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13 Historical Towers of the World

When we speak of a tower, what pops up in our mind immediately? - A tall and slender structure, with a height more than its width, often characterised by different aspects of history.

But why are tourists attracted to towers? Why do towers hold such an importance in the advent of tourism?

It is important to research a bit on this to know the answer.

Towers were first built by man in pre­historic times, to provide a wide field of view or just for beautification. Later civi­lizations built watchtowers in the form of fortifications as a high, safe ground from where a guard could observe the surroundings. In the entire Anno Domini era, all sorts of towers have been built which includes bell towers, clock towers, service towers, communication towers and minarets. These diverse backgrounds of towers are what gives tourists a unique point of view about them. One can visit a tower to marvel at the beauti­ful construction and the history behind it, or at the height and the view that makes us all feel giddy.

Towers have also played a significant role in fairytales and classics... like the tall tower without doors or stairs where Rapunzel was trapped, or the clock tower that struck midnight in Cinderella’s tale, or in the bell tower that was home to Quasimodo in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’. To grown-ups, this gives an added fancy for towers and they visit places looking for them.

Given the importance of towers in tourism, I thought of listing the most important ones for the readers of Touriosity. Here is a list of the most important towers across the globe that are popular tourist attractions and that must be visited at least once in a lifetime:

Obelisk of Axum, Aksum, Ethiopia

The Obelisk of Axum, located in Axum (now called Aksum), Ethiopia was built in the 4th-century AD (making it 1700 years old) by King Ezana of Axum in an attempt to solidify the kingdom’s conversion to Christianity. It is a 24-metre-tall (79-feet) granite stele / ob­elisk, weighing 160 tonnes. This obelisk was damaged by an earthquake most likely in the 16th century, and was left there in ruins for hundreds of years. Finally, it was re-discovered by Italian soldiers in 1935 during a conquest of Ethiopia. The 160 tonne stele was taken back to Rome as loot, where it was reassembled. But after World War II the United Nations directed that the obelisk must be returned to its original owner Ethiopia, which led to a lot of complica­tions. After years of conflict and procedural delays, the stele was finally returned to its rightful location in Ethiopia, where it stands till today.

Some people believe that the obelisk is a funeral monument and that the tombs of ancient rulers of Axum lay beneath it.

Although technically not really a tower, the Obelisk of Axum because of its sheer histor­ical significance and structural magnificence deserves to be included in this list.

Galata tower, Istanbul, Turkey

The Galata Tower (locally known as Galata Kulesi in Turkish language), earlier called Christea Turris (the Tower of Christ in Latin) by the Genoese people when Istanbul was a colony of Genoa, is a medieval stone tower in the Galata or the Karaköy quarter of Istanbul in Turkey, and is strategically located to the north of the meeting point of the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Strait. The structure of the tower is cylindri­cal, with a conical cap, and because of its height (66.9 metre / 219.5 feet) it provides a panoramic view of Istanbul’s historic peninsula and its sceneries.

This original Romanesque-style tower at this location was built in 1348 AD dur­ing an expansion of the Genoese colony in Constantinople. The tower was heav­ily damaged due to an earthquake that occurred in 1509 AD, but luckily, could be restored by the famous Ottoman architect, Hayreddin. The Galata Tower, that was initially built to replace the old Tower of Galata, an original Byzantine tower named Megalos Pyrgos (Great Tower), was used as a prison and a fire tower during the Ottoman era under the reign of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent. The tower was again destroyed, this time by a fire, in 1794 AD but it was restored during the reign of Sultan Selim III, when a cumba (alcove) was also added to the beauty of the tower. After the destruction caused by yet another fire in 1831 AD, the tower was restored once more, along with the addition of two more floors and a conical-shaped tip, under the orders of Sultan Mahmut.

Historically, the tower has been quite signifi­cant and has been destroyed again and again and rebuilt each time with further modifica­tions that went on increasing its beauty. Today, the Galata tower serves as an important touristic attraction of the city of Istanbul, and provides a 360-degree view of the city from the balcony. An elevator is built to take visitors up seven floors, but the last two floors are only accessible through stairs.

Svan Towers, Svaneti, Georgia

Svan towers are the tower houses built as defensive dwellings, mostly found in the Georgian historical region of Svaneti. These tower houses are today found in the Samegrelo-Zemo Svaneti region in Georgia. The oldest tower houses date back to the 8th or 9th century, and the newest was built in the 18th century.

A Svan tower has an average height of 20 to 25 meters and has four to six floors, the latter being very rare. The towers were living quarters, fortresses of defense, and personal treasures to the Svans, a sub-group of ethnic Georgians who practiced blood revenge, spoke their own Svan language and were the traditional gatekeepers of mountain passes.

