Trivia

Hard

Which Of These Medieval Cities Had A Modern Looking Skyline With Towering Buildings?

London, England
Toledo, Spain
Bologna, Italy
Carcassonne, France
An etching of medieval Bologna, Italy.
Toni Pecoraro/Wikimedia

Answer: Bologna, Italy

When you think of a city skyline dotted with towering buildings, you most likely envision a modern city like New York or Chicago filled with high rise buildings and skyscrapers. Unless you’re an avid historian or medievalist, there’s very little chance that you would think of a 12th century European city.

Yet there was a very curious time where, centuries before the rise of modern skyscrapers, you could find a city in Europe with a skyline that looked far more like a modern city on the horizon than a squat medieval city with modest buildings. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Italian city of Bologna underwent a dramatic transformation. A sort of architectural arms race began between wealthy families in the city and they invested large sums of money and materials into building enormous towers.

Estimates on the number of towers erected within the city range from 180 (by one accounting of historical records and deeds) to a more modest 80-100 towers. Regardless, however, the towers were very expensive to construct, took between 3-10 years to complete, and had an average elevation of around 200 feet, so even on the modest end of the estimation, the scale of the construction was still impressive.

What’s particularly curious about the whole affair is that, despite nearly 20 of the towers surviving to the present age, the one thing that didn’t survive is knowledge of the motivation behind their construction. There is no clear historical documentation indicating why the towers were constructed, and in the present, we’re left guessing what spawned the tower arms race. It could simply have been a way for wealthy families to display their wealth and status, but it’s also theorized that the towers served as defense measures and fortifications.

Regardless, the undertaking was fascinating and visitors to Bologna today can still visit the remaining towers to get a glimpse into the city’s mysterious medieval love affair with tower buildings.

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