The bell tower of Cortina d'Ampezzo

The history of the construction of the bell tower of Cortina d'Ampezzo by Silvestro Franceschi in 1852, as well as some curiosities about what is undoubtedly the most representative symbol of Cortina.


The bell tower of Cortina, known as "el Cianpanín" in the traditional dialect, with its seventy-three meters, or two hundred and forty feet, of height, is without a doubt the most representative symbol of Cortina, as well as a representation of the pride and state of well-being achieved by the town in 1800. Let's discover together the history of its construction and some curiosities.

The basilica of Cortina and the bell tower
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The history

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 show some signs of abating.

The old bell tower of Cortina The old bell tower ©

The problems began with the cracking of a bell, but then worsened when pieces of stone 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 wrists, and a way to signal liturgical celebrations and prayers was necessary.

The temporary wooden tower The temporary wooden bell tower ©

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 neo-Gothic style that was neither Tyrolean nor Cadorean. This decision was certainly conditioned by the nature of the inhabitants of Ampezzo, who felt neither completely Italian nor completely German, because of the autonomy that Cortina has always had.

Projections on the bell tower during the fashion week

The bell tower was built in "Dolomia," the same white stone of which the Dolomites are made. A perfect quarry for this type of rock was identified in the "Crepedel" area, near "Acquabona," a district of Cortina.

The name of the locality comes from the dialect word "i crepe," translated as "the rocks" or "the mountains," because in that locality 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, you may read our page about the geological history of the Dolomites, which can be found below:

Geological history of the Dolomites
Geology of the Dolomites The history of the Dolomites and Dolomite, the rock of which they are composed. Reading time: 9 min

The excavation of the foundations began in May 1852, but it was necessary to wait until 1858 to hear the first sound of the bells. The whole construction went through a series of logistical, administrative, and social problems that are narrated in detail in the book "El Cianpanín, storia del campanile di Cortina d'Ampezzo" by Mario Ferruccio Belli. You will find it better cited in the sources at the end of the article. For the more curious, next, we summarize the main points:

The foundation of the new church tower
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The bells

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 today, it's still "Grassmajer;" today, it's still active under the name of "Grassmayr." Here you can visit their official website, but it's only in German. The initial idea was to use three bells, as they were originally, but later it was decided to upgrade to a six-bell chime, harmonized in the key of Bb.

The bell tower of Cortina and the shell

The bells were composed as follows: the small one 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 can 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.

Cortina's bell tower photographed at night

The bells of Cortina, however, were saved thanks to the emperor Carlo of Austria, 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 were forged by the "Grassmajer" company before the war, but nowadays only nine survive, six of which are in Cortina.

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Before concluding, we want to tell you some curiosities about the Bell Tower:

The Museums of the Regole of Ampezzo
The Museums of the Regole Three interesting museums: an art gallery, an ethnographic museum, and a fossil collection. Reading time: 6 min

Our sources

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 building 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 title can be translated as "El Cianpanín, history of the bell tower of Cortina d'Ampezzo."

The bell tower of Cortina shows off itself in Corso Italia

Many of the more technical information and some pictures have been extracted from the book "Il campanile di Cortina d'Ampezzo, l'architettura del compromesso" by Giuliano Cilione, which you can find in the civic library of Cortina. The text contains very interesting insights into the aesthetics and proportions of the bell tower, seen with the expert eye of an architect. We thank the author for reporting it to us and for allowing us to use some images. It's also written in Italian, and its title is translated as "The bell tower of Cortina d'Ampezzo, the architecture of compromise."


We hope you liked this page on the bell tower of Cortina d'Ampezzo. Before saying goodbye, we would suggest you read our home page, with all the articles we wrote about Cortina d'Ampezzo.Internal link

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