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1100 - 1385

Watchtower and stronghold


The architectural origins of Ferrara's Castello Estense are to be found in the watchtower, which by the start of the 13th century, already formed part of the city wall defences that marked the northern edge of the medieval city.
The architectural features of this massive tower were very simple: a square floor plan and brick walls.
Each storey had just one room and the floor above it was held up by a brick-built barrel vault ceiling. The base of the wall tapered outwards and the small windows framed in stone were protected by iron bars. Like other 13th-century towers in Emilia and Veneto, the crenellations rose straight up from the outside walls with no projecting corbel on the coping course; the roof was a four-pitch pantiled roof supported by a variously-sized beams.
The tower stood next to the gateway known as the Porta dei Leoni, jutting out from it slightly.
When in 1264 Obizzo II d'Este was proclaimed lord of Ferrara, the Este family decided to erect their palace on the land in front of the cathedral in the northern part of the city.
By the middle of the fourteenth century, they were the owners of a large city quarter that reached the walls and during those years they converted the watchtower into a mighty stronghold to improve the defences of the Porta dei Leoni as well as their property and their hold on power.
A brick wall from the foundations to the first floor was built around the tower to form a ring of battlements around it which was home to artillery and military weapons. The thickness of the walls was increased on the four corners, which thus appeared as four small towers connected by a brick face divided into three blind arches.
Connecting corridors and a service ramp for the animals that carried the arms and munitions were built in the gap between the old tower and the new external brick face.
The stronghold was surrounded on all sides by a moat fed by the canal outside the city walls.
The tapered base of the walls had a stone stringcourse with a diamond-shaped spiral decoration and at the corners it still shows small escutcheons that portrayed two Estense badges: the eagle; the family's heraldic emblem and the wheel; the symbol of the marquis Nicolò II.
The first floor battlements were protected by crenellations and the walls had the narrow slits then in use in military architecture.
Some of the these openings allowed long firearms to be fired close to wall as well as longer trajectory shots, using bombards and mortars.
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