Tow­er­ing achieve­ments

The 12th cen­tury is wit­ness­ing a ma­jor build­ing boom – and, as you’ll see, the the re­sults are spec­tac­u­lar

BBC Earth (Asia) - - History -

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

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