emilia, and the many other towers of Bologna.
It’s easy to see why this is the most popular tourist attraction in town, and if you think you can manage the strenuous climb to the viewing terrace, you should totally go for it!
In this post, I will explain everything you need to know about the Towers of Bologna, and share lots of useful information that will help you plan your visit.
You should also read my post 26 Best Things To Do In Bologna, Italy.
This History Of Bologna Towers
Le Due Torri, or the Two Bologna Towers, are symbols of the city of Bologna. Situated at the intersection of the five roads that lead to the gates of the old city wall, they are the most famous of Bologna’s many towers (of which there are 22 in total, including the Azzoguidi Tower, the Prendiparte Tower, the Scappi Tower, the Uguzzoni Tower, the Guidozagni Tower and the Galluzzi Tower).
But what is most interesting about these two towers, in particular, is how closely they are situated next to each other and this has something to do with the story behind them.
The two towers are named Torre degli Asinelli and Torre della Garisenda. They are thought to be the work of two noble families of Bologna who were particularly influential during the Middle Ages, but the real stories behind them are shrouded in mystery.
Torre Degli Asinelli
This tower was initially built at a height of 70 meters (230 feet) but was later increased to its current height of 97.2 meters (319 feet). The tower is often cited to have been erected between 1109 and 1119; it’s not entirely known by whom, but it is widely believed that it was the work of noble knight Gherardo Asinelli.
However, an earlier origin in the 11th century is also theorized, due to the formation of the bricks at the base of the building. This would also align with a period in history when the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire were in conflict, with factions from both sides taking shelter in towers at the time.
This means that the Asinelli family would have simply taken possession of the tower, and raised it to its current height – for the practical reason of observation from afar.
It was purchased by the city in the 14th century and had various uses over the years. It was used as a prison and a stronghold. A wooden frame was even built around the tower, with a bridge built between it and the neighboring Torre Della Garisenda.
Later on in its history, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was used by scientists as an observatory. And then in the 19th century, a lightning rod addressed the problem of the tower being hit by lightning and causing frequent fires (and sometimes collapses).
In 1888, someone proposed the idea of installing an elevator, but this was rejected. Its height was also put into use during World War II, when it was used as a sight post, and volunteers used it to look out during rescue operations after Allied bombings.
Today, the tower is used as an observation tower for visitors to the city; its 498 steps can be climbed to reach its terrace, where you can see an expansive panorama of Bologna below (and its many towers). Interestingly, the Torre Degli Asinelli leans slightly to one side, making it the tallest leaning tower in the country.
Torre della Garisenda
Next door to Torre Degli Asinelli is the much shorter Torre Della Garisenda. Standing at a height of 48 meters (157 feet), this more diminutive of the duo was once taller. Initially, the tower stood at approximately 60 meters (200 feet) tall, but due to subsidence, it had to be lowered in height during the 14th century.
Made of stone in around 1109, the tower is believed to be the work of the Garisenda family, a member of the Ghibelline faction, who supported the Holy Roman Empire (as opposed to the Guelphs, who supported the Papacy).
Although the tower is clearly overshadowed by its much taller neighbor, the Torre Della Garisenda has left more of an impact on literary creativity over history.
It is mentioned several times by Dante in his iconic Divine Comedy and Le Rime, a collection of poems about his own life; a portion of Dante’s writing can actually be seen on the tower itself.
It also appears in Goethe’s Italian Journey; has been the subject of an eponymous poem by Italian poet Giosue Carducci, and even Charles Dickens wrote about this tower in his Pictures from Italy.
Needless to say, the Garisenda Tower has had a curious magnetism for the literary world for centuries.
In the 15th century, it was eventually bought by Bologna’s powerful Corporazione dei Drappieri (Guild of Drapers), based in the nearby Palazzo Degli Strazzaroli. Over the years, the landscape around the tower changed and it became hidden by surrounding buildings.
It then passed through a few different hands – the Ranuzzi family and the Malvezzi Campeggi family – before passing into the ownership of the municipality of Bologna. The city still owns it today.
During the 20th century, the encroaching buildings immediately next to the Torre Della Garisenda have been demolished, giving it room to breathe next to its larger sibling, the Torre Degli Asinelli.
Between 1998 and 2000, the Garisenda Tower’s external walls were restored. Unfortunately, unlike its neighbor, it’s not possible to enter inside of this tower today.
Practical Info To Visit The Towers Of Bologna
Bologna Towers opening hours
Opening hours are for the Torre Degli Asinelli, which is the only one of the two Bologna Towers which is open. The tower is open every day from 10:00 am. Last admission varies with the season and is as follows:
Until January 8 – 5:15 pm
from January 9 to March 2 and from November 6 to December 31 – 4:30 pm (last admission)
Sping and Autumn:
from March 3 to 31 and from October 2 to November 5 – 6:00 pm
from April 1 to October 1 – 7:00 pm (8:15 pm from Thursday to Sunday from June to October 1)
To visit, you must book a time slot, which lasts for 45 minutes. There are four time slots per hour at 15-minute intervals, one on the hour (00), then at 15, 30, and 45.
