- Art & Culture
Lombardy's highest steeples and bell towers
With summer winding down, there are still a few sunny weekends left to enjoy. It’s the perfect time for a tour of Lombardy's highest steeples and bell towers, where history, culture and beauty come together in a perfect equilibrium.
A tour of the 4 highest bell towers in Lombardy
Five bell towers in Lombardy stand over 80 metres high, and 4 exceed 90 metres. Measuring 112.54 metres, the bell tower of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, known as the "Torrazzo of Cremona", is the tallest brick tower and 2nd tallest bell tower in Italy (ranking 33rd in Europe). Among the over-80s, the shortest is the tower of the Sanctuary of Santa Valeria in Seregno (Monza e Brianza), standing at "only" 81 metres. Let's take a closer look at the "Fab Four"...
Bells and towers: an age-old history
For centuries, the bells housed in the towers of churches, basilicas and cathedrals have called the faithful to prayer, in keeping with an ancient tradition dating back to the fifth century: Bishop Paulinus of Nola is credited with introducing the use of bells in church services.
Their ringing marks the passing of time, religious occasions, Christmas and Easter celebrations, patronal feasts, weddings, sacraments, funerals...
In Medieval times, in addition to square-shaped Romanic and polygonal Gothic steeples, bell towers began making their appearance. Erected in castles and fortifications, the bells in these towers would ring to warn of serious danger or celebrate public events.
The "Torrazzo": a symbol of Cremona
An iconic symbol of the town, the Medieval bell tower known as the Torrazzo (1220-1309) stands adjacent to the Cathedral of Cremona. It consists of two structures, one inside the other, separated only by a staircase. The 502 steps must be climbed on foot and lead to the top of the tower, where a spectacular view of the city and square below awaits visitors.
112.54 metres high (not 112.21 metres, as announced by an ancient plaque embedded at its base), the tower features an astronomical clock 8.20 metres wide, painted with zodiac symbols (1583-88). It houses seven bells dating from 1744, and an eighth one known as the "Bell of the Hours" (1581). The Vertical Museum inside the tower is entirely dedicated to time-measuring.
Lecco's Neo-Gothic "Pencil"
With a height of 96 metres, the bell tower of the Basilica of San Nicolò, in Lecco (1882-1904), is the 6th highest bell tower in Italy. Known as the Matitone ("Big Pencil") because of its octagonal plan and pointed peak, it was completed in 1904 to a neo-Gothic design by Enrico Gattinoni and Giovanni Ceruti.
From the balcony below the belfry, which can be accessed after a 396-step climb, you will enjoy a panoramic view of the city of Lecco and its lake.
San Giulio: The most popular bell tower in Varese
The bell tower of the Church of San Giulio (1948) in Castellanza (Varese) takes 8th place in the Italian ranking. Its 93-metre height makes it a landmark and a symbol of the city, which has greeted the tower's restoration project with enthusiasm. The tower has a square base and houses 8 bells in the belfry, upon which rests an octagonal structure with four columns on each side.
Palazzolo sull'Oglio's record-breaking bell tower
Topped by a statue of the city's patron saint, the centurion Saint Fidelis, the Tower of the People in Palazzolo sull'Oglio (1813-1830) stands at 91.8 metres (including the 7-metre statue) and is the highest circular section bell tower in Europe.
Set atop the Mirabella tower in the ancient fortification of Rocha Magna, it is home to a concert of 12 bells. It owes its height to its architects' determination to achieve aesthetic excellence and a perfect balance of shapes.
More spectacular steeples and bell towers in Lombardy
These may not rank among the highest bell towers in the region, but it would be a great disservice not to mention them!
The ancient Civic Tower of Piazza Vecchia, in Bergamo (52.7 m), houses the largest bell in Lombardy. It is affectionately known as the "Campanone" ("Big Bell") by the people of the city. Every evening, the bell rings 100 tolls as a perennial reminder of the closing of the city gates.
Equally fascinating is the Tower of San Martino in Desenzano (Brescia) (1880-1893). A circular section tower 64 metres high, it is a symbol of the Italian Renaissance. On the way up to its crenelated roof, you can admire the impressive frescoes on the walls.