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Prendiparte Tower – Bologna

History of the house

The Prendiparte Tower: 9 centuries of history, a stack of bricks 60 metres high, 12 floors and a private triplex right in the heart of Bologna, all this just for you

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.

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© Prendiparte Torre

The Prendiparte Tower

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© 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.

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© Prendiparte Torre

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.

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© Prendiparte Torre

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.

Designed as a fortified tower

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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).

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© Prendiparte Torre

An emotional history

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© Prendiparte Torre

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.

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© Prendiparte Torre

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.

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© Prendiparte Torre

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”.

intoHistory TipThe 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.

An imaginative welcome

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© Prendiparte Torre

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!

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© 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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Facilities

  • 12 floors (see section of the building)
  • 1 triplex apartment (salon, bedroom, dining room)
  • 1 double bed (+ 2 extra beds on request)
  • bathroom with shower
  • Mini-bar and CD-reader
  • Traditional breakfast (+ kitchen with tea and coffee)
  • Candlelight lunch/dinner on request
  • Health space + spa (in close neighbourhood)
  • Open fire and terrace
  • Meeting/conference room for 20 participants
  • Spoken languages : English, French, Italian, German
  • The tower is in the centre of the city, in the pedestrian area
  • Public parking 400m away (Piazza dell’VIII Agosto)
  • Taxi airport : 15 min.
  • Train station within walking distance
  • Families and children are welcome
  • No pets allowed
  • Smoking area on the terrace only

In the neighbourhood

 

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Piazza Cavour © Giacomo Boschi

A real pillar of history, the Prendiparte Tower is located right in the heart of the historical centre of Bologna, a real labyrinth of narrow streets and bottlenecks. Right next door is the cathedral (with its rich Baroque interior), the Piazza Maggiore (with its splendid fountain of Neptune and its Romanesque and gothic facades) and its famous twin towers (one leaning heavily). Numerous museums house priceless treasures and there are themed cultural circuits for those who enjoy period settings and photography. Plenty of restaurants and trattorie also await you, through entrances along the old streets. You will soon discover why Bologna is said to be the capital of Italian cuisine!

To read, watch or listen to

 

intoHistory - To feed the imaginationTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of the Prendiparte Tower, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Books to be devoured in situ

  • “Bellarion” by Rafael Sabatini
    A tale of chivalry in the Italian style which was popular in the 1920’s, a love story filled with misunderstandings between a young man destined for the priesthood, who became one of the most powerful condottieri (mercenaries) of the peninsula in the 15th century, and Princess Victoria of Montferrat. A story freely inspired by the life of Sir. John Hawkwood.
  • “The Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri
    This long poem, a monument to literature in the 14th century, provides an extraordinary testimony to Italian civilization in the Middle Ages. Inspired by the struggle between the Guelfs and Ghibellines who tore Lombardy apart, the poet leads his reader through three worlds, namely Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, providing an original and allegorical vision of the Afterlife. This is a tougher proposition but has exceptional philosophical depth.

Films to be watched before arriving

  • “Romeo and Juliet” by Franco Zeffirelli (trailer)
    An Italian cinema classic, a wonderful evocation of Italy at the end of the Middle Ages, with its aristocratic mansions, prosperous gardens, chiaro-scuro sites and rich, multi-coloured costumes: lively passions, strong emotions and sharp tension between families whose loyalties are divided between the Pope and the Emperor. A lavish film, where esthetic considerations, typical of the end of the 1960s, are paramount, an ideal introduction to a 14th century stay …

Period music to be enjoyed on location

  • “Music of the Italian Renaissance”, performed by Shirley Rumsay
    Compilation of vocal and instrumental (profane) pieces of the Italian Renaissance, which reproduce the atmosphere of princely 16th century salons very well.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

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Historical authenticity
Ambiance and settings
Quality of welcome
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Middle Ages Tower B&B/Guest House More than 220€/room

As in the old days

Prendiparte Torre
Matteo Giovanardi
Piazzetta Prendiparte, 5
IT-40126  BOLOGNA
Italy
+39 335 5616858
Tower’s own web site

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