The two towers of Bologna are the Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda. Together they are the emblematic icons of this city of students. In the past, Bologna had dozens of similar towers. These were not just defensive structures and lookout points, but also status symbols that rich families in the city built to flaunt their wealth. We do not know exactly how many towers Bologna had, but a reasonable assumption is that there were once between 80 and 100. Between 20 and 24 of these survive, depending on the source one consults. Apparently there is some discussion about what exactly constitutes a tower.
The Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda are situated at the beginning of the Strada Maggiore. This is an ancient street that used to be part of a Roman road, the Via Aemilia, constructed in 187 BCE. The two towers themselves date from the Middle Ages. It is usually assumed that they were built between 1109 and 1119 by the Asinelli and Garisenda families, but some uncertainty remains. It is, for instance, possible that part of the Torre degli Asinelli dates from the eleventh century, and that the tower was subsequently acquired by the Asinelli family, who then raised it. However this may be, with a height of 97,2 metres the Torre degli Asinelli is the tallest tower in Bologna. One has to climb 498 steps to reach the top. Plans for an elevator were made on multiple occasions, but these were never realised.
It is not possible to climb the much lower Torre Garisenda. The tower once had a height of 60 metres, but for reasons of stability it was lowered to about 48 metres in the fourteenth century. Both towers are clearly leaning. The Torre degli Asinelli is just 1,3 degrees off-centre, while the Torre Garisenda has a lean that, at about 4 degrees, is far worse. In front of the towers we find a statue of Saint Petronius, patron saint of Bologna. Behind the towers is the huge church of Santi Bartolomeo e Gaetano.
From the top of the Asinelli tower it is possible to see all the large churches that I have previously discussed on this website. These are:
The church of San Francesco with its impressive flying buttresses:
The cathedral of San Pietro, with the Torre degli Azzoguidi and Torre dei Prendiparte behind it:
The church of San Giacomo Maggiore with its remarkable roof:
The church of Santa Maria dei Servi:
The immense San Petronio, often mistaken for the cathedral of Bologna:
Also quite impressive is the former church of Santa Lucia. This church was deconsecrated in the nineteenth century and currently serves as a lecture hall (Aula Magna) of the University of Bologna.
Sources: Evert de Rooij, Emilia-Romagna, p. 82, Bologna Welcome, Due Torri Bologna, Italian Wikipedia.