The medieval tower houses of Florence
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Florence

An itinerary entirely focused on a very special type of dwelling, of which only a few examples remain in Florence.

The Ricci family Tower
(by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wiki Commons)

(by Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wiki Commons)

The Riccis were a prestigious Florentine noble family on the Guelph side to the city’s many political representatives. As a testament to their importance, their tower house, located in the historic centre of Florence, between Piazza Sant’Elisabetta and Via del Corso 48 red, can still be seen today. The tower was originally born from the fusion of two towers: that of the Donati family facing onto Via del Corso and that of the Ricci family facing onto the square. The fusion of these two gave rise to a spacious tower house with a rectangular plan. 

The tower has large exposed stone blocks and “pontaie” holes up to the third floor, indicating that in the past, the building had multiple floors of external wooden walkways. In fact, “pontaie” holes (also known as “bridge holes”) were used to drive in bridge posts or scaffolding, which were essential to complete particularly tall buildings. The technique consisted of substituting some stones for the ends of wooden beams, which thus ended up walled in; only later were these beams removed, leaving a pontoon hole open. Sometimes, especially in residential construction, as in the case of tower houses, construction workers created permanent holes to support the beams of exterior spaces, forerunners of today’s balconies. 

With the rise to power of Florence’s People and the enactment of the edict on the maximum height of buildings in 1250, the tower was dispossessed. 

At a later date, the tower house became the property of the renowned Donati family, owners of many buildings in the area and leading exponents of the Florentine Guelph front. 

Guelphs and Ghibellines were the two opposing factions in Italian politics in the late Middle Ages, particularly from the 12th century until the birth of the Signories in the 14th century. The names derive from “Welfen”, the supporters of the Bavarians and Saxons and belonged to one of the oldest and most illustrious dynasties of Frankish stock in Europe (hence the word “Guelph”).

Historically, the Guelphs were later associated with those who supported the pope, and their fortresses were characterised by their square battlements. On their flag was drawn the cross of St George.

Waiblingen, formerly Wibeling, hence the word “Ghibelline”, identified the supporters of the Hohenstaufen, Swabian lords of Waiblingen Castle.

Later the Swabian house acquired the imperial crown and with Frederick Barbarossa sought to consolidate its power in the Kingdom of Italy.

Politically, the Ghibellines began to identify with the faction linked to the emperor and their military structures were characterised by swallow-tailed battlements. Their flag depicted the cross of St. John the Baptist.

The terms ‘Guelph’ and ‘Ghibelline’ were also used in connection with the opposing Florentine and Tuscan factions; given the geopolitical situation of the time, the confrontation between the two groups of family alliances became more intense in this region. In the period between about 1250 and 1270, the confrontation became more virulent, setting a precedent that established a school for the following decades.

However, after the final expulsion of the Ghibellines in 1266, neighbourly problems with the Cerchi family soon erupted into brawls and riots that led to the fracturing of the city into two new factions, those of the White and Black Guelphs, with the Donati’s leading the Blacks.


1. The Ricci family Tower

2. Towers of Corso Donati

3. The Alberti family Tower

4. The Amidei family Tower

5. The Gianfigliazzi family Tower

6. Spini-Ferroni Palace