The 12th century is witnessing a major building boom – and, as you’ll see, the the results are spectacular
The best way to start your tour of Europe’s medieval cities is surely to look to the heavens. Newly built cathedrals and church spires seem to be pushing cities ever upwards, nearer to God – and so are city towers. Some are constructed to defend the city, others are privately owned, adverts of a family’s power. In Metz, as an abbot tells us, you’ll have to crane your neck backwards to see the tops of towers that are lost in the clouds.
If you feel fit enough, you could tick off all 361 towers that an author boasts are dotted around Rome’s city walls. A Milanese called Bonvesin reckons Milan has 120 bell-towers with more than 200 bells – so here you can also experience an amazing melody of sound throughout the day. Bonvesin also recommends Milan’s best viewing point: “Whosoever wishes to see and savour the form of the city and the quality and quantity of its estates and buildings, should ascend thankfully the tower of the court of the commune; from there, turning the eyes all round one can marvel at the wonderful sight.”
For the most spectacular experience, perhaps you should go to Seville and view the huge Tower of Mary. It is said to have four spheres on top, and when the sun strikes them they radiate bright rays throughout the day.
To get in and out of many cities you will have to pass through gates, often adorned with sculptures bearing religious messages. Some gates might even offer prophecies. At Naples locals tell us that a magic spell has been placed on one city gate. If you enter through it on the right-hand side, you will receive good fortune, as shown by the marble head laughing in delight. If you enter the left-hand side, near another marble head – this one weeping – it will be bad luck
I’m afraid. So take care!
Some cities boast monumental royal palaces, and these are certainly worth a visit. A Parisian student recommends the exceptional royal palace complex next to the Seine on the Île-de-la-Cité. Or if you want to catch a glimpse of the secretive kings of Sicily, head to Palermo. Here in the 12th century you will see the new royal palace rising above the city. But sunglasses might be necessary to fully appreciate its sparkling internal walls decorated with gold and precious stones.
The highest buildings seem to be pushing cities ever upwards, nearer to God, and they are often adverts of a family’s wealth
A painting of Naples’ Castel dell’Ovo in c1472. When entering this city, approach its gates with caution – you might find yourself the victim of a curse