The tale of the Torre degli Asinelli


Torre degli Asinelli (literally translated as ‘Tower of the foals’) is a 97,2 meters tall tower right in the center of the city of Bologna. Impressive even by today’s standards, it was built in 1119 and it was probably even taller when it was inaugurated: judging by its oversized foundation, it could easily have reached 25 meters higher. 

The size is not its only striking characteristic, however. The Torre degli Asinelli is in fact the tallest leaning tower in the world, with a 2,2 meters offset which prompted its reduction to the current size in 1488. These features inspired many legends, most of them involving actual young donkeys since the name of the family who built the tower (‘Asinelli’, meaning foals) did not appear in fact in any document associated to the building until 70 years after it was completed – so there is no consensus about the original owner. This is the best known variant of the folk tale: In early XII century there was a young bricklayer working in Bologna. He was a very poor man but he was handsome and always happy: nobody remember his actual name, because everyone called him “Foals” due to the young donkeys he used to transport his tools and materials wherever he went. One day the man noticed a very beautiful maiden at the window of a tall building. That was the Tower Garisenda, home and fortress of the town’s chief of the guards, called the Garisendo. The bricklayer had fallen so in love of the girl that he asked her father for her hand, even if their social difference was so extreme that he know he couldn’t stand a chance. The Garisendo however was a jovial man who found the courage of Foals agreeable. So he played with him, promising Foals he’d let his daughter marry him… when the young man would have built the tallest tower in the world. The bricklayer’s heart was broken, for the endeavor was plainly impossible. He worked harder and harder to earn enough money to buy the construction materials needed for such a project, but after a few months he had but a tenth of a thousandth of what he’d need.

Then, one day, while digging the banks of the Reno river to gather stones and sand, Foals found a large number of gold coins that the waters had washed from somewhere else. He used the money to fund the construction of his tower right beside the Garisenda, and when it really reached the skies, he finally proposed. The Garisendo was a man of honor, so he let his daughter marry such an extraordinary bricklayer, and they lived happily everafter.