Located in Porta Ravegnana Square, at the intersection of the roads that lead to the five gates of the old ring wall, and constructed in the 12th century by the families of Bolognese nobility, the two silent giants, known as the Asinelli and Garisenda towers, are considered as the symbol of the medieval city of Italy. Despite their stones have been worn out for years, they still stay impressive ruling proudly the metropolitan landscape.
In those early days, Bologna was known as the Turatta as there was a real race to the sky, and originally the Asinelli and Garisenda were joined by three other towers, the Guidozagni, the Artenisi, and the Riccadonna. While the taller of the two towers is known as the Asinelli, the smaller and more leaning one is called the Garisenda. They were named after the families who were traditionally credited for having constructed them between 1109 and 1118. Although over the years the towers have served many purposes, the real motive behind their construction was to glorify the image and signify the power of the relative nobility by attaching their names to the tall towers.
Standing tall in the city centre with a height of around 320 feet (97`20 m) and characterized by a slope of 1.3 degrees, the Asinelli is the tallest leaning tower in Italy. Although the name of the tower is connected to the Asinelli family, the scarcity of authentic documents from that early period makes it rather uncertain. Moreover, the family name was attributed for the first time only in 1185, almost 70 years after the presumed construction of the tower, which seems to be doubtful. However, according to local legend, it was named after Gherardo Asinelli and was raised by the devil in one night.
Giovanni Visconti, the Duke of Milan, who became the ruler of Bologna after the decline of the Signoria of Pepoli family, was rather unpopular in the city. He allegedly wanted to use the tower to control the turbulent Mercato di Mezzo and suppress possible revolts. While using the tower as a prison and a small stronghold, he added a wooden construction around the tower with a height of around 128 feet (30 m) above the ground level and connected it to the Garisenda Tower with an aerial footbridge. However, it was later destroyed during a fire in 1398.
After more than a century after its construction, the tower is still in place despite earthquakes, lightning, and fire. It suffered and survived at least two documented large fires, the first in 1185 was due to arson and the second one in 1398. After it was severely damaged by lightning, a lightning rod was installed on it in 1824. It was also hit accidentally by a shot in 1513 when the eight-libra ball was fired from Piazza Maggiore during the festivities, which fortunately did not cause serious damage. A wooden staircase with 496 steps leads to the top of the tower of the Asinelli, which is used as a point of observation for the visitors.
With a height of approximately 157 feet (48 m), the Garisenda tower, the faithful companion of the Asinelli Tower for more than a century, was initially around 197 feet (60 m) tall. However, it had to be lowered in the 14th century due to a yielding of the ground, which left it slanting and in a precarious position. Although it may sound ridiculous, the Garisenda tower was bought by the Arte dei Drappieri, the guild of the fabric merchants in the 15th century, and they made it a commercial place. However, they donated the property to the town authority in the 19th century.