It is interesting to note that each indi­vidual house in Svaneti region was fortified separately as a result of dwellings being too scattered to have a boundary wall surround­ing them all. This has definitely resulted in one of the most unique tourist attractions in the country now.

The Towers of Bologna, Bologna, Italy

The Towers of Bologna are a group of towers in Bologna, Italy built during the Medieval Age. The two most prominent ones are known as the Two Towers, consisting of the 320-foot Asinelli Tower and the much shorter Garisenda Tower, both of which are leaning. Their names are believed to be derived from the families credited with their construction, which began as a competition to prove which family was more powerful.

In the 12th and the 13th century, the number of towers in the city was esti­mated to be as high as 180; the reasons for their construction are still not very clear though. Some hypothesises are that the richest families used them for offensive / defensive purposes during the period of the Investiture Controversy or as a symbol of wealth and status, as well as for defensive purposes to guard their land. Some of the smaller structures were also built as dwellings. During the 13th century, many towers were taken down and demolished, and few others simply collapsed on their own. Many towers were utilized in one way or the other either as a prison, a city tower, a shop or a residential building.

Minaret of Jam, Shahrak, Afghanistan

This minaret is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the present day western Afghanistan in the remote region of the Shahrak District, Ghor Province in close vicinity of the Hari River. The minaret is 65-metre (213 ft) high, and was built in 1194 AD by the Ghurid Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din in the ancient city of Firuzkuh, the summer capital of the Ghurid dynasty. It is constructed of baked bricks, stucco and glazed tile and is famous for its exterior of Kufic and Naskhi calligraphy, geometric patterns, and verses from the Quran. Since 2002, the minaret has been on the list of World Heritage in Danger, under serious threat of erosion, and its preservation has not been acted on. According to reports of the BBC in 2014, it may collapse.

Belém Tower, Lisbon, Portugal

The Belém Tower is located in Santa Maria de Belém in the municipality of Lisbon, Portugal. The tower was built by Francisco de Arruda under the orders of King John II between 1514 and 1520 AD as a defence system and a gateway to the city of Lisbon near the Tagus River. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 because of its important role in the Portuguese maritime discoveries during the Age of Discoveries.

The tower contains an exotic rhinoceros gargoyle which probably depicts the rhi­noceros that Manuel I (the second patron for the construction of this tower) sent to Pope Leo X in 1515 AD.

The Towers of San Gimignano, San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano is a small hill town in Siena Province, Tuscany in north-central Italy. It is situated 56 kilometers south of the city of Florence. It is said that this small town became quickly rich due to the arrival of pilgrims to or from Rome and each household craved to have a palace of their own, but due to the small size of the town, the citizens settled for towers instead. Thus, these families began com­peting against each other for who could build a higher and more impressive tower to show their wealth and power. Accord­ing to the residents, at the peak of tower building, the number of towers almost reached 72 (some of them as high as 50 meters). As of now, only 14 of them remain.

The town was devastated by a breakout of Plague (also known as Black Death, Black Plague or Great Plague) in 1348 AD when almost half of the townsfolk died and those surviving submitted to the rule of Florence. The latter did not pay great importance to the towers and even reduced a few to the height of houses. In course of time these were lost. The towers were rediscovered as important touristic and artistic sites in the 19th century. Now, the towers of San Gimignano have been labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire town presents a Medieval look and must be visited for its sheer charm.

CN Tower, Toronto, Canada

The CN Tower, also known as Tour CN in French, is a communication and observati tower located in Downtown Toronto, On­tario in Canada. It is 553.3 metre (1,815.3 ft) high and weighs 117,910 tonnes. Its construction began in 1972 on the former Railway Lands, and was completed in mid 1976. It is interesting to note that the name ‘CN’ is derived from the words ‘Canadian National’, the railway company that built the tower.

The CN Tower is a perfect location for tourists who know how to spend their time while visiting the city of Toronto. It consists of floor-to-ceiling panoramic window walls, glass floors and an out­door sky terrace. One must experience the thrilling EdgeWalk at the CN Tower, which holds the Guinness World Record for the World’s Highest Outdoor Walk on a building. Canadian cuisine and breathtaking revolving views at ‘360 The Restaurant’, a restaurant at the CN Tower is unmissable. It is the perfect place to entertain or celebrate a special occasion. The splendid lighting of the tower from dusk onwards intrigues tourists even more.

Big Ben, London, United Kingdom

Big Ben was originally the pet name given to the Great Bell of the clock at the Palace of Westminster in London but nowadays it refers to both the clock and the clock tower. The origin of the bell’s nickname is still not certain; it may have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who oversaw its installation, or after the heavy­weight boxing champion Benjamin Caunt.

