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The Rocca del leone (Lion's fortress)

An old watchtower had previously stood on the site and for at least a hundred years had defended the walls to the north of the city and especially the nearby and important Porta del Leone (Lion's Gateway) beyond which was a small suburb that bore the same name (Borgo del Leone).

The walls to the north of Ferrara were defended by a broad canal that linked up to the Po river system. At that time the city extended along the left bank of the main branch of the great river, which began to branch into a large delta right at Ferrara. Water was the best defence for the buildings, the suburbs and the city. The old watchtower had already been transformed and extended by Nicolò II himself some years before the castle was built. From the tall rectilinear tower with its square floor plan, built as a simple watchtower, came a small strengthened fortress, more suitable to defensive purposes, somewhat wider at the base with broad battlements on the first floor geared to accommodating the new techniques for military defence. The battlements were reached by a ramp leading from the inside, extended to three sides, for the transport of arms and munitions with pack animals. The large rooms on the ground floor and first floors were used by the guard corps while in the dark basement were the dungeons. On the outside, the architecture of the Rocca del Leone was divided into three central arches, marked by pilasters which projected somewhat. These brought out the four corners, where the walls were thicker than the rest of the building, just like on so many other small towers. The outside walls were plastered and frescoed with simple decorative floral features and bands. From the beginning, the Rocca was surrounded by a moat which provided a protected mooring place for boats to the north of the city and which was connected to the Porta del Leone on one side and to the walls of the city, via drawbridges, on the other side. On 3rd September 1385, infuriated at the umpteenth oppressive tax, the people of Ferrara rioted in the streets and squares of the city. The Este family were terrified by the robberies and fires and in order to put down the rebellion, which had reached the doors of their palace, were forced to reach an agreement with the ferocious mob. Tommaso da Tortona, a judge and adviser to the Marquis, was handed over to the rebels and paid the ultimate price, as they brutally murdered him. Having escaped the danger and retaken control of the city Nicolò contemplated the weakness of both his political and logistic position. In the days that followed, he took the decision to arrest the leaders of the rebellion and have them executed. He also decided to build a new fortress (another castle, Castel Tedaldo, on the great River Po defended the city towards the south) which would give protection to himself, his family and his power not only from outside attacks, but also and above all from the people of Ferrara, who increasingly viewed the Este family as outsiders and oppressors.

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