Medieval Towers


Towers built in 11th-12th Century by rich and powerful families are among the most striking medieval characteristic of Florence: some of them are to be found also in Oltrarno.

History - Pictures

The skyline of medieval italian cities was characterized by countless raging towers, and Florence made no exception: the most prominent families built imposant towers which not only were used as (rather unconfortable...) homes and strongholds during frequent civil wars. They also embodied the family's power, and had to be built taller than the ones of enemy clans: many towers collapsed during their construction because the owners wanted them to be too tall.
In the centre of Florence you can still find several towers (or remnants thereof) which managed to survive civil wars and reprisals, lightning strikes and demolitions following city reshapings or changes in habits (from 14th Century the palace became symbol of a family's power, and towers lost their role), but none of them retained until today its original height. When Florence became a free city in 13th Century and a republic was founded, all towers were cropped to signify that the age of clans and civil wars was over: Florentine historian Giovanni Villani (1280-1348) wrote in his history of Florence Nuova Cronica ("New Chronicle") that in 1251 the city government decided «all towers of Florence - and there were in big number with a height of 70 meters - to be cropped down to 29 meters or even less; the stones from the cropped towers were used to build houses in Oltrarno».

Many towers existed once in the quarters of Oltrarno: most of them have been not only cropped in 1251, but also further lowered in later times and now have become a part of palaces or other buildings, so that only few of them can still be recognized as towers.

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 Barbadori Tower

(Borgo San Jacopo, 54) This tower was built in 12th Century by the Barbadori, prominent merchants who owned a chapel in the nearby church of Santa Felicita. The tower is among the tallest to be found in Florence. Above today's entrance is an opening with a pointed arch: it was the original entrance door, which could be reached only with a retractile wooden stair.

 Belfredelli Tower

(Borgo San Jacopo, 9) One of the better preserved towers in the city, characterized by the small garden on its side towards Borgo San Jacopo. Belfredelli family erected it in 12th Century and owned other buildings in the surroundings. The uppermost floor of the tower was added well after 14th Century. Behind this tower is the even taller Ramaglianti tower: it seems built on the back of the Belfredelli tower, but between the two buildings is a centimeter-wide air space.

 Marsili Tower

(Borgo San Jacopo, 17) The Marsili were among the most ancient Florentine families; they built this tower between 11th and 12th Century. In 19th Century the tower was owned by the goldsmith Giuseppe Sorbi, who decorated the façade with four della Robbia-style terracottas (Annunciazione, two Angels and Jesus) which still today characterize this tower.

 Mannelli Tower

(Via dei Bardi, 84) This is the only surviving tower of the four once located at the corners of the Old Bridge. It was built in 12th Century by the Mannelli, one of the most ancient families of Florence whose prestige was still so great in 1565 that even Cosimo I de' Medici avoided to destroy their tower during the building of the Vasari Corridor above the Old Bridge and ordered the Corridor to turn around the tower. On top of the Mannelli tower a brick-made floor has been built in subsequent times.

 Bardi Tower

(Via dei Bardi, 44) The Bardi were among the most prominent merchants and bankiers of Florence between 12th and 14th Century; in the street named after them they owned several buildings including a palace (nr. 25, today: Palazzo Canigiani) and a tower: it is one of the many towers which were heavily cropped in 13th Century and today are a part of more recent builidings. Only the arch around the entrance door is still recognizable as belonging to a tower.

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