The tower in which Big Ben is located was originally named the Clock Tower and as St. Stephen’s Tower in the Victorian Era, but then the name was changed to Elizabeth Tower in the year 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee year of Queen Elizabeth II. The tower was designed by Augustus Pugin in a neo-gothic style. After its completion in 1859 AD, its clock became the largest and most accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock in the world. The tower is 315 feet (96 m) tall, and its base is square, measuring 39 feet (12 m) on each side. It also had the largest bell in the United Kingdom for 23 years.

Qutub Minar, Delhi, India

The Qutub Minar, located in Delhi, India is a 73 metre (239.5 feet) tall narrowed tow­er of five storeys, with a 14.3 metres (47 feet) diameter at the base, that slowly reduces to 2.7 metres (9 feet) towards the top. It contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps and is built of red and yellow sandstone and marble.

The construction of Qutub Minar was started in 1192 AD by the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, Qutub-ud-din-Aibak and later continued by his son-in-law and successor, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish after the former’s death. The Minar was damaged during several occasions, and repaired and supplemented by the rulers of the subsequent dynasties ruling over Delhi, including Firoz Shah Tughlaq and Sher Shah Suri.

The Qutub Minar stands till today, in its utmost glory, and attracts tourists from around the globe. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has footfall of tourists from all over the world in millions every year. One can also see the incom­plete Alai Minar at the Qutub Minar complex that was started off ambitiously as a tower that would surpass the Qutub Minar in height by two times. Started by Ala-ud-din Khalji of the Khalji Dynasty to commemorate military victories, only one storey of this massive tower could be completed and today it lies in ruins at the complex.

Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pisa, Italy

One of the most famous towers in the world, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a freestanding bell tower located in the cathedral of Pisa, Italy. It is known world­wide for its tilted form and the tower has its name enlisted in the Guinness Book of World Records for the same feat.

The construction of this tower began on 14th August 1173 and continued for as many as 199 years as a result of military on-goings. The tower’s tilt began during its construction in the 12th century, and was said to have been caused by a fault in its foundation as the ground on one side was too soft to support the struc­ture’s weight. The slant increased with time before its completion in the 14th century. In 1990 the tower was found to be leaning at an angle of 5.5 degrees, but correction work between 1993 and 2001 reduced this to 3.97 degrees. It lost a further 4 cm of tilt till 2018. The height of the tower is 55.86 metres (183.27 feet) from the ground on the low side and 56.67 metres (185.93 feet) on the high side. While Bonanno Pisano was originally believed to be the architect, some recent studies have raised doubt about that resulting in the fact that till today, the architect of this magnificent tower is unknown.

The tower has 296 steps (two less on the lower side) and eight storeys in total. It is located in the cathedral complex in Pisa, which is 87 kilometers from the city of Flor­ence and 350 kilometers from Rome.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

The Eiffel tower, also known as La tour Eiffel in French, is a lattice tower constructed of wrought iron. Located in Chemps de Mars area in Paris, France, this tower is also often called, ‘The Iron Lady’ or ‘La Dame De Fer’ in French by the locals. It was named after Gustave Eiffel, whose company had built the tower.

The tower was constructed from 1887 to 1889 AD and was meant to be the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, and a temporary structure. There were other buildings constructed around it as well. When constructed, the artists and intellectuals criticised it as lacking in beauty and the French government even decided to pull it down after the fair was over. However it was allowed to remain, only to become the most visited paid tower in the world. It is not only the symbol of the city of Paris, but also of the country of France. It attracts millions of tourists from across the world every year.

There are three levels of viewing platforms in the tower where visitors can climb using el­evators. One has to buy tickets for the same.

The Eiffel Tower is 324 metres (1,063 feet) tall, making it equivalent to the height of an 81-storey building, and it holds the record for being the tallest freestanding structure in all of France. The 130-years old tower still stands in all grace and glory in the French capital city. At night it is beautifully lit with millions of small bulbs that makes it look like coming straight out of fairy tales.

Three Pagodas, Dali, China

These three pagodas were built in the early part of 9th century (during the rule of Kingdom of Nanzhao) and the 10th century (during the rule of the KIngdom of Dali) AD by Chinese rulers and are situated near the city of Dali at the foot of the Cangshan Mountains and on the shore of Erhai Lake. The three pagodas belong to the Chongsheng Temple; these are equidistant from one another and are arranged in such a manner as to form an equilateral triangle. The middle one has a height of about 70 meters (227 ft) and the other two have a height of about 42.2 metres (140 ft).

While most buildings in the ancient town of Dali in the Yunnan region were destroyed over the centuries for some reason or the other, these pagodas have withstood natu­ral calamities for over a millennia. Originally built to keep the dragons away, these pago­das still attract tourists to them today.


Article by Tannistha Nandi

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