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festivalfilosofia sapere;2008




Non stop

09.00 - 18.30

The phantastic sculptures of the Ghirlandina Tower

Guided tours on the restoration-work scaffolding

Organisers: Historical Building Office, Modena City Council

In collaboration with: Department of Earth Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Advance booking only: from 10 September tel. 059 2033125 (09.00 - 18.00)

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Hours of the guided tours:

09.00, 09.20, 09.40

13.00, 13.20, 13.40

14.00, 14.20, 14.40


The visit entails climbing onto the fourth level of the scaffolding (8 metres above ground level), via a metal staircase with a handrail, to observe at close quarters the sculptures on the most ancient of the cornices. Those wishing to take part should have normal motor skills and be wearing shoes with non-slip soles (for example trainers). A protective helmet will be supplied on site. Legal minors must be accompanied by an adult after the latter has signed a consent form in which they exempt the organisers of all legal responsibility.
Visits are limited a maximum number of 10 people.

The Ghirlandina Tower, as well as the Cathedral (Duomo) complex and Piazza Grande, received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997. Almost 90 meters high, it is one of the most ancient and highest Italian medieval towers. Built probably at the same time as the Duomo (1099 onwards), it was completed in 1319 by Enrico da Campione.
It is made up of six square levels, an octagonal base and a towering spire. Externally the tower is clad in over 18,000 blocks of varying thickness constructed with the inner wall. Up to the fifth level mainly recycled Roman stones were used which had belonged to the ancient Mutina (Modena's Latin name). From the sixth level to the top, the tower was clad in slabs that were specially bought in the Verona area.
The decorative elements are visible in the five cornices which divide the levels. Those of the first three levels are embellished with corner sculptures, whose differing features from level to level reflect the long time needed for the tower's completion.
In the first and most ancient cornice, apart from the hanging, interlaced arches, shelves can be found which are decorated with sculptures similar to those found in the Duomo.  These are referred to as being the work of the Master of the Metopes, who probably supervised the work in a period immediately after Wiligelmo (that is around 1120-40). The corner reliefs on the first cornice also show affinities, above all of subject, with the Cathedral Metopes, now housed in the Museo Lapidario (on the roof buttresses copies can be seen made in 1950 by the local sculptor Benito Boccolari). These admirable reliefs depict fantastical and monstrous creatures, some of which are described in the medieval Liber Monstrorum as those inhabiting the most distant and unexplored parts of the earth. There is a dog with a fish tail, a centaur and a two-tailed mermaid, the same subject as one of the metopes and capitals in the Cathedral crypt. The remaining two sculptures represent a big cat and Samson wrestling the lion.
The small sculptures that decorate the shelf of the hanging arches are chiefly grotesques or small animals, which still have the tiny lead spheres which were used to represent the eyes.

Throughout the centuries, the tower has been the object of numerous restorations, the latest of which was carried out in the early seventies, revealing many signs of damage and decay: water had infiltrated, erosion from the elements and the formation of black scabs were detected, and  stonemasonry had come away.  Thanks to the scaffolding, which was erected for restoration work, it was possible to carry out preparatory studies and deepen our knowledge of the monument. The work is scheduled to commence in October and will be entirely financed by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena.