Down to Earth

by Zbigniew


From afar, medieval Florence, San Gimignano, Lucca, Oltrarno, Bologna and other northern Italian city-states looked like pin cushions.

Wealthy families constructed the towers, slender needles of stone reaching as high as 100 metres.

These served as refuges –bolt holes stocked with resources: food, water, weapons, friends, allies and private armies. Where city walls dissuaded a rival’s city’s hired condottieri and their “free armies,” the towers served as redoubts against the far more frequent incidents of civil strife; primarily inter-clan warfare. Between disputes -typically ignited, Romeo & Juliet style, via street level rapier-induced punctures- the competition expressed itself in the expenditure of wealth and the construction of ever taller towers.

While many endured for centuries, most of the towers vanished with the growth of civil society. Dismantled, their stones were recycled into the construction of more modestly-scaled and utilitarian structures: shops, offices, dwellings and public facilities.

A very few remain, serving such solemn duties as tourists traps offering panoramic photo opportunities that can only hint at the street life below.