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Towers in Tuscany and Florence


n spite limits and rules adopted everywhere in Tuscany and in Florence, towers and castles are very present in the landscape. In Italy and specially in Tuscany, the war is omnipresent, on various geographical and political scales. Those conflicts are obviously connected.

The guelfes (faction which supported the papacy) and the gibelins (faction which supported the Empire) fight on state level, but also on towns of Tuscany level, and even on factions inside the cities level.

There are multiple effects. If in the year 1000 the contado counts 11 castles, they are 1350 in year 1300. The castle of Panzano and its tower date from XI century, the major part of the Fosdinovo castle from XIV.

The town of Florence in a continual war against the closer cities (Pisa, Siena, Lucca...), but also, less often, pope or emperors. The landlords, freely or constrained by the involved forces, join with one power or another, and fatally, whenchanges fate of the war, their castles are destroyed. Military efforts in Tuscany and castles and fortresses destruction are often attested in historical sources.

The landscapes are marked as much by this swarming of turns and castles, that the spirits are it by the architectural forms, their prestige, and, in spite of many destructions, the solidity impression which they release. This undoubtedly explanes that the powerful landlords downtown also develop towers. Initially guarantor of the physical safety for a family, the tower becomes the symbol of her power, and then, gradually, the rallying point of her clients, consorterys sits and symbol. The Torre Monalda is a good example of this evolution. The district of Porta Rossa knows in XII and XIII centuries a great activity of construction, primarily of two buildings types: the casa-torre, house with tower, and the casa-corte, house for commercial purpose, around a courtyard. The towers are generally joined, and even included in other constructions, even if they must be easily isolable in order to guarantee the safety of their occupants. In Florence, the major part of towers make five meters out of six, or five meters out of ten, for the biggest, and can reach a great height. A 1250 municipal law bring back obligatory the maximum height to fifty braccia, more or less twenty-nine meters. In San Gimignano the tower of Podestà, known also as la Rognosa, like the Monaldi tower, has fifty one meters height. The Torre degli Sciri in Perugia measures forty six meters.

At the end of XI century, historical sources only attest of five towers in Florence. In 1180, thirty five are attested, but historians suppose that there were at least hunderd. At the end of XIII century, more than one hundred fifty were downtown, eachone trying to be higher and powerful. Construction techniques make it possible by decreasing the stone quantity, and reducing the constructions weight. As in the case-torri of Pisa, the romanic arch is replaced by the pointed gothic arch, which allows by a better distribution of materials weight to lighten and to increase constructions.

The current use of towers is obviously not military, but most of time commercial. Their low, big rooms, are used to sale or to store the goods. They are very seldom used as dwelling, the close palates having a much larger habitability.
If at the beginning, towers were owned by a unique family, must of the time , during teh XII century, they are owned by consorterie, noble sets of families which buy or build the towers that they share. The tower then takes the family surname of which directs the consorteria. Brought closer by political, geographical, and economical interests, or by the memberships in a same group of clients, the families divide also the military device. One consorteria could take the control of an entire district, either by acquisition or construction of several towers, or by several consorterie fusion. This kind of alliance marks the urban space with a particular organization, with centralized functions interiorly (well, towers, vault, communications…), and easily retractable common defenses exteriorly. This homogeneous structure could be almost called "urban castle", including even one or several towers, like a castle in the contado. Comparable evolutions exists in many Italian cities, as the Doria district in Genova, still visible today in the city structure.

Since the end of XIV century, and unti the XVIII, towers are included in new buildings, beacause of peace inside the cities, because their reduction of higher makes towers less prestigious, and also because richness and power where showing out by the beauty and the height of the whole palate. Of the original Torre Monalda, just remains a small may be 10 meters stub, which is the only specific part, the lowest part of its structure having been included in the Palazzo Bartolini and opened to the rest of the building.