The church of Santa Barbara, erected by the architect Giovanni Battista Bertani between 1562 and 1572,  was commissioned by the Duke Guglielmo and his wife the Duchess Eleanor of Austria, for the birth of their first child Vincenzo.

Saving Santa Barbara
Saving Santa Barbara

The church, with a Latin-cross interior layout, a raised presbytery and a crypt, was built as a family tomb. The church was later dedicated to Saint Barbara, in memory of Barbara  Hohenzollern of Brandenburg (i.e. the Marchioness of Mantua, portrayed by Mantegna in the so called Bridal Chamber), the great-great grandmother of Duke Guglielmo.

In his project, Bertani (who received his training by Giulio Romano) puts the massive bell tower, culminating in a lantern, right in the centre of the palace built in the shape of a city, to underline its meaning as symbol of the lord’s power and authority.

Therefore, the architect tried to build a building that could resist even to earthquakes (memories of the last one occurred in 1560 were still vivid) and for this reason, the last part of the bell tower – the columns – was enclosed internally by a double wrought iron ring.In the last four centuries, this technical choice has been the best one to prevent the dome and the lantern to collapse down, even after the strong earthquake on May 29th, 2012.

A special crew of firefighters, the so called S.A.F. [1]  first started working with propping under the damaged arches and then, between June 26th and July 7th, put a reticular structure of buttresses made of steel pipes (tubi Innocenti) to enclose the top of the bell tower, making it safe. (

It has been an extraordinary work of engineering, particularly true considering the height of 56 meters (156 feet).

At last, but not least, we must not forget that Saint Barbara is also the patron saint of firefighter and for this reason we want to publish some pictures regarding the great job the firemen did, to save the dome of the bell-tower Church.


[1] S.A.F. is the acronym for Speleo-Alpino-Fluviale, i.e. cave-alpine-fluvial: rescuers able to climb rock walls, descend into pits and caves, or tackle the currents of rivers. The same techniques are also used to reach steeples, roofs and top floors of skyscrapers where the normal ladders cannot be used. After earthquakes, they are employed to remove dangerous debris (source Wikipedia).


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