Donations Help Save Bologna’s 12th-Century Leaning Tower

Officials recently shut down the area around the increasingly delicate structure

Two towers in Bologna, Italy
The Two Towers in Bologna, Italy, on December 14, 2023 Michele Lapini / Getty Images

Italian police sealed off the medieval Garisenda tower in Bologna this fall over fears that it could collapse. Since then, private donations have poured in to support the structure’s restoration—a project the town estimates will cost over €20 million (roughly $22 million).

As of Wednesday, private companies have donated more than €2 million (about $2.2 million), reports the Art Newspaper’s James Imam.

At 157 feet tall, Bologna’s Garisenda tower stands beside the 320-foot-tall Asinelli tower. Both were built in the city’s historic center between 1109 and 1119—allegedly by two competing families that gave the towers their names, per the Guardian. The two structures have endured as cultural symbols for centuries, a status further bolstered by their mention in Dante’s Divine Comedy and Charles Dickens’ Pictures From Italy.

Bologna Mayor Matteo Lepore tells the Art Newspaper that the towers have many meanings. “The Garisenda and Asinelli are not just cultural symbols but political ones, too,” he says. “Bologna’s communist party used to use the towers, instead of the hammer and sickle, as its emblem.”

The Garisenda tower—the shorter of the two—was cordoned off after sensors showed that it had begun leaning southwards after centuries of pointing southeast. The tower began to lean as soon as it was built, and its tilt of four degrees makes it even more crooked than the famous tower of Pisa.

“We inherited a situation that over the centuries has caused this illness,” Lepore said in a debate earlier this month, per the Guardian. He hopes the restoration project will take less than ten years and has asked the government to petition for UNESCO World Heritage recognition for both towers.

“Having the two towers on the UNESCO list would help us in terms of promotion and visibility, but also in terms of maintenance and preservation for the future,” Lepore tells the New York Times’ Gaia Pianigiani.

After sealing off the surrounding area, authorities built a containment barrier to protect the urban landscape and passersby from possible collapse. This represents the first step in securing the Garisenda tower before repairs begin in 2024.

In late November, Bologna officials launched a fundraising campaign that makes use of Italy’s fiscal “Art Bonus” scheme, which gives donors a 65 percent tax deduction. In addition to €5 million (about $5.4 million) from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy (Bologna is the region’s capital) and another €5 million from the federal government’s Covid recovery funds, donations came from Bologna-based private companies, including leather goods producer Piquadro and sportswear distributor Macron, which donated €100,000 each (about $110,000).

“It was not at all difficult to make this decision,” Macron CEO Gianluca Pavanello says in a statement. “Giving Bologna, in a concrete form, the love we receive from her every day was our duty.”

As the Art Newspaper notes, the private sector has “come to the rescue of Italy’s heritage” on previous occasions. In 2010, for example, Diego Della Valle, head of the shoemaker Tod’s, donated €25 million (about $34 million) toward a restoration of the Colosseum.

“The companies of Emilia are once again showing their dedication to the city,” Lepore said in a translated statement on Thursday.

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