The bell tower of Cortina, known as el cianpanín in the traditional dialect, is undoubtedly the most representative symbol of Cortina and is the pride of the town for over a century. Made entirely of Dolomia, the same rock of which the Dolomites are made, it stands white and proud and is clearly visible from every point of the town.
... it's completely made of Dolomia as the Dolomites are made...
This page is inspired by the beautiful book "El Cianpanín, storia del campanile di Cortina d'Ampezzo" by Mario Ferruccio Belli, where the author describes with many details the built of the bell tower, alternating it with original documents of the times, photographs and curiosities. It is a beautiful book to buy or give as a gift, but consider that it's written in italian.
The bell tower of Cortina, as we know it today, was erected by Silvestro Franceschi to replace the old bell tower from 1590. It was quite anonymous and was beginning to give some signs of abating.
The problems began with the cracking of a bell, but then worsened when pieces of stones and lime started to detach from the structure.
To avoid further accidents, in 1846, the municipality of Cortina decided to demolish the previous bell tower to build a new one.
A temporary wooden bell tower was erected, to continue to notify the passing of the hours. It was a time when few people had a watch on their wrist and a way to signal liturgical celebrations and prayers was necessary.
After evaluating many different projects, the municipal administration decided to follow the idea of the engineer Hermann Bergmann from Vienna, who designed a bell tower in Byzantine style, that was not Tyrolean nor Cadorean, to represent the individuality of Cortina.
The bell tower has been made of Dolomia, the same white stone of which the Dolomites are made. A perfect quarry for this type of rock was identified at "Crepedel", a locality near Acquabona, a fraction of Cortina.
The name of the locality comes from the dialect word "i crepe", translated as "the rocks", or "the mountains", because in that position the rocks of Mount Faloria start to rise from the meadows. If you want to know why the stone of the Dolomites is so clear, ou may read our page about the geological history of the Dolomites, which can be found below:
The excavation of the foundations began in May 1852, but it was necessary to wait until 1858 to hear the sound of the first bell. The whole construction went through a series of logistical problems, very interesting administrative and social aspects that are narrated in detail in the book by Mario Ferruccio Belli. For the more curious, however, we will summarize below the salient points.
- The bell tower would have risen on a ground that was unable to support all that weight . A large hole was dug and 400 larch trees were buried into the ground to give more structure to the foundations. The same technique was also used in the construction of the city of Venice; the foundations of the most beautiful city in the world were reinforced with the trees from the forests of the Dolomites.
- In the meantime, in the quarry of "Crepedel", the stones necessary for the construction of the walls were being cut and were transported to the town on the back of oxens.
- The stones, cut to the correct size by the stonemasons, were used to make the base and the walls of the tower. Every year the construction went up by a few meters. Before the arrival of the winter, the construction site was closed, the highest point was marked with the current year and everything was paused for the winter.
- The following spring the construction started again, stone by stone, up to the belfry. Here a large wooden structure was built, where the bells would then be installed, behind the openings from which the sound would come out.
- The structure continues entirely in stone up to the roof, made of copper with an internal wooden structure.
- For more complex works, such as the balustrade and the pinnacles, the local stone was not ideal. It was therefore decided to use a less friable granite, extracted from the quarry of "Falzes", in the near "Val Pusteria".
Such a majestic bell tower must have a concert of bells that is at the same level, for this reason the administrators of Cortina, despite the large expenses already incurred, did not want to save. There was a company in Innsbruck that was very serious, and they were well known in their sector. At the time it was called Grassmajer, today it's still active under the name of Grassmayr. Here you can see their website, in German. The initial idea was to use three bells, as they were originally, but later it was decided to upgrade to a 6 bells chime, harmonized in the key of Bb.
The bells was composed as follows: the small in F (weight: 120 kg), the second in D (weight: 192 kg), the third in Bb (weight: 361 kg), the fourth in F (weight: 860 kg), the fifth in D (weight: 1.455 t) and finally the large one in Bb (weight: 3.074 t).
The bells are the same that were forged in 1857. Probably not everyone knows that most of the bells that could be heard in Italy nowadays are not originals, they are copies. World War I required huge quantities of lead to make guns, and church bells were the easiest way to get it.
... The bells are the same that were forged in 1857...
The bells of Cortina, however, were saved thanks to the emperor Carlo of Astria who, passing through the Ampezzo area and hearing the sound, decided to save them from the forge, because he loved it. In memory of this event, a commemorative plaque was placed on the bell tower door. Consider that more than 1048 bells have been forged by the Grassmajer company before the war, but nowadays only nine survive, six of which are in Cortina.
Before concluding, we want to tell you some curiosities about the Bell Tower:
- During the construction of the bell tower there were no serious accidents, no severe injuries and no deaths, despite the heights at which the builders worked.
- The golden sphere at the tip of the bell tower has a diameter of 1.10 meters and is made of copper, covered with a thin layer of pure gold. In order to coat the sphere in gold, 60 gold ducats were melted down.
- There is no precise number of the price of the construction, because the registers were lost, but is estimated an expenditure of 200,000 florins by the Austrian empire, compared to the estimated 70,000. The amount was completely paid by the community of Ampezzo. The figure includes all expenses, including the bells and the clock, and can be converted, approximately, into a current figure of five million euros.
- Although it has been open to the public for several years in the past, the bell tower is currently closed. Occasionally some illustrious guests are accompanied to the top, where they can enjoy an amazing panorama.
- In 1999 the belfry was completely restored and made safe. Before that date, climbing the bell tower was not recommended for those suffering from vertigo. Even today the ascent is quite challenging for those who fear heights. I speak from direct experience. I can't imagine how frightening it could have been before the creation of the parapets.
- In 2006 there was another major restoration for the safety of the exteriors of the tower, because of the detachment of some stones from the parapet. It has also been cleaned, with the aesthetic restoration of all the stone and wood parts.
- It has been debated for years about the actual height of the bell tower, but during the restoration of the 2006 it was measured with extreme precision: the cusp reaches 70.17 meters, while the tip of the cross stands at 73.27 meters. In the "bar stories" there was a tendency to raise it by some measure, when I was young I can remember I was told it was about 78 meters.
- The clock of the bell tower was made by the Lacedelli brothers from "Meleres", a fraction of Cortina. It weighed 400 kilos and it can be seen from all the four sides of the tower. It was also large enough to be readable from all over the valley. It worked for over 100 years, until the 1970s, when it was replaced by a more modern one. The original mechanism can be seen at the ethnographic museum of the "Regole d'Ampezzo", of which you can read in our article below:
We hope you liked this page on the bell tower of Cortina d'Ampezzo. Before saying goodbye, we would suggest you read all the articles we wrote about Cortina d'Ampezzo by clicking here.
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