Giants Hidden in Plain Sight

As tourists, students and other various travelers flock to Florence, few visitors realize that the streets they walk amongst were once home to massive towers looming far above the rooftops of the city. While few remain, these medieval treasures certainly mark their presence with their distinctive stonework and monumental arches. 

Originally, these 14th century towers existed in multitudes throughout Florence, about one hundred and fifty towers, each standing at least 70 meters high has been confirmed by Giovanni Villani, a famous chronicler of the city. Their prevalence ended in the 13th century, when Florentine government ceased their construction, as the destruction of many towers caused feuds between factions causing these towers to be viewed as symbols of violence rather than the safe havens they once were.  

A stroll around the city will lead you quite easily into the presence of several semi-preserved (although in a far reduced state to their original design) towers. In SRISA’s course Sketchbook Studies: Italian Architecture and Interiors our professor, Cynthia Mohr, took us throughout the heart of the city and across the Ponte Vecchio to witness several of Florence’s medieval towers: 

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Torre della Castagna (The Chestnut Tower) 

Located in Florence’s Piazza San Martino, Torre Della Castagna was once the meeting place of the Priori delle Arti, one of the primary corporations for the arts in Florence in the late 13th century. The tower’s name translates to “Tower of the Chestnuts”, which derives from the voting system of the Priori where chestnuts were used as ballots. 


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Torre della Pagliazza 

Torre della Pagliazza, thought to be dated back to the sixth or seventh century, is located in Piazza Sant’Elisabetta, the oldest part of Florence’s center. The foundations of the tower were discovered to be of Roman origin, then built upon by Byzantines upon entering the city during the Gothic War.  

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Torre della Belfredelli 

Torre della Belfredelli is among the tallest and best-preserved tower houses in Florence, and my personal favorite thus far. Characterized by the dense ivy that climbs up its walls and a charming private garden that sits in front of it, Torre della Belfredelli was built upon the Belfredelli family’s return after the Battle of Benevento in the mid 13th century.  

While these are just a few of the medieval tower houses still standing in Florence, many others can be spotted throughout the city. For their rich history and unique appearance, these often-overlooked towers are a must see! 

Michelle Wright is studying Art Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a study abroad student with SRISA for the Fall 2018 semester.


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