Elephant Tower: the monument symbolizing medieval Cagliari
The Elephant Tower of Cagliari was built at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It’s in the area of the Bastion of Santa Croce next to the Church of San Giuseppe di Calasanzio, and marks the entrance to the Castle district.
The Elephant Tower is a symbol of Castello, one of the historic districts of Cagliari, as well as being the highest medieval tower in the city after that of San Pancrazio.
Built-in 1307 by the Sardinian architect Giovanni Capula, at the behest of the Pisan consuls Giovanni De Vecchi and Giovanni Cinquini, the tower was built to defend the access to the Castle once the seat of political, military, and religious power of the ancient city of Casteddu.
The three external walls of the tower were built with Pietra forte of Cagliari, a solid, organogenic, and whitish color limestone extracted from the quarries of Bonaria. The inside fourth side is open, in a Pisan model, and has four floors built on wooden lofts. There are three heavy barred doors, two wooden shutters covered with iron, and a series of shelves supporting a wooden scaffolding for defense from above.
The height of the building is 30 meters, 35 meters considering the tower. On the other hand, the tower reaches a height of 42 meters on the side of Via Cammino Nuovo.
On the well preserved external walls, there are still various coats of arms from the fourteenth century, including that of the city, meanwhile above the entrance arch and a shelf that protrudes from the wall on the south side, there is a small sculpture representing an elephant, one of the symbols of Pisa. Also, on a marble tombstone at the base of the tower is an epigraph in memory of John Capula: ” Capula Johannes fuit caput magister numquam suis operibus inventum sinister ” (Never found incapable in his works).
In the first half of the fourteenth century, after the Aragonese conquered Sardinia, the north side of the Elephant tower was closed, and the interior was used to create warehouses and housing for Spanish officials.
During the Spanish domination, the building was converted into a prison, and at its doors were hung the heads of prisoners sentenced to death and beheaded in the nearby Plalzuela, the present Carlo Alberto square. The head of the Marquis of Cea involved in the murder of the viceroy of Sardinia Don Manuel Gomez de los Cobos, and Marquis of Camarassa, assassinated on 21 July 1668, was hung on the tower in an iron cage.
Legend has it that even today, in the streets of the Castle, there is a mysterious presence whose steps are accompanied by the unmistakable noise of chains dragged on the cobblestones of the streets. It would be the Marquis of Cea walking in ancient Plazuela in search of his severed head during the public execution in 1671.
The liberation of the walled side during the Aragonese period and the restoration in 1906 by engineer Dionigi Scano, gave the Elephant Tower back its original appearance and is now one of the most representative monuments of the city.
Torre dell’Elefante: the Pisan tower in San Pancrazio
The Elephant Tower, which name probably comes from the ancient name of the current Via Stretta, called Ruga Leofantis in Pisan times, was part of the defensive system of the city and is, together with the tower of San Pancrazio, a building built during the Pisan domination.
The tower of San Pancrazio, called Sa Turri de Santu Francau in Sardinian, was also built by Sardinian architect Giovanni Capula in 1305, two years before the tower of the Elephant’s twin.
Capula also built a third tower, the Lion Tower, now called the Eagle Tower, incorporated into the Boyl Palace after being partially destroyed in 1708 by the British bombing, 1717 by a Spanish cannon, and 1793 by the French attack which caused the loss of the higher part of the building.
The tower of San Pancrazio is built in limestone at the highest point of the Castello district, over 130 meters above sea level. It’s the highest tower in Cagliari (36 meters) and can be visited by going through Via Indipendenza, Viale Buoncammino, Porta Cristina, or the gate of San Pancrazio inside via Ubaldo Badas.
On the three closed sides, which are three meters thick, there are several very thin slits. Meanwhile, the fourth side is open toward the interior of the Castle as most Pisan buildings are, it also shows the wooden balconies on the four floors of the tower.
The tower was built to protect the northern side of the Castle and has been used in various ways over the centuries: home, warehouse, prison, storage of the Archaeological Superintendence, and exhibition space.
Both the Elephant Tower and the Tower of San Pancrazio can be visited but are temporarily closed due to restoration and consolidation.
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