It’s surprising to learn but Bologna had skyscraper-like extremely tall towers in the medieval period. It is thought that there were about 180 towers in Bologna between the 12th and the 13th century. One of the tallest ones was 320 feet (97 meters) high, which is still standing today. The main aim, while constructing those towers, was to construct strong defensive buildings. Besides the towers, there are still some fortified gateways that correspond to the gates of the 12th-century city wall.
There were about 180 towers in Bologna between the 12th and the 13th century
The first historian to study the skyscrapers of Bologna in a systematic way was Count Giovanni Gozzadini. He was a senator of the Italian kingdom who lived in the 19th century and wanted to raise the prestige of his hometown. Analyzing the civic archives of real estate deeds, Gozzadini attempted to arrive at a reliable number of towers on the basis of documented ownership changes. He eventually came up with an extraordinary number of 180 towers, an enormous amount considering the size and resources of medieval Bologna.
There is a hypothesis to explain why there were so many extremely tall defensive towers. The hypothesis says that the richest families used them for offensive/defensive purposes during the period of the Investiture Controversy. There was a conflict between the church and the state at that time for having the power to choose and install bishops and abbots of monasteries and the pope himself.
Building a typical medieval Bologna tower required probably between three and ten years of work
Construction of a tower that is extremely tall like those towers was not an easy job. To build a typical medieval Bologna tower, people needed to probably between three and ten years of work and a high number of serfs, or peasants. All towers built in this rather interesting, yet little known, the period had a square cross-section with foundations between five and ten meters deep, reinforced by poles hammered into the ground and covered with pebble and lime.
In the 13th century, many towers were taken down or demolished, and others simply collapsed
In the 13th century, many towers were taken down or demolished, and others simply collapsed. Many towers have subsequently been utilized in one way or the other: as prison, city tower, shop, or residential building. And today, there are just fewer than twenty medieval towers in Bologna.