Recently, a friend came to visit here in Bologna, so I had the chance to do some touristy stuff that was on my list. The number one item on our agenda was to climb the Asinelli tower, one of Bologna’s most famous landmarks.
Not for the faint of heart, visiting the tower is quite a climb, but it definitely shouldn’t be missed on your visit to Bologna. The views from the top are spectacular, even on a rainy day. Below, you’ll find all the information you need, along with my tale of visiting the Asinelli tower.
Are you ready? Andiamo!
Table of Contents
Visiting the Asinelli tower
Bologna’s two towers
With its sister, the Garisenda, the two towers, or le due torri, are formed. At one time, Bologna’s skyline was dotted with at least a hundred of these towers, built as a form of prestige and defense by wealthy families. Most of the towers were lost over the course of history, but the Asinelli and Garisenda remain.
The Garisenda tower actually leans at a steeper incline than the tower of Pisa. Garisenda leans at 4 degrees, and Pisa leans just under that, at 3.97. It is currently closed for stabilization. Read more about it here.
History of the Asinelli tower
The Asinelli tower was constructed between 1109 and 1119 by the eponymous family. It is 97.2 meters tall, which makes it higher than the tower of Pisa, the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Bologna, and just a few meters taller than the Ghirlandina tower in Modena.
In 1488, the lower “rocchetta” or fortress was built to allow soldiers to walk around and patrol the area. The 498-step staircase was completed in 1684, and by the look of things, it hasn’t changed much since then (that’s a joke, the staircase and railings were reinforced in 2017).
Times and tickets
Admission to the Asinelli tower is free if you have a Bologna Welcome Card.
Tickets are 5 euros for adults, or 3 euros for children under 12, people over 65, university students, school groups, or tours of 20 people or more.
Opening hours change depending on the time of year. From March 1 to November 5, you can visit the tower from 09:30 am to 7:30 pm. Visits to the tower are timed, and are at 09:30, 10:15, 11:00, 11:45, 12:30, 1:15, 2:00, 2:45, 3:30, 4:15, 5:00, 5:45, and 6:30.
Between November 6 and February 28, the tower is open from 09:30 am to 5:45 pm.
Visits are at 9:30, 10:15, 11:00, 11:45, 12:30, 1:15, 2:00, 2:45, 3:30, 4:15, and 5:00.
Tickets must be purchased at the Bologna Welcome Center in Piazza Maggiore.
Everyone climbs up together, and then people start heading down when they’re ready. The staircase isn’t wide enough for people to be passing in both directions, so it seems like everyone waits until the last people have reached the top before starting their descent.
Climbing the Asinelli Tower
As the rain pelted down onto my glasses, blurring my vision and forcing me to blink intermittently like a hamster, I wondered if the waiting and the climb would be worth it.
I do not love heights. I wouldn’t say they’re the thing I’m most afraid of, but I just really don’t enjoy the sensation that I’m either going to fall, or give into a sudden impulse to fling myself off whatever perch I’m on. I feel kind of dizzy and weak-kneed when I’m up high somewhere, and get the smallest hint of the staticky sound that fills your ears and the slight dullness at the edges of your vision that comes just before you faint.
For whatever reason, I don’t avoid heights. I would never miss out on something cool because it’s up high. It’s the same principle that got me over my fear of flying: I loved traveling more than I hated the flight. Traveling won, and in the case of the Asinelli tower, heights were going to win.
As we reached the front of the line, I peered inside the base of the tower, into the narrow hallway and the spiral staircase that unfurled upwards. It smelled of wet wood and rust.
We started our journey to the top. It was lively inside as visitors chatted to each other, their multilingual comments and universally understood laughter rising into the air over the steady percussive beat of footsteps.
I started to feel dizzy as we went around and around and up and up. I ran my fingertips along the bumpy wall, trying to give myself something to focus on besides the spinning in my head.
The stone steps of the spiral staircase eventually gave way to ancient wooden ones that are warped and worn and on this particular day, wet. I have small feet, but still felt like I could slip at any moment.
I envisioned myself missing a step and falling forward, crashing down onto my gut, knocking the wind out of myself, and possibly a tooth. An inhuman cry would escape my lips. The people in the tower would wonder if it had been produced by some kind of animal, or maybe by a Quasimodo type figure that lurked somewhere in the tower. Perhaps Jeremy would turn around.
“Again?” he’d ask.
I then envisioned myself falling backwards, my body picking up momentum as it flew through the air, knocking down everyone behind me like dominoes until I reached the bottom and rested on the pile of people underneath me. At least I’d be the cherry on top.
Thankfully, neither of these fantasies came to pass. We trudged on.
The conversation had dwindled and the air was instead full of huffing and puffing and the creak of old wood that was surely about to give way under my Converse, causing me to plummet down the tower like an anvil aiming squarely for Wile E. Coyote’s head.
I decided to get a picture for this post, and leaned down over the edge, only to be hit with a wave of nausea and start to feel the aforementioned dulling of the senses that precedes fainting. I turned back towards the wall and snapped pictures without really looking. Of the 99,000 terrible shots I got, I managed to get one for you, dear readers.
I figured I might as well try to get a snap of the view looking up. Somehow, this proved to be almost worse, as I quickly felt like I was about to lose control of my head and start the inevitable backwards pitch to my death.
Just when I thought I couldn’t walk another step, we reached a landing. “This is it! We made it! I can’t wait to see the view!” I said to myself.
We crossed the landing and noticed another small staircase in the opposite corner. “Ah, ok, just a few more,” I thought, as I reached the first step. It wasn’t until I put my foot on that first one that I looked up properly and realized we still had roughly 9,000 more steps to go.
I’m exaggerating, of course, as the Asinelli tower has only 498 steps, but it feels like a lot more. Especially when they’re worn smooth at the front and creak and croak like an old rotting tree on a blustery day. Not a wonderful sound to hear from something that’s under your feet.
The landings do come in handy, especially if you’re feeling like you need to rest, or maybe just steady yourself, close your eyes and try to pretend you’re not in a structure that looks like it was designed by MC Escher.
My burning quads and slippery feet eventually got me all the way to the top. It was still raining, even harder now. A low layer of fog lapped at the edges of the city.
The terrace at the top of the Asinelli tower is surrounded by metal grates on all sides. The slats are spaced out in a way that still allows you to get great views and pictures of the city below. I made my way over to one of the openings.
There she was, la rossa, spreading out in all directions, her edges obscured by the fog. The streets I walk, the piazzas I sit in, there they all were, dark with rain, and so very small.
The more you look, the more you notice. Tiny rooftop terraces come into view. Various shades of green pop from trees peeking up over buildings or plants nestled on patios. Houses in hues of faded yellow, pale pink, and deep ochre lie under the millions of red tiles that give Bologna her nickname.
The most stunning view is the one of the Garisenda.
So, was it worth it? Was it worth the anxiety-induced cartoon-inspired disaster scenarios? Was it worth the gentle nausea and dizziness that came and went in waves? Yes. The views were awesome, and me and sweetheart and our friend laughed so much about how unpleasant the climb was that it made the whole thing silly and fun.
If we could climb the Asinelli tower on a cold rainy day, reaching the top to discover that a third of the famous view was obscured by fog and still enjoy ourselves, I’d say you could do it on any other day of the year and do the same.
Questions? Thoughts? Post away in the comments section, and happy climbing!
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