06 April 2011

Castle Hunting: The Three Towers of Monte Titano

On the flag of San Marino one can see three towers in prominent position at the center of the national crest. Walking around San Marino, one can't help but see those same three towers, strung out along the crest of Mount Titano. They are part of the defense structure of the main town, and they have a peculiar and colorful history. The oldest of the towers, the Gauta (above), was built in the 11th century, and has come to represent something of the free nature of this tiny republic.
We'll begin, though, with the smallest and least-free - the Montale tower, out by itself, served primarily as a prison when it was built in the 14th century. It isn't very big at all, and is closed to the public. There's a good reason why visitors aren't allowed; the dark rectangle shown on the lefthand wall is the only door. It's about twenty feet up, and looks to be no more than four feet tall. This, apparently, was a common style of entryway for prison towers of the period. Somehow, a tree has taken root inside - this branch was alive.
The Montale tower is outside the town fortifications, but is still very difficult to get to. There are two ways: the first is through the steep wood on the back side of the mountain, the second is right along the cliff face. The people of San Marino haven't taken many safety precautions past the second tower, so be careful as you go. There is a lower, cavelike space in the rock a little underneath the path, but it takes a willingness to scramble and a steady nerve to reach it. The cliffs are stupefyingly high - approaching the edge is like coming across a rent in the sky/land dichotomy.
The "second tower," the Cesta, marks the far end of the battlements, and sits atop the highest of Titano's crags. Notice, here, the lack of a defensive wall on the cliff side. There is no need for one, of course, with a drop (almost sheer) of over three hundred feet protecting the back of the tower. The Cesta was built in the 13th century as a compliment to the Gauta, and to increase the defensible portion of the mountaintop as San Marino's population grew. Behind it, on the far right in the picture, is Montale tower. The town walls are visible cutting down the slope - not very tall themselves, as the approach on the "gentle" side is still extremely steep.
As you can see, the "tower" designation is somewhat loose. The Cesta and Gauta fortifications are actually little clumps of buildings. The Gauta structure was initially built as a watchtower more than a fort, but successive additions bolstered its defensibility. A bridge-like wall runs between these two towers, used more as a walkway than as a defense. The lower, town portion of the wall is crenellated and has usable ramparts.
Again, the towers aren't very tall - but they have an extremely high effective height because of where they're placed. A more elevated wall would be somewhat more difficult to defend, as the top would be too far away from the attacking forces to fire from. This is the tallest of the buildings on the ridge, in the Gauta complex.
None of the structures have very large courtyards or keeps. The reason for this is simple: the towers weren't intended to protect a single, governing entity - like a king or governor - but were considered extensions of the democratically governed town's fortifications. For most of San Marino's history, the three towers on Mount Titano were manned by volunteers, not professional soldiers. Because it was a sort of collective effort it was much more important that the town was protected as a whole.
The last battle that San Marino actively fought as a country (they supplied volunteer troops to Italy during each of the world wars) was in 1463, when they defeated the Malatesta counts of Rimini who had attempted to conquer San Marino. Soon after, because in part of its political structure, the country declared itself neutral in all military matters. Fortunately, the country was mostly spared from any threat of invasion in the following centuries.
This is the classic view of the Gauta from the walls of the Cesta tower. It is San Marino's one iconic sight, probably, and it's breathtaking. The castle structures are usually swarming with tourists - even now, in the offseason - but we were lucky enough to catch this unpopulated view as we were making our way along the mountaintop. If you go, be prepared for dozens of tourist-tchochky shops and a dizzying drop. Also, many steep staircases and walkways on your way up to the summit and the towertops.

1 comment:

  1. very cool photos....amazing dramatic effects...and, once again, as always, interesting facts....