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Country towers and city towers


TThe architectectural shape of tower exists since a long time. In Italy, the Roman towers are included in city walls, like in Spello or Aosta, or belong isolated, comparable to a castle. They are well knwn, as much by archaeology as by available textual documentation. After a brief period of backward movement during the high Middle Age, period of exclusive use of the towers in protection of the cities, they reappear in X century, often reconstructed with reused materials, and in the same sites. The use of this architectonic shape is continuous to the present time, and still present in the brand new modern cities.

In his Vocabolario toscano dell'arte del disegno, Filippo Baldinucci gives the following definition:
" Tower: Fém. Noble building that, with little surface and supports to the ground rises much on the foundations, on which hi is based. Around the ports it serves to help the navigators, and in other parts they serve for defending places and Cities. They can be square, round, or of other forms, trimmed, by many of them, by different structures, that are called the knots of the towers. The highest part of the towers can be finished in a vault, loggia, crenels, or similars. Our fathers indifferently called them (...) Towers or palates."

The tower corresponds to a precise military use: it protects, it allows to see better and further, allows to comunicate farer also, by means of signals, and consequently to communicate quickly than riding or running. If the Romans constructed them in stone, during the high Middle Age, and during the X century the tendency is rather to construct in wood, protecting the buildings by a system of enclosures.

The castles on "motte", constructed on an ascent of land, appear at that time in France and other places. They are dominated by his central square plan tower, and continue being essentially wood constructions. Only in the XI century heavier structures are constructed, in other materials, contemporary with more social phenomena, social or military, tied to the feudalism. The control of roads and campaigns prevails then by means of castles and towers, controlled by different importance landlords. The stone and the brick are the valued materials, wealth, prestige and solidity symbols.

Classicaly, they are square or rectangular plan symbols, have six to ten meters by part, reachs somtime very high altitude (thirty meters in Magione). Their walls reach easily a meter fifty or two meters thickness at their base. They can for military purpose exclusively, as in the Torre dei Lombardi's case, or for both military purpose and civilian habitation, as they are for example in Lunigiana, in the north of the present Toscana. The access can be at its base, protected by a raiseable bridge, but also directly at the first floor, from neighboring buildings, or from the enclosure wall, by stairs or easily destructibles wood footbridges, that guarantee security better. Inside, the building is divided by several wood floors. The first floor, used as house and reception, and the last one, more exposed to the projectiles and arrows, are covered with vaults, through which passed stairs to raise to the superior floors, or arrive until the top of the tower. Although more inhabitable, the house-tower responds to common norms: solidity, very reduced windows, specially in the low parts, terraces or discharges windows in the summit to see and to be seen from distant spot. It allows the guard to dominate physically who besieges them, not fearing a hand-to-hand fight, and being less exposed to lances and arrows. MAde of stone or brick, the towers do not burn, and are almost unconquerable, but, from another hand, probably without any offensive interest. Only treason or hunger can, after a long time, reduce a tower. This explains that their taking is generally without interest.

In Italy, the political situations evolve very quickly, first in favor of the church power and its representatives, the bishops, and then, in a second time, in favor of municipalities. The families, that have towers and castles in the campaigns, lose part of their prestige and its power, in favor of cities and urban forces. Those are also fighting one with each other, and wage the war to other powers. The campaigns are devastated, specially in the most important crossing sites, or having any strategical value. The cities exert a heavy pressure on the feodal landlords, to impose them their will. Florence takes an incessant war against all will of independence in its contado, reducing castles, towers and fortresses, more and further as its territorial influence grows. The families, although powerful and prestigious, are forced to settle in the cities, even maintening part of its power. Their wealth allows them to construct towers, as symbol, even in the city, where the demographic pressure makes prices of land, materials and manpower raise.
Towers appear in almost all the Italian cities, in Florence, but also in San Gimignano, Genova, or Perugia, symbolizing prestige of families or consorterie, groups of several families around one more prestigious familie, that take their control. Last representative of their species, the Tower degli Sciri, carriyng the name of the most prestigious family that occupied it, is one of "summits" of the city of Perugia. Probably constructed during XII century , it culminates at forty six meters of height, like the fifty towers whose existence is attested in XIII century. The same happens in Lucca, with the Tower (almost forty five meters height) and the palazzo Guinigi, constructed in the second part of XIV century. They show very high prestige of the family who made them construct, between the 250 towers and house-tower that characterized Lucca in the Middle Age. Fazio degli Uberti wrote in XIV century in its Dittamondo (Book III CAP V-221): "when advancing, we saw in small circle appear Lucca, as a small wood of towers" (Andando noi vedemmo in piccol cerchio torreggiar Luca a guisa di boschetto).

The country tower emigrates to the city, and becomes very important, when not preponderant, in the urban landscape. But very quickly the urban tower knows a n opposite luck. The great plague of the 1348, that decimates populations in Europe, in Italy, and specially in Tuscany, releases grounds in the city, making the prices come down. That allows to the rich peoples to increase its residences, not in height but in width and surfaces. The new palates often include rests of one or more old towers, as in the Monalda Tower case, in the Bartolini palate (present Hotel Porta Rossa), or in palazzo Trinci in Foligno. And also, the distrust towards ex-landlords from the popoli of the cities, grassi or minuti , and the will of the cities to affirm their own power, takes them step by step to limit height of the families or consorterias towers, and to if necessary not only the height of buildings but also the families prestige, reserving the tower shape for public purposes.