Tower house

Tower house
Tower houses in San Gimignano, Italy.

A tower house is a particular type of stone structure, built for defensive purposes as well as habitation.[1]



Tower houses began to appear in the Middle Ages, especially in mountain or limited access areas, in order to command and defend strategic points with reduced forces. At the same time, they were also used as a noble's residence, around which a castleton was often constructed.

After their initial appearance in Ireland, Scotland, Basque Country and England during the High Middle Ages, tower houses were also built in other parts of western Europe as early as the late 14th century, especially in parts of France and Italy. In Italian medieval communes, tower houses were increasingly built by the local barons as powerhouses during the inner strifes.

Tower house of the Varona family, in the Basque Country (Spain), some parts dating from the 12th century. Some additions, such as the outside wall, were made during the 14th century, and it was inhabited until the 1920s.

Tower houses are very commonly found in northern Spain, especially in the Basque Country, some of them dating back to the 8th century. They were mainly used as noble residences able to provide shelter against several enemies, starting with the Visigoths, the Arabs and then petty medieval wars. However, due to complex legal charters, not many of them had boroughs attached to them, and that is why they are usually found standing alone in some defensive spot, not typically a high position but a crossroad. Some of them survived well into the modern era, being even used as country residences by their traditional noble owners; for instance, Saint Ignatius of Loyola was born in one of them, still standing.

The Yemeni city of Shibam has hundreds of tower houses which were the tallest in the world. There are also, for instance, numerous examples of tower houses in Georgia in the Caucasus, where there was a clanlike social structure (surviving here into the 19th or even 20th century) in a country where fierce competition over limited natural resources led to chronic feuding between neighbours. One theory suggests that private towerlike structures proliferate in areas where central authority is weak, leading to a need for a status symbol incorporating private defenses against small-scale attacks.

Similarly, hundreds of Tibetan tower houses dot the so-called Tribal Corridor in Western Sichuan, some 50 meters high with as many as 13 star-like points, and the oldest are thought to be 1,200 years old.

Scotland has several tower houses, including Crathes Castle, Craigievar Castle and Castle Fraser.

Tower houses can also be found in the Mani peninsula in southern Greece; again an area of scarce resources, poverty, spectacular feuding, long-lived vendettas, and a history of lawlessness and independence from central authority.

Most notable in the New World might be considered a focal element of the Mesa Verde Anasazi ruin in Colorado, USA.[2] There is a prominent structure at that site which is in fact called the "tower house" and has the general appearance characteristics of its counterparts in Britain and Ireland. This four-story building was constructed of adobe bricks about 1350 AD, and its rather well preserved ruins are nestled within a cliff overhang; moreover, other accounts date this ruin somewhat earlier. The towers of the ancient Pueblo people are, however, both of smaller ground plan than Old World tower houses, and are generally only parts of complexes housing communities, rather than isolated structures housing an individual family and their retainers, as in Europe.

See also


  1. ^ Sidney Toy, Castles: Their Construction and History, (1985), Courier Dover Publications, ISBN 0486248984
  2. ^ Tower house structure at Mesa Verde
  • Johnson Westropp, Thomas (1899). "Notes on the Lessor Castles or 'Peel Towers' of the County Clare". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 20: 348–365. 

External links

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