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The flames and the brentatori: life in the medieval Bologna, Art Hotel Commercianti

Commercianti Hotel rediseño - Bologna - The flames and the brentatori: life in the medieval Bologna

The flames and the brentatori: life in the medieval Bologna

Mai 01 2023
In the Middle Ages, Bologna, like many other cities, was almost entirely built out of wood. From the houses to the iconic archades, wood was the most employed construction material, due to its wide availability and great versatility.

Seeing the prevalence of wood as a building material, it is easy to imagine that fires were a common and widespread problem, a constant of life in the medieval Bologna. The wooden buildings and the use of ember and open flames for any everyday activity, such as heating and cooking, were a lethal combination. Among the most destructive, we remember the great fire of 1141, which devoured most part of the city.

To counter the threat the frequent fires posed to the citizens, Roman emperor Augustus had already constituted the order of the Vigiles in 6 A.D. Armed with siphones, a sort of hydrant with leather pipes, the Vigiles were able to extinguish the flames before they spread.

In the Middle Ages, the role of the Vigiles was covered by the Brenners in the city of Bologna: the term “brentatori” comes from “brenta”, the container that they used to carry wine from the countryside to the city. At the first warning signal, the brenners filled these containers up to 70 litres of water and loaded it on their back, ready to rush to the site of the fire and help put out the flames.

It was our building, built in the 11th century, that became the very first historic headquarters of the Corporation of the Brentatori in 1250, as testified by the plaque outside the hotel.

In typical medieval style, the structure of our building is supported by splendid original wooden beams. In certain rooms, you can even admire some of these, blackened by an ancient fire. We like to think that, if these precious fragments of history were able to survive, it is thanks to the prompt intervention of the brentatori, who quickly tamed the flames.