intoHistory, geschiedenis beleven in authentieke logies
Do you know medieval Bologna boasted nearly a hundred towers? At a time when the country aristocracy had discovered easy urban living and where it was the thing to do to build a patrician residence within the city walls. Given the lack of space, these buildings difficult to defend, sprung up around lofty, fortified towers in which it was possible to protect one’s possessions and resist attack. It was precisely at this time that tensions ran high between family clans, torn between supporters of the Pope (the Guelfs), and those who supported the Emperor (the Ghibellines) … to the point where this particularly destructive civil war actually brought the city to its knees in the 13th century. Most of the old towers (and the residences which surrounded them) are just a memory today.
© Prendiparte Torre
The Prendiparte family, influential feudal lords in the Po Valley, owned a vast piece of ground in the old city. There they built their old palace; doubled by a more recent one, a new house and two towers, as well as a hospice which adjoined a third impressive tower (then called the Coronata Tower). This is the one that survives today. This tower was built in the 12th century, at a time when the family was one of the most influential members of Bolognese aristocracy. One of its leaders, victorious on the battlefield, then became the mayor (podestà) of the city. He invited the German emperor, Frederick Barbarossa to his palace on the eve of the Third Crusade.
In the 15th century, the Prendiparte Tower passed into the hands of the Fabruzzi family and ended up as one of the possessions of the convent of Santa Maria della Consolazione, before being sold to the Seccadenari. In 1588, the tower together with the adjacent house, were acquired by the Archbishopric and the site transformed into a seminary. In the 18th century the tall building became an ecclesial prison until it was requisitioned by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796. Imprisoned within its walls were all those who had committed religious crimes (theft of religious vestments/liturgical items, acts of rape against nuns, duels in monasteries, etc.). Prison conditions were very harsh (dry bread and water) and a total lack of hygiene.
The tower was rented out as a warehouse in the following century before becoming the property of the State in 1868. It passed through the hands of several owners until 1972 when it was purchased by the Giovanardi family, who undertook substantial restoration work. Thanks to this, 12 floors of the Prendiparte Tower can now be visited and it has been re-designed to welcome guests and host cultural events.
Rare openings led to defensive wooden galleries © Prendiparte Torre
Its massive walls (2.35 metres thick at ground level up to 1.35 metres at the top) are living proof: the tower was built to resist assailants. Impressive blocks of gypsum form its base and foundations. Behind its covering of flat bricks, a dense filling of gravel and mortar consolidates the entire building. Openings are few and all the doors are reinforced. On the sides and terrace there were various exterior wooden structures providing guards with places from which to shoot. The houses of the Prendiparte family all communicate with the fortified keep on different levels. This is where the clan takes refuge in times of hardship, each floor having emergency living quarters. The tower houses enough supplies to see it through several weeks. It is conceivable that at one time it was higher than it is today (given the thickness of its walls at terrace level).
A tour round the Prendiparte Tower begins on the ground floor, now the reception area and cloakrooms. The next three levels, now graced with wide 18th century windows, form the salon, bedroom and dining room of the “guest suite”. The judiciously chosen period furniture, paintings and objets d’art will immediately plunge you into the atmosphere of olde worlde interiors, as if you were in family home. Do observe the fireplaces, the 16th century spiral staircase and the hollow passage built into the wall enabling the former owners to reach the adjacent house.
Above the living quarters are two more floors which have retained their identity as the old prison. These are emotional places, given the inscriptions, drawings and engravings that prisoners have left on the walls. They have a reddish tinge, because the ink was made using brick powder and organic liquids. Clearly visible at the foot of the staircase is a cavity in the ground at the place where the prisoners dug out the terra cotta pavers. These memory-charged levels are now used for concerts, meetings, cocktails, tasting sessions or banquets.
The upper floors, which get larger, are connected via staircases. They have retained their period appearance. Finally, the last flight of steps will lead you to the terrace, from which you will enjoy a fantastic panorama of the old city of Bologna. There is no finer observation point for you to understand why this has been nicknamed “the red city”.
The flanks of the tower exhibit – as do many southern buildings since the Roman period – a regular network of little rectangular cavities: these are “putlog holes” which enabled the scaffolding to be anchored while the masonry was being re-pointed. You will notice that these attachment points are absent up to the second floor, to deter would-be thieves or assailants.
The Prendiparte Tower is one of Europe’s most exclusive historical accommodation sites, not only given its vast age, aristocratic ambiance, and the extraordinary feeling of security emanating from its massive walls, but also (of course) because it offers only one bedroom. When Matteo Giovanardi, the owner of the location, gives you the keys to the tower following your guided tour of the site, you will really become the sole occupants of this venerable keep. Feelings of ownership guaranteed!
© Freddy Bazzocchi
Is it because of its historical intimacy that the Prendiparte Tower has become a favourite spot for marriage proposals and wedding nights … it’s no secret that its owner pulls out all the stops to give this place a romantic atmosphere, with its candlelight, wellness area and dinners of local specialties for two (on request). Guided tours can also be arranged, as can family events, business meetings or exclusive cocktail parties … The Prendiparte Tower is regularly the scene of original cultural activities, medieval music concerts, falconry show, Renaissance cuisine tastings, fashion shows, 3D historical walks, etc.
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