Best time to visit Bologna Towers
To avoid the crowds and to get better light to see Bologna in all its red-hued beauty, I would say go early in the day. Morning light is particularly lovely. Then again, going up the Torre Degli Asinelli for sunset is a beautiful experience (though be warned: you may not be the only person with this idea!).
I went up at 3:00 pm actually, and loved the experience and the view – minus the heat which was almost unbearable at that time of day at the end of May.
Bologna towers are definitely going to be busier in the middle of the day, particularly on weekends (and in high season, i.e. summer). During these times, it can be more claustrophobic than usual on the staircase.
There’s only one way up and down, with room for only one person at a time in most sections; as it gets taller there are narrow wooden steps to the top. Needless to say, with more people, this becomes less fun.
Is climbing the Towers of Bologna easy?
Climbing to the top of Torre Degli Asinelli is not easy: you have to go up 498 steps! It can be super tiring, in fact, especially when it is hot outside. Even if you are moderately fit, it’s going to be a workout, to say the least – it was for me, and I am a competitive swimmer and regularly run too. The main issue is that the steps are very narrow and steep.
If you are afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo, the tower is enclosed at the top and there’s a handrail on the way up to grab onto if you need it – but it may be a better idea not to go.
If you don’t want to go up the tower for fear of heights or the challenge, you can opt to go up the Torre dell’Orologio, which you can access from Piazza Maggiore.
Bologna Towers tickets
Visiting the Torre Degli Asinelli is definitely something you should do if you’re in Bologna. Given its popularity, it is mandatory to book your tickets and a time slot for visiting in advance. Tickets can get sold out, so do try to book these in advance of your visit rather than the day before (or worse, on the actual day).
I recommend arriving ten minutes before your reservation to avoid missing your slot – there will usually be a line of people waiting to go up, and a person checking the tickets.
Tickets for adults cost €5 per person; it’s €3 for reduced-price tickets (children aged 4 to 12, those over 65, and university students between 18 and 25). It’s free if you have the Bologna Welcome Card and for children 3 years old and under.
It’s also free for disabled visitors (plus one helper). To book these tickets, you have to email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Bologna Welcome Info Point (located in Piazza Maggiore) to inquire.
You can get your tickets and book your time slot on the official site.
Should you get a guided tour to visit Bologna Towers?
You don’t have to get a guided tour to fully enjoy the experience of climbing to the top of Torre Degli Asinelli, and there aren’t actual tours of the historic center that include the Towers of Bologna in their visit.
The only option to get a bit more information about the Torre degli Asinelli and the Torre Della Garisenda is this Torre degli Asinelli entrance ticket and food tasting tour. Keep in mind this is not an actual tour of the Bologna Towers, though: the guide will not climb them with you.
You’ll meet your guide at the entrance of the tower, and he or she will share information about the Towers of Bologna, with some historical insight about the two buildings. Afterward, you’ll go on a food tasting tour of Bologna.
Security checks at Le Due Torri, Bologna
There are no security checks when entering the tower, but it’s really not a good idea to take large luggage, tripods, or selfie sticks with you as the stairs to the viewing terrace are very narrow.
Is photography allowed inside Le Due Torri, Bologna?
Yes, but there is a metal fence around the top for safety reasons. The view is stunning, but to capture it you’ll need to position your lens just right to get a good shot of it. Some tourists appear to have made holes in this fence, so you can use those, but don’t try making a hole yourself.
There are no public toilets at either of the Two Towers of Bologna. Your best shot if you need to go is to run to one of the cafés nearby – pay for a coffee or a glass of water and ask to use their toilets (it’s what I did).
Free tickets for disabled visitors are available from the official site, but there is no actual access for people with mobility issues or on a wheelchair to the Torre degli Asinelli.
How to get there
From Bologna Centrale station, the Two Towers are 1.7 kilometers (1.05 miles) away. If you want to walk, it’s around 22 minutes on foot along the Via dell’Indipendenza.
You could get a taxi if you don’t feel like walking; it takes 11 minutes to drive, and it’s easy to find a taxi outside Bologna station. The ride should cost between €6 and €8.
Public transport is also available. Catch the T2 bus from Bologna Centrale towards Piazza Maggiore and get off at Le Due Torri, from where the towers are less than a minute’s walk away.
BONUS! Where to admire the best views of the Towers of Bologna
The view from Bologna Towers is certainly impressive, but for the best view of Bologna that also includes Le Due Torri, you should climb Prendiparte Tower, a 12th century fortification for the wealthy Prendiparte family located in Piazza Sant’Alo.
This lesser known tower stands at 60 meters (196 feet) tall, and it is the second tallest tower in Bologna. It is still private property (and home to a lovely bed and breakfast where you can also stay) and can only be climbed on Sundays. It actually markets itself as providing the same view of the Asinelli Tower, but with the Asinelli Tower too.
These posts will be helpful when planning your trip to Bologna:
- A Perfect One Day In Bologna Itinerary
- The Ultimate Bologna Food Guide
- How To Get From Rome To Bologna
- How To Get From Bologna To Florence
- Where And How To Rent A Car In Bologna
- Where To Stay In Bologna